A meditation on the meaning of Communion.
“as often as you do this, remember Me”
“The body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in eternal life!”
It is imperative in communion that we “discern the Lord’s body”
- the body of Christ was evidence of His real humanity – and therefore, by extension, of His incarnation. This is God approaching us for communion.
- the body of Christ also continues on Earth as the Invisible, Universal Church, incarnating God to the world – “we are the body of Christ.” This again speaks of the communion of God with us as being expressed in, rather than limited by, the physicality and individuality of human bodies.
- we are members not of an institution but “one of another”. We are “interdividuals” (Rene Girard) – not mini, individual packets of self-referencing beings (although it is this way superficially). The substance of our selves consists essentially of a unique mix of bits of other selves (beginning with those who raised us and including those we share our lives with, our neighbours and our enemies).
- thus we understand that our welfare and progress as individual “ears” or “hands” is dependent on the welfare and progress of all those others who are members of us (and of whom we are members) – the body corporate. This is “a great secret/mystery”.
– Thus, by symbolising “the body of our Lord Jesus Christ”, the wafer or piece of bread in the sacrament reminds us that continuity of eternal life for us now (i.e. the experience of life in its fullness as it is meant to be lived now, which involves daily deliverance from secular, anti-God philosophies, purposes and practices based around individualistic self-serving) depends on us maintaining our Jesus-revealed recognition of:
- the holistic, inclusive nature of all God has made and our part in it.
- the importance of each of us individually embracing this reality (since “whoever tries to save his (individual) life will lose it, but whoever loses his (individual) life will preserve it (/experience real connected living)” – Luke 17:33, ISV).
- the importance of this message (the Gospel), which has been entrusted corporately to us (the Church Invisible), so that it might be lived, appreciated and made accessible to all. Therefore, it is also the Invisible Church – as the body of Christ involved in building itself up in love and being a light to the nations – that “keeps us in eternal life”! Part of “discerning the body” may be to recognize this role of the Church, making the words “the body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in eternal life!” a prayer for the Church’s vitality and faithfulness.
“The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in eternal life!”
– the blood of Christ – representing His life and essence (“the life is in the blood” – Lev 17:11) – became available to benefit others when His body was broken.
– “Drinking Christ’s blood”, as cannibals drank the blood (and ate the flesh) of their strongest – but vanquished – opponents, symbolises imbibing Christ’s strength and virtue (Girard).
– But Christ was not vanquished by humanity. Had we wanted Him dead ten-fold more badly and had we used modern weaponry against Him, we still would not have been able to kill Him outside the Divine forbearance of it. We would be unable to kill Him not because He wasn’t fully human – He was that – but because of the Divine ‘Hedge’ / protection around Him – “Don’t you think that I could call on my Father, and he would send me more than twelve legions of angels now?”). But it was the (permissive, rather than the active) will of the Lord that we bruise Him, and He always obeyed the Father He trusted.
– Thus the shed blood of Christ is indicative of two things. Firstly, it highlights Humanity’s way of shedding innocent blood (Girard). Secondly, we see Jesus’ willingness to let go of His physical life.
– On the latter, Jesus made a decision to let go His physical life – for His blood to not remain hidden away in His blood vessels and serving only His individual physical body, but for it to be shed so it could (metaphysically) serve wider Humanity instead. This decision was not taken in a context of fear of death. What fear he had (?) He prayed through and was strengthened to face whatever was around the corner with confidence (John 22:48+). What enable Him to do this was His faith in (trust / knowledge of) a loving Divine Parent, Whose love guaranteed/s resurrection and casts out fear.
– His resurrection is proof that He was right to dispel whatever fear of death He had. Hence also the Christian martyrs in the first two centuries and since (and the rest of us who believe) were (can be) likewise delivered from the fear of death which holds all of humanity in bondage to not do God’s will.
