On the night He was betrayed, Jesus shared a meal with His friends. It was no ordinary meal because it was Pesach — Passover — the night commemorated yearly when Jewish people remember...
Remember? None of them were there?
No they weren't, but they do remember, in the same way that we remember World War I and II and those who died, on Armistice Day, even though we were born many years after the wars ended.
Jews remember that God saved their nation from slavery in Egypt. How do they do this? By having a special meal and a special home service called a Seder.
It is remembrance, with celebration.
Each part of the meal has special meaning: a roasted egg, bitter herbs, a shank bone (lamb), parsley dipped in salt water... All pointing back to aspects of the story — relating to how God rescued His people.
The unleavened bread (matzo) , the wine. The wine and bread.
This Passover was different: Jesus did not follow the script — the prescribed word order laid down by tradition from time immemorial.
Jesus said it differently, but then again He was not only talking about the Exodus out of Egypt.
He took the bread and broke it and blessed it. He said: This is my Body, broken for you. Take it; eat it and do it in REMEMBRANCE of me.
A little later, He changed the words again. He picked up the cup of wine and said a prayer of thanksgiving for it and then He said, as He passed the cup to His disciples, This cup is the blood of the New Covenant. Take, drink, do this in REMEMBRANCE of me.
This meal, the bread and the wine took on for the followers of Jesus a new meaning. The traditional of sharing the New Passover, became the core of Christian worship.
It takes many forms and has different names and many different understanding of what Jesus meant.
This is my Body, broken for you.
This is the Blood of the New Covenant, given for the remission of sins.
Do this in REMEMBRANCE of me.
How do we remember Jesus?
How do we remember something we never personally witnessed?
What is the connection between us and the person or event we are remembering? Even though we were not yet born when WWI and WWII took place, there are connections. Our relatives and ancestors were there, and were directly affected. My grandfather was a soldier in World War I, and my grandmother was in the Land Army. My friend's father was on the beaches on D-Day, June 6th, 1944.
The Jews celebrate Passover because it is their people, their ancestors who God rescued from the bondage of Egypt.
As a Christian, why do we participate in this meal, this tradition of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Jesus?
Remembrance is at the core. We reflect on who Jesus is and on what He has done for us.
Jesus gave us some clues in what he said. He spoke about His body being broken and His blood being spilled. He was speaking about His violent death that was imminent.
Betrayed by Judas Iscariot; ambushed in the Garden of Gethsemane; subjected to illegal trials, lied about; pushed; pulled; mocked; beaten; humiliated; condemned to be crucified.
In many Churches, they have a series of fourteen images depicting His journey from the moment He is condemned to the point that he is taken down off the Cross and put into a tomb. These are a useful aide memoire, to remember what He went through on that day.
But Jesus did not say "Remember what I did" but "in remembrance of me" so we need to remember WHO JESUS IS as well as what He did.
Jesus did not only die in that ignominious was, but having been placed in a tomb, which was sealed and guarded, on the morning of the third day, as was foretold, Jesus rose again. He was, and is still alive.
We can remember in many ways:
- facts, things we learn at school, names, phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, anniversaries.
- events — Do you remember when...?
We also remember into the future, upcoming appointments, anticipating future events.
This meal is about future remembrance too, because we look look forward to Jesus coming back again.
When Jesus said Do this in REMEMBRANCE of me, He wasn't talking about a bittersweet nostalgia, but He wants us to call to mind, not only the events, important and central as these events are to us as Christians, but the person, Jesus.
I've heard this tradition of having bread and wine called different things in different Churches. What is the correct title?
Yes, it has had different titles. As an Anglican, I prefer the name Holy Communion, or just Communion.
The words ends with, union, and I believe that Communion should unite us. It brings to mind words like community and communication. Although every individual needs to make his or her own connection and have faith for themselves, Christianity is about community. When you're a Christian, it is no longer just about your own needs and wants. You become part of a family. The Bible speaks about us being adopted into a new family. When children are adopted, they don't only get new parents but new sisters, brothers, uncles, aunties too.
Passover is a family festival and everyone has a part to play — even the smallest child, so it follows that when we celebrate communion, it's a family occasion too. No-one who is in God's family should be excluded* (If a person may pose a risk to others in Church, then it may be necessary for a period to serve that person separately, but the aim should never to be permanently exclude, )
Oblation — a very religious word. Highly likely you have not come across it before. An oblation is something offered to God as a sacrifice.
