"According to medieval legend, before King Arthur sent his knights on errantry to right wrongs and befriend the helpless, he would call them together at his round table, where each knight could see the face of the king and the faces of his fellows. Shall the followers of the King of Kings do less?" This legendary story reminds us of our commitment when we come to the Lord’s Table for Communion. "This do in remembrance of me." With these words ringing in our ears, we regularly celebrate communion. As we drink the cup and eat the bread, we reflect on Christ's sacrifice and look forward to his return. Yet communion is more than a memorial. Our continued participation in this powerfully symbolic ceremony molds our thinking and brings to life deeply spiritual truths in very concrete ways. It shapes our identity as a people of God and provides the truly blessed assurance that we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The "message" of communion is important and deserves our full attention.
WE ARE BLOOD RELATIVES: We usually think of blood relatives as those who are born into the same family. There is a saying that "blood is thicker than water" which means that family loyalties are stronger than all others. But, blood is not always thicker than water. There are times when there are members of the same family who are at odds with one another. Think about Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his other brothers, the prodigal son and the elder brother. All of these were brothers---blood relatives. Yet, in all of the stories in the Bible about these brothers, there is a sibling rivalry. In all of these stories there is a hint of a rebel or rebels and also the other or others who conformed. Just as almost all parents want their children to get along with each other, God our heavenly Father wants us to get along with our brothers and sisters. We are blood relatives because of the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all our sins. Within the Body of Christ we are all brothers and sisters in Christ because of Jesus’ blood that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. There are sometimes elements of sibling rivalries that exist in the brothers and sisters in Christ. When the rivalry appears to be stronger than bond that we are supposed to have as brothers and sisters, we have a tendency to forget that we are redeemed by Jesus’ blood. There is the story of a minister who "… responded to an appeal, for blood donations. When he didn’t come home by the time his young son expected him, the boy asked his mother, "Is Dad going around visiting all of the sick people?" His mother replied, "He’s giving blood." "But we know its really grape juice don’t we, Mom?" We sometimes need to remind ourselves that the grape juice that we drink at Holy Communion is symbolic that we are redeemed by Jesus’ blood, because He bought us with a price (First Corinthians 7:23). Jesus who reconciles us to God and to each other has made us blood brothers and sisters because He has redeemed us all through His blood.
WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST: In the Body of Christ, we are a diverse and a united group of people. We have unity in the Body of Christ in spite of our diversity because in Jesus Christ there is no east or west, no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, because we are all one in the Body of Christ (Galatians 3:28). "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (First Corinthians 12:26-27). "According to Bill Jauss and Steve Rosenbloom in the Chicago Tribune, on July 19, 1996, Chad Kreuter, a reserve catcher for the Chicago White Sox, severely dislocated and fractured his left shoulder on a play at home. He underwent surgery, and the Sox placed him on the sixty-day disabled list. That’s the kind of thing that makes a backup player feel even less like a part of the team. But quite the opposite happened. Apparently Chad’s teammates had a strong liking for him; each player put Chad’s number 12 on his ball cap to show support. Chad was a member of the team whether he played or not. As you can imagine, that meant a lot to Chad. Later in the season when he was able to suit up again, he showed his appreciation by, you guessed it, putting the numbers of each of his teammates on his ball cap. All devoted to one. One devoted to all. That is what makes a team, and that is what makes the community of Christ". This story reflects the way that God wants us to live as members of the Body of Christ. In the Body of Christ, we are called to do more than just "coexist". When we are truly united in spite of our diversity, then we possess the quality of fellowship that can only authentically be found in the Body of Christ. "It has been said that the real test of our nearness to God is the way that we feel about one another". Charles Colson writes, "A community is a gathering of people around shared values, a commitment to one another and to common ideals and aspirations that cannot be created by government". He also mentions that without the "community that the individual responsibility erodes" In the Body of Christ, we are bound together through Christ who unites us. There is no other community and fellowship like that that is experienced only within the Body of Christ. "Baptism incorporates us into the unity of the Body of Christ, and the Lord’s supper fosters and sustains our fellowship and communion … in that Body". From what has been said, it follows that believers should share communion at every reasonable opportunity. Yet, often believers abstain from sharing in this rich experience. They allow the bread and the cup to pass them by as they sit in guilt and shame, wishing they were more worthy. There was a time when I myself would abstain if I were struggling with some sin. What is it that drives believers from their Lord's table in these spiritually intimate moments? This practice stems from Paul's warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. There Paul tells us to examine ourselves before communing, for "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" Participating "in an unworthy manner" brings judgment and none of us wishes to transgress this command. Therefore, we examine ourselves before participating, seeing how well we "measure up." If we feel spiritual enough, we may proceed; if we don't, better "safe than sorry." But is this really Paul's meaning? Was this Jesus' meaning? Consider Jesus' words in John 6:53-56 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him". Consider further the fact that Jesus' blood cleanses us from sin. When we are guilty, that is when we need Jesus the most. When we are struggling, that is when we need the help and support of the body. We need to be reminded that we are in a fellowship of brothers and sisters who represent Jesus to us, and we need the strength and assurance provided by the communion celebration. To shrink away from it is to retreat within ourselves and suffer silently. When we struggle with sin and find ourselves in need of forgiveness, let us seek that forgiveness and eagerly reach for the cleansing blood of Christ. "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16a, NIV). Let us share the communion experience and the reassurance that we are part of God's people. "Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16b, NIV). Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who was an enemy of the Nazis because he refused to go along with their state idea of a church that practiced the anti-semitism of the Nazis. In fact, he was a hunted man who upheld authentic Christian principles. As a part of the German underground he was not safe to worship openly. "Bonhoeffer’s painful discovery is instructive for us. Cut off from the nurturing fellowship of other Christians, he felt a deeper hunger for the fellowship that was no longer available to him. Like a hungry man who knows the taste of bread though he can no longer reach and break from the loaf, he knew the power of fellowship when it was painfully absent". As people who are a part of the Body of Christ we understand the commitment that goes along with Holy Communion: "All devoted to one. One devoted to all. That is what makes a team, and that is what makes the community of Christ". As the Body of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we are one with Christ, and one with each other, as we remember that our ministry is to all the world, so that we might help those who are lost to find the fellowship and community that can only be found in the Body of Christ.