A Binding Meal
In Matthew 26, we near the end of Jesus' ministry. A betrayal is in motion and a crucifixion is on the horizon. There is prayer in a garden and a group of disciples share a supper with their master.
This meal, repeated countless times since that special evening, remains a bedrock of Christian practice and ritual. Alternately called the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, or Communion, it is a common moment for the faithful that has been spread far and wide across time and space.
"Take, eat," says Jesus. "This is my body." (Matthew 26:26)
He goes on:
"Drink from it [the cup], all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:27b-28)
Simple words and instructions. Yet coming from the mouth of the Messiah and in light of what was about to transpire, they carried within them exalted meaning. In remembering and reiterating this meal time and again throughout the centuries, followers of Christ the world over proclaim His work for us and our salvation.
The experience of this meal and its meaning is, for Christians, a time of memory and thankfulness. Within our current culture this may often be apprehended on a personal and individualistic level. While this is certainly understandable, a more corporate perspective is also important.
You see, in the context of Matthew 26, Jesus is gathered with his disciples--the Twelve. He breaks bread and gives it to them. I don't know if it quite happened this way, but I picture a common piece that is divided and shared. Similarly, there is a cup that he gave to all of them.
Eating bread in common together and drinking the shared fruit of the vine, the disciples are not only foreshadowing the death of Jesus and the salvation He will bring, but also the way in which they are now to be bound together with each other in the body and blood of Christ. Bread they now share and a cup they drink together, nourishing them both biologically and spiritually.
Such a physical participation in Christ, shared by each of us believers, is a significant part of what this meal is all about. Common faith combined with common practice linked with common elements. In the process it reminds us what we have in together in Christ and in each other.
My interest in this community aspect is why I tend to eschew individualized expressions of bread and wine in little mini-cups or personalized and pre-wrapped Communion sets. While of course the realities of the pandemic necessitate adaptations and cautious practice that I fully endorse, this season will pass. When it has I will go back to encouraging, wherever possible, a shared cup (or vessel) and common loaf. The unity in Christ such imagery portrays serves both as a reminder that we are together members of His body and each other as well as a remedy to the dangerous temptation to think we might be in this on our own.
Over fifteen years ago, I was in seminary working on a Master of Divinity degree. The school's ecclesiastical background and theological perspectives were somewhat different than the ones with which I had grown up. Some of my fellow students had very different opinions and perspectives on the implications of Scripture and the work of the Church. If pressed, we could certainly have had some healthy debates.
And yet: every Friday the chapel would celebrate the Lord's Supper. We would hear the words, pray the prayers, eat the bread, and drink the cup. Together we proclaimed in word and act our faith in Christ and, standing next to one another, we took part in this most ancient of Christian rites. Such an experience certainly commemorated the work of Christ for me and my salvation. But in those moments, perhaps more importantly, it showed me that the Church might well be bigger than I had assumed, and a reminder that I had never been the one to define its boundaries in the first place. Such a vision of the Kingdom of God remains with me, simultaneously questioning my sometimes limited vision and pointing me towards the far-reaching work of the Almighty.