“Do This In Remembrance of Me” Jesus exclaims after filling a cup with wine and breaking the bread at a Passover meal. The bread represents His body that was broken for our sin and the cup of wine represents the blood of the New Covenant that He established through the shedding of His blood. We have come to call this meal “The Last Supper” because Jesus will soon be betrayed and lose His human life on the Cross. We call our practice of it “Communion” as His Spirit witnesses to ours during the practice.
My first few experiences with Communion were varied, but they all revolved around one thing for me:
What kind of bread are they having?
Because, in my experience, there are two types of bread used in Communion. There is the bread that I call “chalk bread” that is already in a tiny sippy cup with a hint of juice. This bread lacks flavor and is really just as bland as it looks. Then there is the loaf bread. Oh how I love the loaf bread! The texture, the size of the portion, and the flavor all work together in a way that is pleasing to my taste buds.
The differences go even further though. The sippy cup method already has the “chalk bread” and juice portioned out for me. I simply walk up to the altar, get a sippy cup, pray over the sippy cup and go back to my seat in the pew. But the loaf bread uses Intinction. I get a piece of the loaf handed to me and I get to dip it in the juice myself. I get greater human interaction. I get community involvement on a large scale. I feel like I am part of something special.
I don’t share these stories to make a case for ending “chalk bread” Communions. For some churches, it is more financially acceptable to do it this way or others have their valid reasons for doing it. What I want to get at here is something on a higher level.
That level is this: Are we settling for a bland, familiar, and repetitious Communion that lacks involvement that represents the larger diverse society we find ourselves in?
As Christians, we have a tendency to go through the motions. As a United Methodist, we typically do Communion on the first Sunday of each month, but some do it every week, some do it far less. The point is that I’m quite familiar with Communion as are many Protestant Christians.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if familiarity leads to a “going through the motions” approach to Communion. Please allow me to explain.
We’ve heard great sermons done prior to the Communion. Many preachers reiterate the dangers of familiarity, thoughtless repetition, and “going through the motions” prior to partaking in the practice with their congregation. They are certainly right. The tendency is to equate the Communion with forgiveness and that should be a focus. Jesus Christ died on the Cross and absorbed the sins of mankind in His suffering. He resurrected soon after proving He was the Son of God and Savior for man. These things are important to highlight when addressing the Communion.
The problem is the way it is presented becomes familiar in itself.
Yes, Jesus died on the Cross and resurrected, but there is much more to the story. Perhaps, it’s time we look at the Communion with an unfamiliar lens.
Jesus says, “Do This In Remembrance of Me”. That’s quite a loaded statement. We talk about His suffering and agonizing and His sacrifice as I said above and those things are worth reflecting on. However, something is missing. In the holy mystery that surrounds the Communion, we are left with a sort of puzzle missing pieces.
I contend that one of those pieces is formed by the ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Do we remember the ministry and teachings of Jesus or have we replaced the call to embody them with a cheap grace that says “Jesus died for my sins, I don’t need to concern myself with times I fail to be Christ to others.”?
You see, lately I’ve been wondering if we use the sacrifice of Jesus to eclipse the radical calls He taught. Communion is certainly a time when we do that and we need to acknowledge that.
The way the lack of attention to His ministry and teachings takes shape in Communion is by the holes left at the table. Next time you partake in Communion, take a look around. What do you notice? Is everyone the same Race? Gender? Or of the same Political Affiliation? Or the same theological ideas?
The question is simple: Is the table open and diverse?
We need to shift our focus from a self-serving theology to a community focused one. If we truly believe the Kingdom of God is a real thing, then we must recognize the role diversity plays in it. In denying diversity, we are no different from the Jewish followers of Christ in Acts denying Gentiles the love, grace, mercy, and compassion of Christ.
Be honest with yourself. If someone walked into your church who was a different skin color, gender, or sexual orientation and wanted to worship with you, would you be comfortable?
It seems to be that many churches cannot honestly say they would be comfortable.
And yet, church is supposed to be the one place where we promote equality, love, compassion, and mercy. Nobody is saying you have to support gay marriage or oppose it or support this or that political stance to worship the one God and honor Jesus Christ as a community.
I think some people have it in their heads that heaven is going to be exactly how they envision it. That their concept of Jesus and their understanding of Jesus and Christianity is going to be what determines what heaven is going to be.
Don’t believe me?
Then consider this. The church is supposed to be a reflection of both the body of Christ worshippers and the Kingdom of God we are to be living into. If what I said about selfish views of heaven is something you don’t agree with, but your congregation reflects it, it is time to evaluate whether someone is fooling themselves or trying to fool others.
Understand, Jesus said we will know one another by our fruits. A lack of diversity means the tree is bare. The bare tree gets cut down according to Jesus and He will tell us to go away from Him because He never knew us. These are things He actually said!
But we have it in our minds that His death for our sins excuses our lack of action.
If anything, it should be informing our action and giving us a passion and urgency to do better.
But it doesn’t appear to be doing that. And this is why familiarity is so deadly.
Part of the mystery of Communion is being open and receptive to the challenging of the Spirit. Open to the teachings of Jesus that rattle us to the core. Open to the truth that the Spirit is ongoing for eternity and constantly showing us areas to improve.
The truth is this in a nutshell: Your next door neighbor does not need to go to a church in another city because the one you go to in your city is uneasy by their presence.
The problem isn’t in their theology, their look, or their sinful nature. If that were the case, none of us would be in the church, let alone invited to the table.
The problem when we get down to it is ourselves and our biases and bigotry.
This isn’t advocating for sin and if you’re assuming that, you have already responded defensively to the Spirit’s call to diversity. This is advocating for diversity and the call for sharing the load of life’s messes with one another.
Next time you come to the table and notice a lack of diversity and an incomplete Body of Christ, repent.
Next time you come to the table and recognize actions of injustice you have been silent on, repent.
Next time you come to the table and it feels just a little too familiar, repent.
What you may find is that “breaking bread with the enemy” means breaking bread for yourself.
Eat the bread and drink the wine to remember the sacrifice of Jesus, but also remember the sacrifices we are called to make as a result.
Take your piece of the Body and dip it in the juice. Let it baptize your blandness from lack of diversity and familiarity from repetition into a shift of your focus to the exciting diversity you are called to embody.
Familiarity is deadly, but thank God, the Spirit calls us into the unfamiliar to change.