What are we doing at communion?
In the gospel of Mark, chapter 14 verse 22 – 25, we read that ‘while they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Whilst this is the earliest gospel account of the last supper (written in the early 70’s CE) and the basis for our communion service, it not the earliest written account which we find in Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 11, thought to have been written in the mid 50’s CE. Paul never met Jesus, although he records his belief that he met the risen Jesus in his experience on the Damascus Road. So, what he writes in Romans is his belief of what happened based on the stories he has heard passed down from those who were there. He records what happened slightly differently, ‘The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For Paul it was about proclaiming Jesus until the second coming. Today there is much debate about the understanding of the second coming, mainly because for many Jesus said the Kingdom is already here and therefore the understanding of the second coming is different. The understanding changed throughout the first century as the second coming failed to happen as expected. However, we still celebrate communion as a reminder of Jesus sharing an important occasion with his disciples, men and women, and as a reminder of our oneness within the body. This is why it is important to me that we do have a loaf, or at least a roll, which is broken and shared. As I share communion I picture Jesus breaking the loaf and all present sharing of that broken loaf, of the oneness.
We often talk about ‘remembering’ at communion, and whilst on the one hand that can have the obvious memory-based meaning there is another meaning which is to bring back together, to re-member. Again, a reminder that we are all one in God, even if through our actions and behaviour there are times when we seem separate, sharing communion reminds us that the reality is we are all one. In quantum theology, communion is seen as a celebration of our oneness, and the language reinforces the reality of our oneness, rather than the illusion of our separateness.
Within our tradition we usually drink from small individual cups and obviously this is not the same as drinking from the one cup. In practical terms all bar the smallest gathering will have more than one cup, even if many drink from each cup. There is something about sharing in drinking from the same cup but when we use the small cups we drink together, and that action can also remind us of our oneness. I often suggest that we eat the bread as we receive it, which the disciples would have done, and that we take that moment to reflect on our individual relationship with God, and perhaps our place within the oneness that is God. We then keep the wine to drink together, reflecting on our unity with God.
Finally, I offer Brian Wren’s words, ‘I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven, loved and free’. We meet God continually in our lives but at communion, as a fellowship, we celebrate our shared experience of God, through the revelation of Jesus message, we remember and re-member.