Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Holy Communion: We Got it All Wrong

There's a scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail where Indana has to choose the right chalice, supposedly used by Jesus during the last supper. The table is littered with them.

The true vessel turns out not to be the most ornate and valuable one, but rather a very ordinary looking cup made from pottery. The symbolism can't be overlooked. Often Jesus' teachings and ways are counter to mainstream expectations and thinking.

When I go back and study the Bible these days I question how the established church interpreted passages and wonder how we got things so twisted. Take the sacrament of communion, for example.

In the Southern Baptist church, this is a once a month tradition where ushers serve concord grape juice in tiny transparent disposable cups and an oyster cracker or some other cracker portion along with it.

In the Lutheran and Episcopal churches you participate in communion weekly most likely by coming down to the altar and particpating in a common cup of wine or option juice in some cases and a thin, round wafer.

The Catholic Church is similar to the Lutherans and Episcopalians, only the Catholics believe in transubstantiation where the wine and bread or wafer is actually converted into the actual body of Christ after consumption.  In many cases you must be a church member in order to participate. The irony is we have put into place more eleborate traditions and rules which actually prevent people from participating in the new covenent, Jesus' teachings.

Jut a note of interest. Early Christians celebrated communion and the tradition was misinterpeted as canabalism by the Romans and Greeks so that it became one of the reasons for persecution of the early church.

Luke 22:19-20  says "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.' "

Looking on the various passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke pertaining to coimmunion, I now realize several things.

First, when Jesus broke bread and shared the cup with his disciples in that upper room during the celebration of passover, he was trying to prepare them for his impending death.

Second, the symbolism of the blood that was spilled tied into the Passover rememberance of the blood on the doorposts that stopped the death angel from killing the first born during Jewish captivity in Egypt. The angel passed over and the Jews were saved and were later lead to freedom.

It also tied into the Old Covenant, that required blood sacrifices for atonement and forgiveness. Passover, during which this gathering in the upper room took place was a sacred celebration of a time of deliverance for the Jews. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand there was a New Covenant about to change everything. No longer would these blood sacrifices be necessary. He was about to become the ultimate sacrifice which would wipe out the need for any others. He was the Messiah.

Finally, I  think his urging to celebrate through the bread and cup wasn't a direct command to serve the wine and bread in rememberance of him, but rather an charge to remember the life he sacrificed and a challenge to follow his new teachings which released all from the bondage of the law and old ways.

It's interesting to note that the Gospel of Mark is considered by many theologians to be the earliest written account of Jesus' life and it does not include the passages which the Matthew and Luke accounts which state "Do this in rememberance of me."(see Mark 14:17-26).

We took everything so literally. I can almost hear the game show buzzer going off indicating we got the answer to this riddle terribly wrong.

Jesus wanted us to always remember what he was about to do, give up his life and spill his blood in order to revise the old ways and make way for a New Covenant that would release us from bondange of ritual and rules. We should remember this whenever we gather together in community (which we should never give up doing.) It is more important to gather together for a meal in rememberance and fellowship as followers of Christ keeping his memory and service to us alive in our hearts and actions, than it is to have communion from fancy trays and cups. Let us never forget.

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