Last Sunday, I had the privilege of leading the church in Communion. We don’t observe this ritual very often on Sunday mornings. Generally, it is something we do at our New Community service which happens once a month on a Wednesday evening. However, this past Sunday was special in that we were finishing our summer-long teaching through the Gospel of Luke. In the final chapter, the eyes of the disciples are opened as Jesus re-enacts the Eucharistic meal, and so it seemed appropriate to end our with Luke in the same way he ends his account of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the nature of the Lord’s Supper lately, and I am beginning to think that there is something of a deficiency in the way we “low-church” evangelicals view the sacred meal. Somewhere along the line (shortly after the Reformation), what Christians believed about the elements started to change. There was a shift away from seeing the bread and cup as the actual body and blood of Jesus (as I believe it should have) to a belief that they are merely symbols to remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice. While I certainly think it is helpful for the elements to serve as reminders of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, I am convinced they are more than mere symbols. As the church increasing embraced the empirical methods of the Enlightenment, and perhaps felt the pressure to explain everything from a “scientific” point of view, we may have forfeited something significant in the way in which we engage the Lord’s Supper. It feels like some of the mystery and wonder of Christ manifesting his presence with us through the bread and cup is lost when we think of them as simply reminders.
Ok, I know you are getting bored. Naturally, lots could be (and has been) said about this particular topic, but I mainly want to go on record as saying that I think the Memorialist (symbolic) view doesn’t do justice to what is actually happening in this observance. Instead of keeping on with my half-baked ideas, I’ll leave you with some more of Ian Cron’s wonderful words from his memoir, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me. I hope Mr. Cron doesn’t mind my reproducing at length one of his stories. May it prod you to obtain a copy of your own.
It wasn’t until I was within four or five kids of the bishop that I could really see his face. He was corpulent, his cheeks and jowls glazed with perspiration, and he was slightly wheezing like Kip Merriweather, a kid in our class who had asthma. The bishop looked like he would have paid a hundred bucks to get out of the clericals, go home, put his tired feet up, pop open a Pabst Blue Ribbon, and watch a Notre Dame basketball game. As I stepped forward and stood before him, he saw the tears running down my face. For an instant, his pasty white face softened, his eyes sparkled just like the Virgin Mary’s, and the corners of his mouth turned upward in a smile of deep knowing. I suspect he knew that I was one of those strange kids who “got it” – who was hungry and thirsty for God, who longed to be full. Maybe he’d been one of those weird kids too. He placed the Host on my tongue and put his hand on the side of my face, his fat thumb briefly massaging my temple, a gesture of blessing I did not see him offer to any of my other classmates. And I fell into God.
I have spent forty years living the result of that moment.
I am told that, in years past, when a blizzard hit the Great Plains, farmers would sometimes tie one end of a rope to the back door of their farmhouse and the other around their waists as a precaution before going out to the barn to tend to the animals. They knew the stories of farmers who, on the way back to the house from the barn in a whiteout, had become disoriented and couldn’t find their way back home. They would wander off, and their half-frozen bodies wouldn’t be found until spring, when the snow melted.
That day, Bishop Dalrymple, sweat dripping from the end of his bulbous nose, tied a rope around my waist that was long and enduring. How did he know the number of times that I would drift onto the plains in a whiteout and need a way to find my way back home?
And all God’s people said…