Holy Communion, or the Eucharist [from the Greek word for “thanksgiving”], is a powerful means of grace. I touched on this briefly in my blog article of 3/9/2018, “Two ‘Means of Grace’ for Healing,” which you might want to read before this one. God has never stopped using means of grace, although most Christians today have stopped thinking clearly about them. But we must be very clear on the Table. For too many years Holy Communion has been treated as merely an act of ritual obedience. The Eucharist must be retrieved for what it is: a means of grace for personal spiritual growth, inner healing and, at times, spiritual warfare.
A Mystery Beyond Human Speculation
The Lord’s Supper is a mystery. Making what’s on the Table fit our theological explanations may comfort human minds, but it often robs Holy Communion of its centrality to Christian life and witness. Disputes about the virtues of one position over another have divided the Body of Christ. It might be best to approach the Table always repenting that we ever tolerated such division. Roman Catholics insist on transubstantiation, the more ancient Orthodox on objective transformation; for Lutherans it’s a sacramental union, for the Reformed a spiritual union, or for many other Protestants, a holy memorial; unfortunately, for some denominations, it was a temporary rite no longer needed. Please, for the sake of our King, put all these rationally-defended theories and viewpoints on hold and bask in the mystery. Heaven will eventually vindicate or obliterate your chosen view. But right now, and for the rest of your earthly life, be a servant subject to our Sovereign Lord, and take Him at His word. With the trust of childlike faith, regardless of your viewpoint, accept at face value what is written in the Book:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-57, NASB)
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood,” (Luke 22:19-20, NASB).
And to solidify your meditation on the Eucharistic mystery, plunge your heart deep into what Paul says about the ongoing celebration of this Holy Meal: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, ESV, emphasis mine). Both Paul’s understanding and Christ’s clear instruction should convince us that approaching this sacred Table is physically the closest we can get to what Jesus accomplished on Calvary. In a mysterious way, to “eat this bread and drink this cup” is to both participate in and “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26, NIV).
A Table of Death
Christ’s crucifixion was a terminus, an end point for many things; His Resurrection, the beginning for many others. The Cross and empty tomb divided time into BC and AD—now renamed BCE and CE, which hasn’t altered that division. They closed the Old Testament with a New Covenant, turning a Jewish story into a global one. For every believer, they end the old life with new birth, as sacramentally portrayed in baptism.
Baptism—a one-time rite for initiation into the Christian community—is a burial of the old life (as in a watery tomb) and an emergence into a newborn life (as from a watery womb). Paul describes this in very plain language: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV). This break with the old life and entrance into the new life is demonstrated once in baptism, but our ongoing need for replacing old ways of living with Christlike living is repeatedly demonstrated at the Table. There we participate again and again in the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice and empty tomb for the rest of our earthly sojourn.
It’s highly significant that Jesus introduced foot-washing in the context of His Table. He told Peter its purpose in John 13:10 (ESV): “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” Whether or not foot-washing accompanies Holy Communion, the need for cleansing is ongoing. We bring to the Table an array of worldly attitudes and behaviors that we must part with and leave behind. They need to die, and Paul says their death is the work of Christ’s Cross: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” (Galatians 6:14, NIV).
God is not into magic. Physically taking the Eucharist does not automatically free us from worldliness. This is why Jesus said, “you are clean, but not every one of you.” Judas missed out, despite having his feet washed by Jesus and eating the new Passover meal. An authentic participation in the body and blood of Christ at the Table is a relational act dependent on personal faith. Just as baptism is a physical confession of faith in Christ’s work on Calvary, so is partaking of the fruits of the Cross presented to us again on the Table. This makes Holy Communion a means of grace—a focal point where God’s power can put to death those vestiges of worldly ways clinging to our lives—as long as we faithfully bring them to Him, remembering that the purpose for His death was to eliminate them from our lives.
Practically, this means spending time in prayer before coming to the Eucharistic Meal, asking the Holy Spirit to convict us in whatever areas we have participated in those dispositions and deeds that belong to the realm of darkness. It may be helpful to ask Him to show us if we have:
- any attitude we need to confess and forsake
- any behavior we need to bring to an end
- any habit or addiction from which we need to be set free
- any laziness or laxity needing banishment from our lives
- any ties we have inherited or formed that need to be severed
- any obsessions or compulsions that need to be broken
- anything else in us that needs to die
A Table of Life
If we have made our prayerful preparation and are bringing our worldly trash and baggage to leave at the Table, we will likely approach Holy Communion with tears of grief. It is right to be sorrowful that such things have been held back from our Lord, in spite of having received new birth from Him. But when what the Holy Spirit has shown us is left on the Table, we can then take His life from the Table with tears of joy and celebration. Holiness and wholeness and freedom must fill up those areas where unrighteousness and darkness and bondage have been banished.
