Editor’s note: This is the 100th posting on this blog. If you have found it to be educational or a blessing and you don’t mind taking just a minute, post a comment to let me know there are readers out there who enjoy following this. Thanks in advance for the encouragement.
The Lord’s Supper is obviously a meal. This would seem to be so obvious as not need mention. But at this point we make the mistake of thinking that we are symbolically dining on Jesus’ crucified body and drinking his disembodied blood, much like a bunch of cannibals. One of the Lord’s Supper liturgies speaks of eating Christ’s “broken body and shed blood”, a phrase for which there is no Scriptural warrant (showing how closely we ought to stick to the Word in our attempts to improve upon it). Many people think that the breaking of the communal loaf symbolizes the separation of Christ’s soul from body or perhaps the rupture of his heart, but Scripture is quite insistent that Christ’s perfect atonement involved a physical wholeness of body, which was not broken either in death or as a coup de grace. (The passover lamb was not to be carved up in the fashion that we do with a pork loin, but roasted in one piece.)
It would have been unthinkable for any Jew, albeit a “fulfilled” (Christian) one, to dine even in symbol on a dead body or drink the blood of a corpse. This was the intent of the prohibition against meat with the blood in it, a custom in Judaism extending to the present, and which an early Christians council confirmed (while all other dietary customs were called kosher) in order to remove any grounds for the crazy accusation that the first Christians were in superstitious, heathen fashion trusting in a ritual that supposed anybody could get life and strength from anyone’s death. (On what other grounds do we feel today that the proscription against blood-wurst does not apply to us? As regards a general distaste for such food anyway – like drinking blood mixed with camel milk – compare with the general reluctance in “civilized” countries to use blood from cadavers for transfusion even though it is identical to that of a living person. As regards the prohibition in Acts 15 against fornication, this is not a Puritanic overemphasis on sex sins, but a caution against incest, so prevalent in worldly society of those days, like the Herods and Caesars, and which was once permitted to their own believing forbears, like Abraham.)
When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” he certainly included his sacrificial death, but certainly more than that, particularly his eternal reality in glory right now which we are so prone to forget with all our pitiful pictures of Christ’s life here upon death, from mewling baby to bloody corpse. Paul says of all that, “From now on I no longer know Christ Jesus after the flesh.” When Jesus said, “This (the Lord’s supper) is my body”, he was very much alive, and, of course, he was talking neither of his body of that moment nor what it would become in the next hours, but of the eternal life-giving energy of which “body and blood” are to us symbolic. “Remember me as I am, now, not as I was”, is what Jesus wants us to do today.
Christ was only doing in graphic fashion at the Lord’s Supper, what he taught in John 6, after the miracle of the feeding of 5,000, when he said, “You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood”, participate in my eternal life, be ingrafted into me and take me into yourself. If he were to repeat that “sermon” today he would likely use the illustration of a transfusion, in which the very literal life of a vibrant person flows into a desperately weak one.
This point should really have not required all this wordiness. To put the whole matter in terms of the reality instead of the type, every mature Christian knows that we are not made alive through Christ’s death; that took care of our sin, our guilt. (“The wages of sin is death.” “God made him to be a sin-offering for us, that we might become the righteousness of God through him”, and made righteous by his life.) He was delivered up for our transgressions, and raised (made alive) for our justification – to make us righteous. In the Lord’s Supper we do not dine on Jesus’ death, but on his life, and not the life of that tired, destructible, mortal body he wore from Bethlehem to Calvary, but that immortal, glorious, eternal life he is living right now. In that sense he is both the meal or food on the Lord’s Supper table and at once the host at its head. And because of our participation by faith, he is even within the hearts of the communicants, who are veritable “temples” of Christ’s very Spirit. A Reformed catechism puts it succinctly, we are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
It hardly needs pointing out that if this conception of the Lord’s Supper would grip us our entire celebration(s) of it would radically change. Somehow we have the idea it is a meal comparable to the refreshments served after a funeral/burial, and while we are not quite as forlorn as at the grave-side, our joy must be pretty tempered and rather soberly expressed.
Not so. This meal is comparable to a Thanksgiving feast which a father (and mother) have prepared by literal “blood, sweat and tears”, but do either they or the guests remember that? It is a “birthday party”, with the honoree bringing all kinds of gifts in addition to the meal, such priceless gifts as love, joy, peace, etc. Do you see any reason for long faces, melancholy music in that? It is a home-coming, comparable to the feast for the prodigal son, though it ought immediately be added that such a party is not given if the guests honor should run away after every one and expect another upon his return. (This in reference to the impression that is often left that we have done just that between almost every communions.) We speak of “celebrating” the Lord’s Supper; celebration denotes singing, dancing, joy. Quite out of place are such songs as we have in our hymnals for “mission” meetings, with which to invite the unsaved; Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind. More on this in the conclusion on this topic.