When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14: 17-26)
What do you think about when communion comes around? Some churches do it every week, others every month or quarter. Those who do not believe in Christ are asked not to partake. Especially if you’re not Catholic. Oh boy, I learned that lesson fast!
I first questioned communion a few years ago at my great aunt’s church. I was angry and not “right” with God. I thought I’d bring a curse upon myself if I partook, so I didn’t and went to the bathroom instead. I actually walked around outside seething.
My second thought was about why we collectively agree to assault our taste buds with a stale wafer and a chaser of grape juice to background music.
A third thought occurred each time I took my Hindu friend to church and she inquired about participating in communion. Embarrassed, I tried to explain without any good reason why she couldn’t. My final answer was simply: “I don’t know.”
These thoughts swirled around in my head for months until I asked God outright, “Why can’t everyone partake of the elements?” I do concede that one should not simply eat and drink for ritual’s sake. But by what doctrine do we insist that only believers may partake? Did Jesus ever say, “Hey, do this in remembrance of me… only if you truly believe”? I also concede that taking the Lord’s Supper in remembrance will typically imply that one already believes, but overall, did Jesus say, “only if you accept the Spirit and understand what this all means, you can partake”? Church leaders certainly think so.
Then there was the Catholic mass I attended just a few weeks ago. I went with a new friend to learn about the Catholic service. I had never been before. After the announcement of communion, my friend whispered to me, “You can stay here while we [Catholics] go up.” To my chagrin, I scathingly said aloud, “Oh, you have to be Catholic to do communion, you can’t just be Christian.” My response got the attention of my friend, so I myself went forward to partake.
I was watching as people filed through the line for elements. They did the “cross your heart” thing, took a Styrofoam-like wafer, and then sipped from a communal goblet. Ok, not too bad. However, I would absolutely not touch my lips to anything fifty people’s lips had already touched. Instead, I resolved to dip the wafer in the goblet. Wow, I was giddy. I got my wafer and did a little bow, eh, whatever. I dipped the wafer, and then as I turned, I absent-mindedly bit into the wafer. The priest called out, “You’re not allowed to do that!” I thought he was talking about the wine, so I said, “I don’t want to drink after anyone.” He meant “snapping the wafer in half.” I was supposed to put the whole thing on my tongue. It was a poignant experience… learning how even a Christian could be excluded from Catholic communion simply because they are Protestant and new to the service.
A common passage used for how to serve and partake of communion is from 1 Corinthians 11. Paul upbraided the church for desecrating the Lord’s Supper by not waiting for all to sit down at the table before eating the meal. Instead, they served their own families, ate individually, and filled themselves up while others went hungry. Paul was telling them to do it together and share the meal among everyone. Not waiting for one another so that the communion meal could be taken together as a family was what Paul referred to as “eating and drinking in an unworthy manner” and “not discerning the Lord’s body.”
Friends, taking communion “in a worthy manner” is a relational, community thing… not a “personal inspection for sin before you can partake” thing. Perhaps it’s this erroneous interpretation of the Lord ’s Supper which has caused the Church to exclude some from the table. After all, if you’re a believer, then you’re pretty much “clean” (as long as you haven’t sinned recently…), so you can partake. But if you’re not a believer, you are certainly “defiled with sin” and therefore cannot partake. But how can this all be, considering that Jesus ate with ALL of His disciples (including Judas) on His way to reshaping the entire faith into an inclusive one? How can this be, after Judas, the traitor himself, was eating right along with them… whom Jesus personally served at the table! How can this be, considering many disciples themselves struggled to understand and believe?
Christians these days, from what I’ve experienced, say they want everyone to belong and come as they are. Yet, once someone draws near, they are still not fully able to participate. Christians themselves are feeling excluded and tired of legalism. Yet it seems as though we are introducing others into exactly that by being exclusive at the communion table.
Jesus died and rose again to rip open the Holy of Holies, to allow everyone in, and we are laying out another hoop? What if, through taking the elements, a person can learn through symbolic actions God’s redemptive plan and actually come to understand Christ’s sacrifice and recompense for them? Though some may fail to accept Christ’s love, can we request that they not experience a meal with those who do embody his Spirit? What if, by allowing all to eat at the Lord’s Table, we invite non-believers closer? What if we all, believers and non-believers alike, held the elements as Christ’s words were recited? Couldn’t the Spirit work through that experience of touching and tasting, as well as hearing and seeing? Shoot, what if we were to ditch the whole juice and cracker thing and invite these people to dine on real food, to experience real love at a table together… all of us sinners, all of us shown mercy?
We all know how to eat good food. Judas knew that, and Judas was at the first Lord’s Supper. He got to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste along with the others. Even though he betrayed Christ, Christ did not bar him from the table. In fact, Jesus brought Judas closer before sending him on his way. I believe if Judas had repented like Peter, Jesus would have welcomed him back with open arms. But we can save that thought for later.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.