Isolation and Communion (Part 2)

A Look at the Bible

It is important to get back to Scripture and see  what is going on when the supper of bread and wine is first shared and what instructions are given. I think this is a useful opportunity, not just to help us make pragmatic decisions about getting through Coronavirus but to think more deeply about what it means to share The Lord’s Supper together.

The Passover

It is at the feast of Passover, that Jesus first takes bread and wine and instructs his disciples to eat in remembrance of him.  The Passover was the meal that the Jews shared together once per year to celebrate their rescue from Egypt. It was an annual reputation of the meal that the Israelites ate on the night they were about to leave Egypt. The cooked a lamb together, ate it and spread its blood over the door posts. This was a sign so that God’s angel passed over their houses when bringing death to the firstborn son.[1]

In Exodus 12, the Israelites were instructed to share this meal, ready to depart quickly. They were to use unleavened bread because there wasn’t time to waste. They were to either share a lamb between a household or with neighbours if the family unit was small. They were to roast the lamb and not to leave any left overs.  This then becomes an annual observation.[2]The whole household participate. This includes slaves but not temporary residents. Foreigners don’t participate unless they become part of God’s people.[3] During the festival period, houses were to be purged of yeastand so the people were to eat unleavened bread for seven days.

The book of Deuteronomy then reiterates the instruction. As God’s people transition from being on the move together to settling in the land and spreading out, a further instruction is added. They are to gather for the festival in one place at Jerusalem.

So this is the meal that Jesus is eating when he gathers his disciples together in the upper room.

The Last Supper

Luke 22 describes Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before his death.[4] He takes bread, breaks it and says “This is my body given for/on behalf of you.” They do this “in remembrance of me.” Bock explains that:

“this is a memorial meal, not a re-sacrifice. It calls to mind what Jesus did and declares one’s identification with that act.”[5]

This is important because if it is not a re-sacrifice then that rules out the Roman Catholic mass. Jesus died once and for all, we do not re-offer his body as a sacrifice at communion. However, I think it takes us away from a view that treats the elements as mere visual aids. My friend’s son once asked him “Are adults stupid?” The dad responded “Why do you say that?”  The child responded “Because the pastor said to eat the bread and drink the cup to remember Jesus but I wouldn’t forget him that quickly.”  It’s not an intellectual reminder we need. The memorial act is a way of identifying with others Each year, we observe a minutes’ silence on the closest Sunday to the 11th November. We say that “we will remember” those who served and sacrificed in the horrendous wars of the past.  We are declaring that we stand with them, that we are connected to them and that we are forever grateful to them. The act of remembrance is experiential. It is about joining present time with past time, so that is as though we were there. No, we identify ourselves with Jesus’ death, we are united with him in it so that we may also be united with his resurrection.

Then he takes his cup of wine and shares this with them declaring that “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood”[6]

“Jesus departs from the normal Passover practice and shares his own cup with the assembled group. Normally, each would have had his own individual cup for the Passover liturgy.  This distinctive action can be related to a Jewish practice in which the host might share his cup with a particular guest as a way of honouring and bestowing a blessing on that individual.”[7]

Note how strong the significance is, how powerful the imagery. The disciples receive benefit from Jesus because he gives them his cup to drink.  They are united with him.  Communion is therefore a reminder that Christ has done something for us (given his body and his blood) and that we are united with him. We identify with him, we receive covenant blessings from him.

The Lord’s Supper

Paul starts to teach on communion in 1 Corinthians 10 with these words

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

Here the bread and wine are connected with the question of idolatry. You have a meal choice, you can either participate in an idol feast or in the Lord’s Supper. This is because communion itself is an act of participation. Notice that when we drink the wine we participate in Christ’s blood. This echoes the sense we have seen from Luke that we a drinking the cup Christ gives us and benefiting from the covenant blessings he offers because of it.  Eating the bread means we participate in the body of Christ, this points us to our participation in the one body. The body here first of all reminds us that we ae united because we receive the benefits of Christ giving his body and blood for us. The imagery of body further refers to the family of God’s people. So, lesson number one, if you are united to Christ and to each other, then you cannot be united with false worship.

Then in chapter 11, Paul writes more about what it means to come together for communion. He returns to a major theme in the letter, that there are divisions and rankings between people to show status. Furthermore, they are eating and drinking individually, even getting drunk. Paul says, “You can do that at home on your own time.”  Coming and having your fill is not the purpose of the communion meal.[8] This is made worse because some are getting drunk whilst others go without. It is possible that the poorer people who worked long hours turned up later. So access to the meal was a way of marking out social hierarchies.[9]

This problem of selfish individualism is leading to sickness and death.[10] It is possible that this refers to a specific judgement on the church, or that failure to look after one another in difficult times meant that some were able to eat well whilst others were malnourished or sick. Further, there may well be an element of spiritual sickness and death here due to a lack of spiritual care for each other. Paul insists that they must be able to discern Christ’s body, the church. Those who eat and drink without discernment bring judgement on themselves. They have turned the supper into the opposite of what it is meant to be. They have made it an idol meal. The result therefor that instead of receiving a cup that declares blessing, they receive a cup that exposes their selfish hypocrisy and proclaims them judged.[11]

You cannot share in Christ and identify with his church whilst being united with idols. You cannot share in Christ whist being disconnected and not united to his body.

So, at the heart of this challenge to selfish individualism, Paul reminds them of the method of sharing in the supper that Christ has passed on to him, bringing to memory the words of Luke’s Gospel.[12]  He adds in that as well as being a memorial meal, the supper acts as proclamation, an act to keep following until Christ returns. 

[1] Exodus 12:1-23.

[2] Exodus 12:24-28.

[3] Exodus 12:43-49

[4] Luke 22:16-18.

[5] Bok, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1725.

[6] Luke 22:19 -20.

[7] Nolland, Luke 8:35 -24:53 (WBC), 1057.

[8] 1 Corinthians 11:17-22.

[9] 1 Corinthians 11:21.

[10] 1 Corinthians 11:30

[11] 1 Corinthians 11:29

[12] 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.


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