It’s Sunday morning at church. The opening songs have been sung, the prayer has been said, and we have sung another song in order to “prepare our minds for the Lord’s Supper.”
A man gets up to say a few words focusing on Christ’s death and resurrection. He prays and thanks God for the bread which represents the body of Christ which was broken for us. Then men in suits quietly pass golden plates bearing the unleavened, unsalted cracker up and down the isles.
As I look around, I see people doing interesting things. Many have their eyes closed as in quiet introspection or meditation. Others are looking down to their Bibles in their laps opened to Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Luke 23, or other passages. Each one is quietly and somberly “observing” the Lord’s Supper. As the tray comes to them, bringing them out of their time of deep reflection, they quickly break off a crumb-size piece of cracker and hand it off to the person next to them, with whom they are having no sense of fellowship or interaction. Each one keeps respectfully to him/herself, trying his/her best not to disturb anyone else’s time of secluded introspection.
The scene is exactly the same as the trays of tiny plastic cups filled with Welches are passed.
This routine is probably all too familiar to many of you, especially those who have grown up in the church. It’s tradition. After all, Paul commands us to examine ourselves before we eat the supper, and anyone taking it in an unworthy manner is eating and drinking condemnation on himself. But how can this time of remembrance, something often referred to as “Communion”, be an exclusionary, individual, singular event? Is it really supposed to only be communion between man and God? What about his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we really expected to eat a “supper” as a family and not have any sort of fellowship with each other??
The answer to the above questions, put simply, is a resounding NO!!
I will by no means be able to explain myself in full within one simple post; however, I will try my best to summarize sufficiently enough to give you a taste of what I am proposing. For further discussion about this, I highly recommend the book, Come to the Table by John Mark Hicks.
Let us begin with the writings of Luke and then of Paul. In Luke’s gospel, along with Matthew and Mark, we are told of the “institution” of the Lord’s Supper. Chapter 22 sets the stage with Jesus’ disciples making preparations for the Passover, the Jewish festival celebrating the covenant of God with his chosen people. More specifically, it was a celebration of thanksgiving for the death angel passing over the houses of the Israelites on the night of that tenth plague (see Exodus 12; Numbers 9).
This Passover meal did start out as a remembrance of Israel’s enslavement to Egypt, yet the meal progressed into a time of joyous celebration for the redemptive work of God through history with his people. It was a time to celebrate his covenant. It is, in fact, at this point of the meal in which Christ establishes his NEW covenant with his apostles. Luke 22:20 says, “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'”
So from the very outset, this supper was taken by Jesus’ followers in fellowship with one another and in celebration of the covenant of God with his people through the Law as well as the NEW covenant of God with his people through Christ.
What’s also interesting and unique with Luke’s account is what Jesus had to say in verse 16, “For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” When was the kingdom of God established here on earth? At the resurrection of Christ on the following Sunday. How do we know that? Luke does not let this prophecy go unfulfilled. In 24:13-31 we are told of the two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus met them on the road, conversed with them, explained the scriptures to them, and then broke bread with them.
Do you think this breaking of bread was a time of quiet, somber, introspection focusing on the death of Christ? Of course not! Once the disciples’ eyes were opened to recognize Jesus in their midst as the resurrected savior, they had to share this amazing experience and great news with the rest of Jesus’ followers! It was not a time to keep quiet! It was not a time of inward reflection trying their best not to disturb anyone else! It was a time of celebration, fellowship, relating stories and experiences they had with Christ!!
Throughout Luke’s writings, “breaking bread” was always a time of redemption, healing, joy, fellowship, and celebration. Luke, more than any other gospel writer, focuses on Jesus’ meal ministry. He “broke bread” with those who needed him – the “tax collectors and sinners”, the prostitutes, the beggars, the cast out and down trodden, those on the margins of Jewish society. These meals were Christ’s way of ensuring these rejects that they were not rejected by God. They were still partakers in the covenant. They still had value and meaning. This was the greatest sense of joy and hope that these people have possibly ever had! The times Jesus spent “breaking bread” were not times for these people to quietly reflect on how bad they were and how unworthy they may have been. These were meals of joyful celebration that they were still part of the covenant no matter what others say, no matter how “bad” they might be. In these meals wounds were mended, relationships were (re)established, hope was given.
(see Luke 5:27-32; 7:36-50; 8:49-56; 9:12-17; 10:38-42; 19:1-10)
The climax of these meals was, of course, the Last Supper and the following meal with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. But Luke does not leave it at that. In his account of the Acts of the Apostles, the phrase “breaking bread” carries the same connotation as THE breaking of bread at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. As we see in Acts 2 with the earliest converts, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer,” (2:42). And again, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (2:46-47)
This doesn’t seem AT ALL like the typical model of the Lord’s Supper with which I grew up! It seems to me like the early disciples were expressing their thanks and praise to God while they broke bread in remembrance of Christ. They ate together, sharing in gladness and enjoying the favor of all the other people. This is not the description I would use in portraying our individualistic, self-centered mode of “communion.”