Jews under the Old Covenant presented animals for sacrifice at the temple. These were offered to cover people's sins. It's this system of sacrifices that forms the background of Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross for all our sins. The words 'oblation' appears in the communion service in the Book of Common Prayer.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by His one oblation of Himself once offered) a full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in His holy Gospel command us to continue a perpetual memory of that His precious death until His coming again.
I realise we don't call the meal "oblation" but it does help to remember that Jesus offered Himself. How else can we respond other than offer ourselves to Him.
We become His children,
we become His friends,
we become His disciples,
we become His servants.
Another way that Communion is referred to is Mass. As Protestant, my knee-jerk reaction was to reject this term as the Roman Catholic "twist" on the Lord's Supper, and I believed that Mass meant "sacrifice" and that each time Mass is said they were sacrificing Jesus again — a concept I could not accept. Turns out, I was WRONG. Recently heard Bishop Peter Hill of Barking preach and he had a different explanation for that word. I looked it up, and the word comes from the Latin words that conclude the liturgy: Ite missa est. I found a website with these words for its URL.
It had its translation as its strapline: Go, you are sent forth. Followed by bible verse reference Matt. 28:19. That's the great commission — Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We seen then that not only is communion about our relationship with God and what Jesus Christ has done for us but it's also about our outreach: how we relate to those “out there”.
As I write this I am reading about the death of preacher, Robert Schuller. He has an interesting life story.
“He was driven by a missionary calling to reach people who had distanced themselves from traditional church going.”
Robert Schuller had his detractors within theological circles, and people who were critical of what they perceived to be easy Gospel, but we see in this man, for all his faults, a zeal to see people brought to Christ. If you go to a variety of different churches you will see Communion done in many different ways. Obviously the basic elements are the same - the bread, the wine and the narrative that relates the events of that nights when Jesus told us to do it in remembrance of Him. But different churches will approach the whole thing in many different ways. This is, in my view a good thing. I really believe that every aspect of the way we do Church, including the Holy Communion, should be with a perspective on how passers by will get it - is it inclusive and welcoming? Jewish people have a firm tradition that says that even on holy feasts of Passover that they should always be willing to make a place at the table for the visitor or “outsider”. Many Jews believe that Elijah may visit them in the form of a stranger, and that they are to welcome him especially to their Passover Feast, which was not merely a religious observance in the synagogue, but meal in their homes. I realise that a Communion service is for many a “religious observance “ done in church buildings, but we must not forget the context in which the Holy Communion was established was a Passover feast in the upper room of a home. When We are at Church, we can be at home, and like the Jews welcome the stranger to participate in the feast, we should welcome the stranger, and invite them to share in our “feast”. Jews may be hoping that Elijah would visit them, but as Christians we know that whatever we do for the “least of these” we are doing for Jesus.
Eucharist - means Thanksgiving
Why do you participate in Communion? Is it religious tradition? Jesus says "Do this" so you do it? One hundred points for obedience but is that all there is to it?
Why do I take Holy Communion? It's not a chore, something done under duress, as a "means of grace", but for me, it's a joyous gratitude for the marvellous Salvation work of Jesus. Gratitude — thanksgiving — Eucharist.
eu = good; charis = grace.
Holy Communion, or Eucharist is entirely about God's good grace.
Some people believe that Holy Communion is a way of accessing God's grace. Like a key to a safety deposit box, but I don't believe that is biblically sustainable. Holy Communion is not a means of grace, it IS grace. It illustrates or exemplifies in the pictures of the bread and the wine, the Salvation work of God. So as we take the bread and the wine, we remind ourselves and one another, that we are part of God's family, because Jesus died for and instead of us, and He still lives. We have this not because we deserve it, we don't, but for no other reason than His amazing unconditional love.
Those four words together:
- Mass — mission
"Come to me, all who Labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matt 11:28
"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Isaiah 1:18
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come buy and eat
Why spend money on what is not bread and your labour on what does not satisfy.
Listen,listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me. Hear me that your soul may live. Isaiah 55:1-3
Here I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me . Revelation 3:20