It has generally been my purpose to address topics in this blog which are of broad interest and which apply to persons of various religious and secular backgrounds. On the other hand, I have no reason to hide my background and affiliation with the Anabaptist groups that arose in the context of Europe’s historical period know as the Reformation. With that acknowledged, I submit the following for your thoughts.
We have a profound problem in the fact that all, or nearly all, of our various “confessions of faith” specify Communion as only a symbolic act, an act of our own.
The whole concept of “Christianity” is so incredibly mystical, yet we tend to view mysticism with a great deal of skepticism. What we look for (and have looked for since the days of Blaurock, Manz, Grebel, Satler, and Simons ) is practical application of Christ’s ways in our current individual and corporate lives. We believe, and rightly so, that if one “believes” in Jesus, then one also follows Jesus’ teaching and applies his way to our decisions and actions.
But we lost it– we lost his Way.
In being practical, we dismissed the mystical. In dismissing the mystical, we denied the inseparability of body, soul, and Spirit. In that denial we lost the fact that every bit of Jesus’ life and ministry was dedicated (every little piece of it!) to revealing our Creator to us; dedicated to reconciling us to our Maker deep down in our souls; dedicated to recreating the union of human and God which First Man and First Woman knew in the garden of their origin. And by losing site of Christ’s total and singular dedication to Father-Spirit reconciliation we have rejected Christ’s action in Communion.
For the sake of literary simplicity, I will use “Communion” to encompass “The Lord’s Supper”, “Eucharist”, “sharing the breaking of bread”, “sharing the cup” and other such phrases referring to that which Jesus started with his core Twelve immediately preceding his arrest, subsequent trial, and death on a Roman cross.
Think back to the old Levitical law where the methods and meaning of the Jewish sacrificial system were instituted. With the understanding through Jesus that he came to be the presence of God among us in human form, that he came to fulfill the old Law and complete what it cannot do, and that he did nothing that was not from his Father, we need to re-think what exactly happened when he broke bread and shared a cup with his disciples. Yes– Jesus “instituted” a remembrance of him, of his death and resurrection, and a pointing-forward to his return. But that wasn’t all.
In fact, that was the least of what he did when he started us off on this ritual of sharing bread and cup.
Think back to the fact that consumption of the sacrifice (by priests and/or by the person and families bringing the sacrifice) was an essential part of that sacrifice. With some exceptions, the sacrifices by and large were incomplete without the consumption of meat, grain, oil, bread, wine, whatever it was that was brought. Then along comes Jesus, the day after he feeds a hill-covering multitude with the loaves and fish from one boy’s lunch, saying things like “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
And then, in response to great disputing among his listeners he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”
Of this same Jesus at his “Last Supper” with the Twelve it is recorded, “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
It is in our physical consumption of the broken bread and the fruit of the vine at Communion that we literally participate in bringing the sacrifice of Christ to completion. In that act we do, in some way, eat his flesh and drink his blood. We join our self and our action with that of Jesus, joining him in fulfilling what his presence and life and action intends to accomplish. Without knowingly and purposefully “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” (and thereby completing his sacrifice within our souls and receiving it in the depths of our being), we have no life in us, no abiding in him, and we functionally deny the spiritual reconciliation with our divine Creator that Jesus sought, and still seeks, to give us.
By viewing Communion as merely a symbolic act of remembrance, we refuse or reject in our individual and corporate lives the singular source of true life. By simply following the Ordinance, acting out the symbol, accomplishing the ritual, we fail to accept it for what Jesus intends it to be. And in that failure we are dead; lacking life.
Furthermore, when we practice “close Communion” or “closed Communion” or otherwise engage in using Communion as the focal-point or method of asking each other if we are living up to the right rules and regulations of our local church, we are wielding a communal act as a weapon, not at all engaging the invitational sense which Jesus portrayed at the very first Communion. Are you wearing the right clothes? Reading the right books? Do your females wear the right “covering”? Do you wear or eschew the correct “jewelery”? Do you play the right music? Vote for the correct party?
Get real! Jesus himself served Communion to Judas Iscariot! Think about it. If Yeshua the Anointed One served communion to Judas, who are we to say or imply to anyone that they should not be “taking Communion” with us, or that I should not be “taking Communion” with them? In regards to partaking in Communion the scripture says “examine yourself…” not “church examine each other”. And if one eats and drinks without due consideration of one’s position of need and repentance before God, then it is to the self that one “eateth and drinketh damnation”, not to the group.
Alas! For hundreds of years the Anabaptists have made the sacrifice of Christ into a “common union” weapon of violence against the souls of many. Our own included. Our selves. Our children. Our brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers. Somehow God has managed to keep a light burning among us in spite of our negligence and our violence, but it is no wonder that we hurt and wallow, and go in circles asking “why” in response to the departures of our young and our failures to impact the souls of our neighbors.
I beg of my Anabaptist friends to turn, to come back. Come back to Jesus, and be a disciple at his table with such a level of humility that when we hear him speak of denials and departures we honestly question “is it I, Lord?”
And go out weeping when we realize yes, it is I.
And then are willing to accept his fish from the fire on the shore, and accept his sending and commissioning.
Come back to the mystical acceptance as individuals that I am gnawing on Jesus, and drinking in his very lifeblood when I take that bread and cup of Communion. Accept that it is an acknowledgement of my need for Jesus and a demonstration of accepting his holy divine “from above” feeding. Come back to the humble realization that I alone will stand before God in the end. That standing before Him is something bigger and more knee-shaking than I can imagine. Come back to the deep-in-the-soul out & out compassion for our brother or our sister in the realization that they, too, will stand shaking in their boots before God some day.
And invite them to receive the blood and body of Jesus to give them Life, so that in that last day he will raise us up.
I beg of my Anabaptist friends, and all others who may listen or read:
Stop viewing Communion as just a symbolic act, and stop using it as a point of division or coercion.
Repent and turn; turn to accepting it as the Life-giving act which was hinted at in Jewish laws of antiquity and which Jesus intended it to be from the very beginning of his earthly ministry among us.
Set aside the historical baggage.
Come back, to true food, true drink, to Life.