The Bread and the Wine

Imagine walking into a church for the first time. You sit down and try to figure out what is going on. One of the rituals you observe involves a plate of “chiclet” crackers being passed around. Next comes a tray with little plastic shot glasses full of grape juice. All the while music is playing and some people in the audience appear to be praying. Everyone around you takes one of each, but the pastor says that only if you have a relationship with Jesus Christ should you take the crackers and juice. You figure you don’t fit into that category so you just sit and watch. Next the pastor says something about doing this as a remembrance and the audience consumes each food item in unison. It last less than ten minutes and the service returns to its normal schedule or at least you would recognize it as normal if you continued to attend.

As I sit in church I often try to think about why we do the stuff we do. Is it because this is the way church has always been done, somewhere in the Bible it says to do it, or is it because Rick Warren does it. The Lord’s Supper is something I found odd. The church has undergone a lot of change since the first century A.D. It has frequently been modernized. Why do we take communion as a remembrance? Seems like it would be simpler just to have the pastor institute two minutes of quiet time to remember Jesus’ death. Furthermore, why were people dying and becoming sick in the Corinthian church for eating the Lord’s Supper improperly? Perhaps one of them as he is try hard to remember suddenly lets his mind wander. In 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul talks about this he mentions judging oneself before he or she eats. Jesus didn’t mention this in any of the gospels. Why do we do this archaic ritual? Would a special post-it note be just as good for remembering?

The gospel of John gives a clue. In John 6:22-59 Jesus tells the crowd gathered that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood will receive eternal life. Roman Catholics emphasize in communion that we eat Jesus’ literal body and blood in the elements. Taking communion is also linked to salvation. This tends to creep us Protestants out and smells of salvation by works. I think this causes us to swing to far in the opposite direction. John is a book where Jesus uses a lot of analogies (vs. metaphors)[1] for himself. He is the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, and the vine. I don’t think we eat and drink Jesus’ physical body anymore than Jesus is physically a divine light bulb or a grape bush. The meaning is much deeper, in the form of an analogy.

Bread was a staple food item in that time and it still is. Beverage choices were also limited to mostly water and wine. Bread and wine are like their “meat and potatoes.” Jesus should daily be our bread and wine, what we feed on to sustain us. He should be the source of our energy throughout the day and the one that we live upon; our foundational food and nourishment. It sounds crude, but life should be a continual feeding on the body of Christ and drinking his blood. The more we rely on it the more we have the life that is truly life. Some people think that J.R.R Tolkien, a Catholic, allowed his idea of the elements of communion to shape the creation of lembas bread. The more one relies on it alone, the more strength it imparts to the traveler.

There is another point I would like to make, which I don’t think is too much of a stretch. As a Church we are members of one body, which is Christ. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we remember that we our are nourished by the same body. When Jesus first instituted communion the disciples all drank from the same cup and broke bread from the same loaf. Communion is a symbol of our unity in Christ, hence the word communion IE communal, commune. It is a good reminder to put away our disagreements. To forgive those who have wronged us and ask for forgiveness from those we have wrong. It makes me uncomfortable to say this but maybe we should avoid participating in the Lord’s Supper if there is disunity, not differing views, but disharmony with another person in out church. There is something convicting about remembering how we eat from the same body, yet have a fight with someone who is also of that body. Notice 1 Corinthians 11 again. Paul’s description of the Corinthians improper eating of communion is begins by pointing out the divisions that we tearing the church apart. This disunity was reflected in the way they ate the bread and wine. Some got drunk, while others starved. We Paul tells the Corinthians to examine themselves before they eat, I think this disunity was on his mind. Am I pigging out while my fellow brother in Christ, who belongs to the same body as me is starving. Unity certain includes whether we treat fellow Christians with equality or not. A dis-unified church not only includes one full of fighting, but one where some members are treated as second class.

I have gone on far longer than I intended to, but I feel the Lord’s Supper has been sapped of much of its meaning and its beauty. Further ideas for though include the way we serve communion (Usher served or self-served). What does it say about how a church is structured? And maybe this is stretching it too far (I read this some place), but if we are called the body of Christ, does that mean we are to feed off of each other? It is a surprise to myself that I found this interesting. The meaning of Lord’s Supper is still an idea that is being tossed around in my head. Orthodox and Roman Catholic views of this subject would be fascinating. So would direction from others to make sure I am not going totally off the deep end. Now you have something to chew on.



[1] A metaphor is used to describe with out “like” or “as”. We might say the stars are diamonds in the sky instead of the stars look like diamonds in the sky. An analogy uses something familiar to us to make sense of or describe something that is not as familiar. A car is a horseless carriage. English teachers may disagree, but I think that analogy is a more appropriate term especially as it concerns Jesus as the bread of life.

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