This participation in His resurrection life is a relational act of faith in its initiation and its continuation. When you accepted Christ as your Savior, you entered salvation by new birth. But you have been exhorted to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose,” (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV). Jesus stipulated baptism as a physical faith-affirmation of new birth, and He gave us His Table as an ongoing physical faith-reminder of our need to let His resurrection life fill every area of our personal lives.
With the same heart-searching prayer and personal intention, we must come to the Table of Christ’s resurrected life, taking from Him what we need in the area of:
- attitudes and desires aligned with the mind of Him Who indwells us
- choices and behaviors that reflect “not my will but Yours be done”
- habits of devotion to prayer, Bible study and spiritual growth
- a serious concern for others and commitment to serve them
- gathering with other Christians for spiritual fellowship
- waging spiritual warfare against the realm of darkness
- whatever else God reveals that needs to come alive in us
We may not be used to thinking of physical rituals, like baptism and Holy Communion, as truly spiritual activities. We may have a Gnostic view that sees no relationship between the physical and the spiritual, no intrinsic union between the body and the spirit. If so, have ignored God’s many uses of physical means of grace throughout Scripture, but worse, we have fail to uphold the central significance of Christ’s incarnation, bodily death and resurrection. Our faith is incarnational, or it is not the Christian faith found in the New Testament. The fruits of the Cross and of the Resurrection are on the Table, and Christ’s “in remembrance of Me,” includes His words, “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” Embrace the mystery and participate in it.
I hope that all reading this article will discover a new way of coming to the Communion Table. I hope all will start seeing it as a return to the Cross, where Christ’s death brings us life, by putting our old life to death so that we can freely participate in His resurrected life. The following poem makes an apt conclusion, describing the approach both to the Cross and to the Table.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE CROSS
Brokenly we stumble down the twisted trails of life,
Struggling to discover peace in self-made worlds of strife,
Fighting to escape our fears of losing what we gain,
Craving for a feast of pleasures free from any pain.
Yet, upon these broad and damning roads beneath our feet,
There’s a solemn shadow that our steps may often meet.
In the setting sun of earthly dreams there stands a Cross,
Casting hope upon those paths of everlasting loss.
From its slender shade, which seems at first so cramped and tight,
Comes a whispered offer for a journey into Light.
Once, there was no exit; now a doorway stands in view,
Open for the weary passerby to walk on through.
Oh but how it looks constricted, narrow as the grave,
Waiting to convert the seeker’s soul into its slave
By its strong death-dealing nails for fixing limbs to wood:
No more wandering the world we thought we understood;
No more squandering of precious gifts that God bestows;
No more pity for ourselves for self-engendered woes;
No more place for stubbornness within our willful heart—
Selfish thrones must topple, proud dominions fall apart;
No more so-called freedom for our flesh to play the fool;
Only crucifixion, setting Jesus free to rule . . .
Harsh and strict, this pathway through the Cross of Christ appears,
Warning all who enter of its dark side’s loss and tears.
Yet, if we have thought it out and in that way have stepped,
We elude what choked our lives, rejoicing where we wept.
Such emancipation on the Cross’s other side
Opens up to us a realm extremely rich and wide.
Heaven’s light unveils a vast expanse where glory shines.
Holy wealth with pure delight and beauty intertwines.
Far beyond imagination, rapture fills our souls.
Endless joy in useful service flows from godly goals.
What were not true friendships in the world we leave behind
Change to new, real fellowship we’d always hoped to find.
On the Cross’s brighter side, our destination’s clear.
Working out His Word and will, we sense His presence near.
Jesus walked the dying side to hellish depths below
To unlock the living side, where treasures overflow:
Mysteries of faith and prayer, His Body’s bread and wine,
Light of Life, a life of Love, and love for Light Divine.
What He purchased when He hung as “nothing” on the Tree
Was to be our everything: His life in you and me.
So, don’t flee the Cross because you see its darker side.
Don’t keep running off to find a wider place to hide.
Stop and leave the worldly highway, choose no more to roam:
Make the Cross of Jesus yours, and it will lead you home.
— David L. Hatton, 4/6/1993
(from Poems Between Darkness and Light ©1994, 2014)
( For a 10-minute, online Holy Communion
observance, go to https://youtu.be/lWQtfOM3caY )