Updated: Aug 27
“The Lord has given us a table at which to feast, not an altar on which a victim is to be offered; He has not consecrated priests to make sacrifice, but servants to distribute the sacred feast.”
In the mid eighties in a German Mennonite Church in Canada where the men and women still sat separated I sat nervously about to partake in my first communion service…
I had just been baptized a few weeks prior… I sat in my usual place about half way down on the men’s side near the aisle. Clutching the required clean white handkerchief in hand, in my Sunday best clothing I “prepared my heart” for this holy part of my faith in Christ.
The ceremony started with a group of men who led the singing in a somewhat emotionless expression of worship… soon the Bishop, dressed in all black attire with a Prince Albert suit proceeded to the front of the Church. He stopped about halfway to the front and in the loudest voice an 80 year old man could said “der signe des herrn sei mit uns alle kommen”, which means roughly “may the sign of the lord come with us all”. He then proceeded to the front of the Church followed by more than a dozen other ordained ministers and deacons.
When everyone was in their place we heard what I felt was a fairly lengthy sermon from 1 Corinthians 11 about taking communion in a worthy manner… through which I sat still clutching my handkerchief nervously. At some point we were all instructed to kneel in prayer… which brought back memories for me. As a child I used to think every Sunday halfway through the service there was a thunderclap as 300 plus people all knelt on the wood floors of the big church above the Sunday school at the same time each Sunday.
Soon after we could participate in the communion service. The bread was passed out first by the deacons and ordained ministers. The bread came by, I took a piece and placed it carefully in my handkerchief… hoping I was not in any sin that was left unconfessed. When everyone had the bread the Bishop would read “Da sie aber aßen, nahm Jesus das Brot, dankte und brach's und gab's den Jüngern und sprach: Nehmet, esset; das ist mein Leib.”, which is the passage from Matthew 26 where Jesus broke the bread and shared it with his disciples before his death.
We all ate the bread at this point.
Next came the wine, we used real wine in our Church. The Wine was distributed with a single cup that was passed to everyone… each person would take a sip, wipe the cup and nod gently to the person next to them passing the cup to them. They would then take a sip and follow the same process.
I don’t remember much else from my first communion… it was the first of many. Some of the Church communion experiences were more chill… many were steeped in somber traditions focused on personal unworthiness and guilt.
Recently we held a communion service in a community Bible study group… I think for myself that was probably one of the most spiritual communion services I had ever experienced. I’ll get into why later… for now let’s just continue to dig into what communion looked like for the Church before religion made it something it isn’t meant to be.
We see these pictures of Jesus with his disciples seated around a table… which would not likely have happened. They would have been mostly reclining, the atmosphere would have been chill…not a somber gathering...
It was a gathering of friends.
It was a gathering of a community…
And within that community there were unbelievers… and Jesus being God himself would have known the hearts of everyone there.
consider Judas... who Jesus knew was an unbeliever and still allowed him to participate. The whole communion meal and sharing of bread and wine was about recognizing the sacrifice that Christ was about to make in community.
This was in fact a celebration... however it was also a moment of silent contemplation about the group's relationship with Christ - conducted during a fellowship meal. It was real people having a genuine moment of oneness in a relatively chill atmosphere.
For us today this may seem offensive…
This is because our minds and hearts are blinded by years of Church tradition passed down and added to. For some… that is those who believe strongly in the Eucharist teaching - that the body and blood of Christ are actually IN the bread and wine this may even seem blasphemous and heretical. Opposition to this understanding of the communion bread and wine has divided Churches and even brought some who opposed this unbiblical teaching to martyrdom.
My prayer is that whatever the case… some who read this will begin a search for what Jesus, and Paul actually taught in regards to Communion.
The word Communion is not mentioned in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 11... a passage often used to lay substantial false guilt on the believer by incorrectly interpreting that scripture, we see that Paul was deeply concerned about the jockeying for position… that is to say the narcissistic and selfish virtue signaling within the Corinthian church.
The Church at Corinth had severe problems with mirroring and even endorsing sinful cultural practices… things like drunken gluttony and the like during local church "love feasts". To understand this one needs to read all of Corinthians as a whole… Paul’s words have less to do with examining our hearts for sin in some somber way and more to do with the lewdness of the services in Corinth. A quick read of Paul's other epistoles shows he is an adamant defender of salvation through the work of Christ... not our own works based in asceticism.
Further to this… the gathering was a supper… a fellowship meal… read the original Greek word for supper “deipnon” which means “supper, especially a formal meal usually held at evening”. This means that communion is a fellowship meal for the Lord… we can honour Christ without the guilt he intended to take away with the Cross… why do we think we have to add guilt he already took?
When Paul talks in this grossly over manipulated passage about examining ourselves - in context he is speaking of the Corinthians comfort with overindulgence. People were becoming drunk during the communion celebration. They were over-eating as if it was a feast and were doing this communion service as they embraced the cultures utterly sinful lifestyles without considering the cost of actions on the larger body of believers and the unsaved in their midst... thus totally missing out on the purpose of the communion cup.
The communion bread and wine is about fellowship and about community with Jesus and with our fellow man. The only way we can be unworthy is if our participation is ruled by our narcissism or our selfishness. Christs death and resurrection has made us more than worthy.! We can rest in that!
Getting back to that mini communion service at our Bible study. We had just finished an hour of talking through what communion with Christ meant to us. We had no real wine, just bread and juice…
no fancy communion cups…
As a matter of fact it was an assortment of different kinds of cups including shot glasses. We prayed together and then quietly and quickly raised together our bread and ate… then we quietly drank our juice. It was one of very few times we have had communion where we did not clutter it with needless shame, self inspection, ceremony or legalistic tradition…
Communion with Christ is meant to be a celebration of what Christ did for us. When Church neglects its corporate and individual relationship with Christ the tradition of communion becomes a dead ceremony instead of a righteous celebration.
The act of Communion together with our fellow believers is a recognition and a remembrance that Christ paid fully for our sins, and that He is our sustenance, it is about our relationship with Him and with fellow believers.
When we have lunch with someone... there is a connection. We are in communion through the breaking of bread so to speak.
Jesus said "take eat, this is my body which is broken for you"... I can imagine His smile and his kindness as he looked at his disciples and shared this last meal with them. Likewise today... we can choose to have communion with Him... to remember His sacrifice and His brokenness so we don't have to live in shame and drowning in guilt.
Part two coming soon!
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