– It is deliverance from fear of death that makes it possible for us to attain the goal of our Earthly sojourn. The goal is to reach the completeness (or “perfection”) of what it means to be sons and daughters of God, which is expressed by pacificism and our love for our (national as well as personal) enemies. It is this quality of faith that will enable us to share an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison – in knowing God (all relationships need faith – usually spoken of as trust!). And it will be only when believers take up their cross and “(don’t) cling to their lives even in the face of death” that the world will change from its blood-shedding and individualistic ways into being the Kingdom of God on Earth!
– Thus, by symbolizing “the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”, the wine (or grape juice) in the sacrament reminds us that the essence, vitality and sweetness of our communion with God (and with the whole Creation, including our spiritual siblings, neighbours and enemies) depends on us maintaining the same attitude to our physical lives and the same quality of faith in our loving Heavenly Father that Jesus had. Eternal life is about a certain quality of faith – whoever lives by such faith lives well and is “righteous” (or “just”) in both character and lifestyle.
– Similar to case with the bread, the wine/juice is a reminder that “whoever (prioritizes) his (physical) life will lose (real life), but whoever (risks losing and/or) loses his (physical) life will preserve (real connected living now and in the Resurrection)” – Luke 17:33, ISV).
“The body and blood of Christ (in all their dimensions) keep you in eternal life!”
Communion for the unbaptised?
There is some variation in how different Christian denominations understand the communion sacrament, aside from my contribution here. I imagine that some of these different understandings are helpful and some are not so helpful. I dare say no-one has got a perfect understanding. However, by virtue of its frequency and centrality in corporate worship, the sacrament invites reflection year in and year out. That surely is why the Lord gave us the sacrament and said “remember Me” in the first place!
This being the case I feel happy for the unbaptised, including small children, to partake. The church’s goal is that we all be educated about the meaning of it all. I think that as the unbaptised grow in their understanding that they should feel free to opt out Communion if it becomes offensive (or meaningless) to them, just as many whom Jesus fed miraculously opted out when Jesus suggested that they needed to feed on Him. On the other hand, other unbaptised (or unconfirmed) communicants may come to conclude that it is Jesus who “has the words of eternal life” and then baptism/confirmation may be an appropriate next step for them (see my other paper on baptism).
 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and let him drink of the cup; for he eating and drinking unworthily eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:28-29 LITV)
 so we the many are one body in Christ, and each one members of one another, (Romans 12:5 LITV)
 I have said, You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High. (Psalms 82:6 LITV)
 For we are parts of his body–of his flesh and of his bones. “That is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great secret, but I am talking about the Messiah and the church. (Ephesians 5:30-32 ISV)
 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like large drops of blood falling on the ground. (Luke 22:44 ISV)
 There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18 ISV)
 Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, he himself also shared the same things, so that by his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death (that is, the devil) and might free those who were slaves all their lives because they were terrified by death. (Hebrews 2:14-15 ISV)
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you will become children of your Father in heaven, because he makes his sun rise on both evil and good people, and he lets rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you greet only your relatives, that’s no great thing you’re doing, is it? Even the gentiles do the same, don’t they? So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 ISV)
 The one who doesn’t take up his cross and follow me isn’t worthy of me. The one who finds his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life because of me will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39 ISV)
 Our brothers conquered him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to their lives even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11 ISV)
 For in the gospel God’s righteousness is being revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous will live by faith.”….. He wanted to demonstrate at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies anyone who has the faithfulness of Jesus. (Romans 1:17 & 3:26 ISV)
 11Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he passed the bread to the people, and he did the same with the fish, until everyone had plenty to eat….. 53Jesus answered: I tell you for certain that you won’t live unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man….. 60 Many of Jesus’ disciples heard him and said, “This is too hard for anyone to understand.” 66Because of what Jesus said, many of his disciples turned their backs on him and stopped following him. John 6:11, 53,60, 66
 So Jesus asked the Twelve, “You don’t want to leave, too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:67-68 ISV)