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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Holy Communion: Why all the fuss?

Some thoughts on Communion as a Eucharistic ceremony . . .

First of all the scripture:

For I received from the lord himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the lord Jesus on the night when he was treacherously delivered up and while his betrayal was in progress took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke [it] and said, take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this to call me [affectionately] to remembrance.

Similarly, when supper was ended, he took the cup also, saying, this cup is the new covenant [ratified and established] in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink [it], to call me [affectionately] to remembrance.

For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are representing, signifying, and proclaiming the fact of the lord's death until he comes [again].

So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the lord in a way that is unworthy [of him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the lord.

Let a man [thoroughly] examine himself, and [only when he has done] so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ’s] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself. That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason many of you are weak and sickly, and quite enough of you have fallen into the sleep of death.

For if we searchingly examined ourselves [detecting our shortcomings and recognizing our own condition], we should not be judged and penalty decreed [by the divine judgment]. But when we [fall short and] are judged by the lord, we are disciplined and chastened, so that we may not [finally] be condemned [to eternal punishment along] with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you gather together to eat [the lord's supper], wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together to bring judgment [on yourselves]. About the other matters, I will give you directions [personally] when I come. 1 Corinthians 11: 32-34

Now, let us consider some things these verses do not say. They do not say that the bread and/or the wine are his literal body, or the ceremony is his literal death. In other words, Christ does not intend in my opinion to convey that thought. Otherwise, he would not have said, Do this in remembrance of me. Memory works on the imagination, and is not the literal essence of what you are thinking about. I think of my wedding each time I look at my wedding ring. However, I do not of necessity get married each time I look at my wedding ring. No, it is an efficacious memory, but certainly not a wedding ceremony.

Memory works that way.

Notice also, Paul says, 
“Similarly, when supper was ended, he took the cup also, saying, this cup is the new covenant [ratified and established] in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink [it], to call me [affectionately] to remembrance.” Amplified Bible
 He did not say this wine, but this cup—note the symbolism of the cup, representing the wine. Symbolism works that way. Words, objects and symbolic ceremonies represent something else. In other words, the word cup stands for the contents of the cup, which as we all know was wine, most probably accompanied with water and salt since it was many think a Seder meal—although, I have certain reservations in coming to that understanding. However, if it were a Seder meal, celebrated on the 14th of Nisan, then this presents a whole set of interesting developments that affect our interpretation of the Corinthian passage cited above. More about that later, when I refer to the role of Judas in these proceedings.

The clear indication, however, is that cup stood for wine. Symbolism again, if we understand the use of words to represent facts—albeit, in this case embedded in the memory as a promise before the fact.

Now, if we allow our imagination to further progress along logical lines, we find that the chalice as a symbol contained real wine; could it be, therefore, that the wine of the Eucharistic ceremony also contains that which it symbolized—namely, that of the blood of Christ. The same could be inferred by the bread, also. Symbols, that stand alone, don’t really stand for anything.

Many examples may be given of the use of analogy in the ministry of Christ. I am the vine, he said. I am, the way. I am, the light. And, so forth. No one, I believe with sanity would insist that Jesus is, or will ever become a vine. Or, a light. Or, a road. No, these are symbolic terms.

Further, Jesus, had not yet been crucified or risen from the dead, indicating once again that these words were used symbolically, as to which I have previously alluded.

Now, I am fully aware that some do some fantastic mental and theological gymnastics to make this even into more that it was, or was ever intended to be.

However, I am not through with my analysis.

These verses also read:

Let’s now take a close look at what that may mean. Firstly, there is a physical act, that is, eating and drinking. This is accompanied with a concurrent mental activity, discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation, resulting in a verdict of judgment.

For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ’s] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself. That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason many of you are weak and sickly, and quite enough of you have fallen into the sleep of death. For if we searchingly examined ourselves [detecting our shortcomings and recognizing our own condition], we should not be judged and penalty decreed [by the divine judgment]. But when we [fall short and] are judged by the lord, we are disciplined and chastened, so that we may not [finally] be condemned [to eternal punishment along] with the world.

Again, judgment is contingent not on the act of taking communion, but taking it unworthy.

How then do we avoid that? By examining ourselves—detecting, as it were, our shortcomings and recognizing our own sinful condition; again, a mental exercise.

Further, it seems to me that closed communion is out here. The scripture says, let a man examine himself—not the minister or the priest, but the participating individual. In line with this, we should question as to whether or not Judas participated in that first communion? Scripture records that he was present during the meal, and that Christ knew he was a thief from the beginning and would betray him. John 13: 1-32 However, the pertinent question is, did he take the sop before or after Christ consecrated the bread and wine with the words, “This is my body”—in reference to the bread (matzo), and this cup (of wine) “is my blood”? If the sop, indeed, was from the dish of salt mixed with water, indicating tears or sadness, then certainly the sop represents the tears of bitterness that Judah must have experience because of his betrayal.

Now, the truth of the matter is that Paul simplified the liturgy; and rightly so, since that would require a full seder meal and we would only be able to celebrate communion once a year on the 14th of Nisan of the Jewish calendar.

Why all the fuss? Well, simply because of this. If Jesus allowed Judas to participate, then who are we to withhold communion from anyone. And, of course, this would support Paul’s admonition for a man to examine himself least he eat unworthily, thus bringing judgment upon himself.

So, in any case about all we can do as ministers is to warn, and let God take care of the judging.  Of course, we also know that Satan entered Judas immediately, prompting and, I believe, enabling him to commit the unthinkable sin of betrayal of our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Is this not what we also do, when we take Communion unworthily? Do we not discern the body and blood of Christ that was sacrificed for us? Most assuredly it is. And, as with Judas there are consequences. Sickness and even death among us. So, participation in this symbolic ceremony is not to be taken lightly.

So, naturally, the question arises, why the consequences if it is only symbolic. The answer is that God judges us by our acts, including our words. I trust I do not need to reference that. Every Christian knows and believes that.

The theologians among us, however, insist that there must be more than just symbols here. Surely, they say, transubstantiation takes place, and the bread and wine become the real body of Jesus Christ. Others insist that, at best, only the Spirit of the Lord is present, mysteriously somehow, tucked away in the bread and wine. So, they use the word consubstantiation to represent that line of thought.

Where do I stand? I stand with what I clearly see in Scripture that is that the bread and wine in the communion service are sacramental in symbolism and for us to take of them unworthily results in a verdict of judgment. How or when Christ is present is a mystery, but no more of a mystery than when he says that when two or three are gathered together he is in their midst also. Matthew 18: 19-20

Jim R