Communion as freedom

The Last Supper was a Passover meal, and like the Passover, is meant to be done as a remembrance. The Passover meal is observed once a year with the goal of reminding the Jewish people that God freed them from slavery from Egypt. Today’s Communion service is also done as a reminder of freedom from slavery, but it is the slavery of sin.

Just because people are freed from slavery doesn’t mean they are free.

Life didn’t easier after the Jews were freed from being slaves. They wandered for forty years in the desert trying to reach the Promised Land. There was hardship and pain. There were tests and perils. Not everybody made it. A lot died. Moses, the great leader, the one who intervened with God on behalf of the Jewish people, was one of them. Even Moses, handpicked by God, one of the few people to get to talk with God face to face, even Moses failed and wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The same is true for following Jesus. It isn’t an express ticket. It isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. It is a transition. It is an end to your old life yet a beginning to a whole new life of work and hardship. It isn’t easy following Jesus.

Jesus instituted this ritual meal the night before he was captured. He knew what was about to happen, but his disciples didn’t. He knew that they would need a reminder of the life of Jesus and the prophecies that he fulfilled. He knew that they would need a reminder of the promises that he embodies.

Both ritual meals celebrate freedom, but Passover is only done once a year. Communion can be done every time that Jesus’ followers get together. In some churches this is once a week (Episcopal). In some it is every day, several times a day (Catholic). In some it is quarterly (Baptist). In some it is yearly (Jehovah’s Witness). In some it is almost never.

Every time I get together with friends to study the Scriptures, I celebrate Communion. It is a reminder of who we are there for. It is a reminder of who is at the center of our circle. It is a reminder that this isn’t just a social gathering.

I love ritual, and I really love the ritual of Communion. While anybody can celebrate Communion, I realize that not everybody is comfortable performing a ritual. So I provide this part of our gathering.

I try to make it interesting every time. I try to share the meaning and history of the ceremony. I don’t go from a script. There is no order of service as such. There isn’t much liturgy yet either. But I’m working on that. I think that it is important to have everybody participate in the ceremony, rather than just being part of the audience. Communion isn’t a passive thing.

It is a remembering in the truest sense. It is where Jesus joins us, not only joins with us, but joins us together. Jesus enters into our selves, our very beings, in a literal and spiritual way. Also, we are knit together with all other members of the Body of Christ, past, present, and future. We become one.

In the same way that separate grains of wheat become one loaf of bread, we become one in the Body of Christ when we celebrate Communion. Somehow, we stop being free, and yet we become free at the same time. We stop being individuals and we become part of something bigger. We give up our petty needs and join together for something greater. Together, we are stronger.

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The bread of God.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3b)

There is a Jewish blessing that is said at every meal that has bread. It is called the HaMatzi Blessing. In English it is:

“Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the Earth.”

Now, bread does not come from the Earth. Bread comes from wheat, which comes from the Earth. And it doesn’t just spring forth. It has to be planted by humans. It has to be tended by us. Then it has to be harvested, threshed, and milled. Only then it can be used to make bread.

Yes, we have to be thankful to God that the Earth produces food. We have to be thankful of the amazing process that makes a seed grow into a plant which grows into food. We should never take that for granted. But we also are part of the process. We have to do work too.

The blessing refers to the time when the Jews were wandering in the desert and had nothing to eat. It isn’t really about bread. It is about reminding us that God always provides for our needs. That we should take nothing for granted. That we owe our very existence to God.

We say there are no miracles anymore. We forget that every moment is a miracle. We forget that every beat of our heart is God saying that we are loved and we are needed.

The verse above is what we are familiar with, but it is only part of the verse. Here’s the full verse:

“He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (HCSB)

There is a Christian twist on this blessing that changes it to “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe who brings forth the living bread from Heaven.”

This is a reference to Jesus’ words in John 6:35-40:

35 “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again. 36 But as I told you, you’ve seen Me, and yet you do not believe. 37 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus said this after feeding 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish, which were a donation. There were twelve baskets of food left over after everyone had been fed. In the Gospel according to Mark, book 8 we learn that Jesus also fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. There were seven large baskets of leftover pieces.

That miracle is the same miracle as the manna. God always provides for us. It rarely is in a way that we expect. Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect this. He did this miracle twice, and they still didn’t get it. They still didn’t understand that it isn’t about the bread at all.

God is bigger than we can imagine. God is always providing for us. Blessed be God, who provides bread – that the conditions are right for wheat to grow, and that we have the knowledge and skill to create it into something that will nourish us. Blessed be God, who feeds us in surprising ways.