Yeah, this week is a pretty exciting time for Christians all around the world. Holy Week is the culmination of all that matters in our faith.
Go Christians go! Go Christians go! YaaaAAY Christians!!!
First of all, the end of Lent is now in sight. If you’re one of many believers who have been fasting for weeks and abstaining from things like, say… alcohol or sex or shaving, be assured that the end is near. And please be careful next week.
Second thing we have is a full calendar of Christian events coming up. During the next days Christians get to: wash another person’s feet on Thursday; attend a long, sombre church service on Friday; fertilize the lawn on Saturday; triumphantly consume spiral ham on Sunday and try to find time to read the Lenten booklet their church supplied in early March (it’s on the floor behind your night table).
Speaking of ham … well, food in general … Christians everywhere will universally pause, bow, and take part in the ancient holy tradition of bread and wine.
Volumes have been written about how to understand Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. Its history(s), meaning(s) and expression(s) have depths that most of us are oblivious to when we partake. In its purest form it was simply a meal, shared by believers around a table, where Jesus’s sacrifice was remembered through the always present bread and wine.
The origin of the Lord’s Supper is recorded in each of the four Gospels but this version is from Luke:
‘When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
‘Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”
‘He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
‘After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.’
Most churches will restrict who can serve the ‘elements’ of bread and wine, leaving it exclusively to the priest, pastor, elder or other approved person.
Most churches are also restrictive when it comes to which of us is allowed to receive it because it is for members or those judged to be believers only. Other churches warn us to take this seriously but word-craft the readings so we will feel guilty if we unfittingly partake.
It’s traditionally held that this particular rite is too holy to offer to just anybody.
But in my humble opinion it’s too holy not to offer to anybody.
Jesus’ entire ministry was about sharing meals with all sorts of people, regardless of character or reputation. Then he offered his body and blood both literally and figuratively on a Roman cross for everybody. In fact, in a fractured and diluted Christian church, this is one of the practices that Christians value and share universally.
Among my fondest memories as a pastor are the various personalities and types who would come humbly to receive Communion. I recall being touched by one elderly man in particular who was a strong, outspoken person in every day life but when he came to Communion he would pause prayerfully for an extended time, moved and renewed by the grace he was receiving.
The early church originally made the Lord’s Supper a feast! A table gathering where the first Christians became known for their inclusiveness since they didn’t recognize male, female, Jews, Gentiles, slave, or free. Inclusivity is not a new, liberal, left-wing idea; the early Christian table helped make Christianity the first broadly inclusive religion.
Charles Spurgeon was a fiery evangelical preacher in the last half of the 1800s – not exactly a liberal – but he famously said, ‘The only qualification to come to Christ is your lack of qualification.’
Or as Franciscan Richard Rohr has put it, ‘Jesus only excludes excluders and condemns condemners.’
Perhaps that’s the best way to express this. Obviously Communion isn’t for those who don’t value the ways of Jesus – it’s a personal choice to be made at the right time, for the right reasons. It’s not something to be taken lightly because it is about responding to the unlikely story of God becoming human and dying because of our sin.
But for those who are hungry, empty, journeying, broken, thankful or simply aware of their soul, the Table has a place reserved for you.
The entire narrative of Jesus’ final week on earth is given extra depth by the Passover meal that he shares with the apostles. We don’t know details of the moods or conversations while Jesus reclines at the table. Nevertheless he gives his future Church its most holy, permanent and universal tradition. We see him washing his disciple’s feet, then giving a physical bread-and-wine invitation to his open table. And we have his words.
‘This is my body, which is given for you … my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.’
‘For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit…’ (1 Peter 3:18 NRSV)