April 10, 2020
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Before we get to today’s reflection, let me explain the playlist you can find on this page. It’s a soundtrack for today, Good Friday. My hope is that you use it throughout the day to bring to mind all that Good Friday means in the Easter story. I hope you join us for our Good Friday reflection tonight at 5 PM and bring to it all the thoughts and prayers that these songs stir in you.
Today’s reflection is about another aspect of Good Friday: communion. We often take communion as we retell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, because the story actually starts at a table over a meal. This is where Paul’s words to the Corinthians come from—the words Jesus said to his disciples. These are the same words we repeat every month when we take communion as a church, taking bread and dipping it in juice before we eat it as a community.
For historical context, communion used to be (and in some traditions, still is) taken with wine, since wine is what Jesus served his disciples at their meal. During the temperance movement of the 1800’s, many prominent voices in the church called for total abstinence from alcohol, including communion. So grape juice was used instead. Our present-day use of juice is symbolic of the wine the church used for hundreds of years.
The use of bread and wine for communion is in itself symbolic. In the early church, communion was an entire meal that the church would eat together. Eventually, as Christianity spread, the full meal was dropped, either for convenience or expediency.
Even the full communion meal of the early church was symbolic of the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before he went to the cross. The meal they shared was a Seder meal, symbolic of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. And Jesus’s entire point was that the Old Testament narrative contained in the Seder meal symbolized his suffering and, through his suffering, the salvation of the world.
If anyone is keeping track, our current communion expression is a symbol of a symbol of a symbol of a symbol of a symbol of Jesus. I’ve taken a long time to get to this point only to say, according to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, it doesn’t matter at all.
The power is in the remembering.
Paul’s entire criticism of the Corinthians (because in context this verse is part of his condemnation of their communion meal) is that they have lost sight of the reason for communion. There is no remembering – just eating. There is no community, just “private meals” as he says in verse 21. To reorient their focus, Paul then quotes Jesus saying, “Remember me. Do this in order to remember me.” Paul adds his own admonition. By eating and drinking in remembrance, we proclaim the sacrifice of Jesus to all. In other words, we remember not only inwards, but outwards as well.
The video below is an invitation for you to join with others at Grace Church as we take communion today. You might not have wine, or even juice. You might have water and fish crackers. It does not matter. Find what you can, and focus on remembering. Remember the cross. Remember Jesus’s suffering. Remember we are a community, despite our separation. Remember, and be encouraged.