I’ve recently finished reading The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge, which I heartily recommend. It has unlocked a great deal in my heart. But there was one section I found particularly striking. Using ancient Israel as an example, Eldredge discusses at length the human propensity to forget the things of God. Israel had the benefit of divinely prescribed reminders being codified into their law; the various feasts they celebrated to commemorate their own salvation history (such as Passover) are examples of this. These reminders were designed to inculcate both gratitude and faithfulness to God within His covenant community. Nevertheless, Israel’s history is pockmarked with repeated descents into apostasy and ensuing cultural implosion.
Eldredge rightly points out that if God prescribed and commanded the observance of reminders in ancient Israel, it is the height of hubris to imagine that modern Christians don’t need them. Moreover, if we attempt to skirt the need for reminders of God’s grace and faithfulness to us, we are headed for the personal equivalent of the devastation Israel experienced at times in her own history.
For Christians, the observance of the Lord’s Table (or Communion) is one such reminder. Jesus said that it is something we do “in remembrance” of Him. And St. Paul says in 1 Cor 11:26 that as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He returns.
We commonly associate Communion with the consummate expression of God’s love for us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. But Paul makes it clear that it’s a reminder of something else as well:
Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1 Cor 11:28-29)
The cup is a sharing in the blood of Christ, and the bread we break is a sharing in the body of Christ. Since there is one bread, we who are may are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor 10:16-17)
When we observe Communion, it is also meant to be a reminder that:
- Christians with an orthodox confession are one together in Christ.
- We are members of one another.
- We belong to one another.
This is a fundamental reality of Christian existence, so much so that Paul says to the Corinthian church, “I may be absent from you in body, but I am present in spirit.” He also says we are all connected with invisible bands.
So part of the reverent self-examination that is prescribed when we celebrate the Lord’s Table is in light of the fact that we are connected. We are one. We are part of one another. What I do in those moments when I labor under the delusion that I am truly alone actually affects other believers. What other Christians do, public and private, affects me.
To put it practically, the faith community is with me — part of me — in a very real way when I’m disciplining my son, or having a disagreement with my wife, or working at the office, or when I just got cut off on the freeway by a rude driver, or when I’m surfing the Internet. If you’re a believer, I can’t get away from you. And you can’t get away from me. We are one in Christ.
So evaluating our behavior when we are about to take Communion needs to take into account not merely how we’ve slipped up vis-a-vis God, but how we’ve committed sins of selfishness and independence against our own body — our brothers and sisters in Christ. And repentance, turning 180 degrees in the opposite direction, starts with acknowledging that we here in America tend toward lone ranger Christianity — a posture of living that flies squarely in the face of a fundamental truth of our existence as children of God.
Like it or not, we’re together. Always. By divine design.
And that means it’s better that way. Let’s act like it. 🙂
aka The MonT-SteR