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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

'The Communion of the Body'

When Jesus instituted what is now known as the Lord's Supper, why did He use such ordinary elements to symbolize His Body and Blood? Why do Matthew and Mark's accounts both agree so closely as to the order of things, but Luke records that He first took the cup, saying He would only drink it again with them in the Kingdom, before He broke the traditional bread? These, and other questions, Lord willing, will be answered herein!

Life is a sacrament; when I say that, I mean simply that all of life, everything that we say or do is to be our worship, to the glory of God, and for His Kingdom. Traditionally; I believe that too many within the Body of Christ, and this includes a great many in the institutional church, have viewed the Church as only their own denomination. These Christians seem to have forgotten a most important fact, that God’s Church, the Body of Christ, is made up of His people, not just one certain uniform denomination! Many Christians, admittedly, whether they acknowledge it in their doctrine or not, live their lives as acknowledging this fact, though it be contrary to their stated doctrine!

When one hears the word 'communion'; we most often think, in 'Christian circles', anyway, of the Communion that they share with others in the Body of Christ, partaking of the wine ( or grape juice ) and bread, whether they do it as a symbolic remembrance of His sacrifice, or whether they believe they are following Jesus' words in John 6:53; 'unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you'. I remember once, when I told a brother that the congregation I was fellow-shipping with  at the time had 'communion' every Sunday; he, knowing that I meant the fellowship meal we enjoyed every Sunday after worship service, protested, 'but Christ isn't there!' Hindsight, as we can all attest to, is 20/20, and I remember thinking later that I should have gently reminded this brother, since the Church is the Body of Christ, and the New Temple of God ( John 14:23-'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him' ); Christ is most definitely there; as He Himself said, 'wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there AM I among them' ( Matthew 18:20 ). Many orthodox Christians, confusing The Lord's Supper with communion, seem to believe that in order to properly celebrate communion, we must follow the same course that our Lord instituted in His last celebration of Passover.


I have often wondered why Luke's account of The Lord's Supper differs from the other synoptic Gospels in that Luke records that Jesus first took the cup and told them to pass it around, to 'divide it among yourselves'. The reason, or at least one reason that Luke records this is that Jesus was following the traditional Jewish Passover Seder. With Luke's focus on the Man Jesus, it is not surprising that he would make a point of showing how Jesus, as a good Jew, followed this practice .  During this celebration, one glass of wine is drunk at the beginning of the Seder, another  before the meal, another after saying the prayer at the end of the meal and yet another ( after they have well drunk ) after singing a Psalm of Praise. To this day, to rightly celebrate The Seder, or Passover, you MUST drink at least four glasses of wine in one sitting!

When the True King of the Jews instituted a new and living way to celebrate Passover, He bypassed, according to Matthew and Mark's accounts, at least two of these libations. Why would He do this? Well, as the non-conformist that Jesus was, not to mention Lord Of the Sabbath, He did this for several reasons, first and foremost being that He was revealing the true Seder, in terms that His disciples would recognize. Jesus, throughout His earthly ministry, had been preparing them for this very moment, telling them that 'I am the bread which came down from heaven' ( John 6:32-41 ). He also told them that He was the Vine, and that unless a man ate His flesh and drank His blood, he had no Life in him.( John 6:53 )

We need not peruse the annals of history very long to see that a lack of true communion will cause a world of pain and suffering. Communion is necessary to our very existence,  and human beings so yearn for it, that they will go to great lengths to get it, whether good or bad! If we cannot get, for whatever reason, true and lasting communion, we will spend our days in a false and temporary communion. Again, we need not look very far to realize this painful fact!

As we read in Paul's sermon to the Church at Corinth, the Corinthians were having trouble recognizing that when they came together, it was not in order to eat the Lord's Supper. The purpose for which they coming together was, more importantly, fellowship, or communion. Quoting Romans 14:17 again, 'the Kingdom of Heaven is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit'.Righteous, peace and joy must be shared in order to become evident!

When we think of 'communication', particularly in a marriage; we most often think of 'talking', and though that is certainly an important and integral part of it, there are many other forms of communication that we often fail to take advantage of. In relation to our 'heavenly spouse'; while it is important that we keep up our personal time with Him, through prayer and meditation, it is almost equally as important to communicate ( commune ) with His Body, the Church, whenever and wherever we might come in contact with them. We read earlier Paul's admonition to the church at Corinth regarding their observance ( some might say 'abuse' ) of the 'Lord's Supper. This admonition was not aimed, so much, at their failing to recognize the spiritual significance ( as orthodoxically viewed ), as at their failure to communicate with His Body, to recognize His Body for what it really was, His people, and to share ( communicate ) the blessings that they were beneficiaries of.


It is important to remember that both the Passover meal and the Lord's Supper were, no more, no less, symbolic remembrances, or memorials. The Truth to which they both pointed, of course, was the Christ! Jesus was, as He said in John 6:35, 'the bread of life',  and His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed. He is not speaking cannibalistically here, but metaphorically. We do not literally eat anything, but, through communion with His Body, and feasting on His Word, we do partake in the communion of the Body!

Retuning to David's words in Psalm 104:15, we might begin to understand why Jesus would use these elements to symbolize His Body and Blood. These ordinary parts of any meal ( and here, it helps to have at least an elemental understanding of Middle Eastern culture ) should remind us of the fact that our Creator loved His creation so much that He became an ordinary ( though extraordinary ) human being in order to share with us the communion that He had with the Father since before the worlds were formed.

As we share this communion with the Body, we do, by our actions, feast on His Body and Blood. If we do not ( or cannot ) discern this mysteriously glorious fact, we are in danger of missing the blessed life that communion brings.  If we miss this glorious fact, we are in danger of losing the vibrancy of our Life, and becoming useless cogs in the machine.

God made man for communion. When we neglect the Communion of the Body, we need only look at Nature itself to see what happens! Whether it be plant, animal or human being, if it is removed from its element, and from necessary communion, that body dies, and becomes good for nothing but to be trampled on, and blown away by the wind!

We must not forget in all this that the purpose of God will be served and fulfilled! Whether or not we purposefully fulfill His will, His will is done; the Body grows, and the Kingdom is expanding, for His will is done in the earth as in the heavens!

Blessings,
Charles Haddon Shank

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