Five Milliliters of Grace
The Lord's Supper
By David B. Smith
It was a Friday afternoon matinee in a Nevada movie theater. Halfway through the show, the film stopped and a theater manager stepped forward. He told the crowd, “We have just learned that the President of the United States, the Vice President, the Governor of Texas, and a Secret Service man have been murdered. We now continue with our matinee feature.” The lights went back down, the projectionist started the film back up . . . and people just sat there, unmoved. Oh well. On with the show. At Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy was receiving last rites, a young couple was flirting and goofing around just a few doors down from the ER. A White House staffer saw the silly commotion and snapped at them: “Show some respect.”
One of the most somber — and yet joyous — experiences a Christian can have is to join his or her family and take part in the Lord’s Supper. Together with others who are pausing to remember a memorable death, we respectfully hold in our hands a small piece of bread and a minuscule cup of grape juice. But what do these symbols actually mean? Why do Christians of all faiths attach deep significance to them and consider them to hold life-changing power?
“I have set you an example.” It was a bleak Thursday evening for Jesus; He knew that Calvary soldiers were about to nail Him to a cross. And after more than three years of selfless ministry, His twelve disciples appeared shallow and clueless, ambitiously bickering about who might occupy the highest position in the glitzy kingdom they still imagined Jesus was about to inaugurate. Then, as they watched in shamefaced horror, the King of the universe wrapped a towel around His waist and began to wash their feet.
This was the assignment of a servant. This was a menial, distasteful task far beneath them . . . and for sure it was beneath Jesus. But the room fell silent as Jesus, King of the universe who was about to experience a death of disgrace on a criminal’s cross, went from one to another, serving them, humbling Himself, setting aside all pride and all claims of position and glory.
And this was no photo-op, the cliché of a presidential candidate working at a soup kitchen after calling CNN crews to film the staged moment. No, Jesus longed for that spiritual light bulb to go on for His followers, so they would understand that when we love each other, acts of kindness are a joy instead of a duty. Galatians 5:13: Serve one another in love. So Jesus quietly reminded them that Christianity is a faith of relinquishing rights and status, a communion of utter equality and unity. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14, 15). In the Adventist community, then, believers gladly follow this command; washing each other’s feet is a wonderful reminder that, in the shadow of the cross, egos and petty resentments need to be firmly set aside. We are far more teachable when we’re humble!
“Do this in remembrance of Me.” Virtually every Christian denomination embraces the sacrament of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper: the commemorative meal of bread and wine. Jesus passed around the Passover bread and the wine, personally serving His underlings. “Take, eat: this is My body,” He told them, “which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.” As He shared the grape juice, He added: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood: do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Clearly it’s an important thing to meditate regularly on the glorious, sacrificial gift Jesus offered each of us on the cross. Sober reflection is a beautiful and necessary discipline; each of us should murmur in awe: “He died for me.” It is an ideal moment to recall our own baptismal vows and the recurring joy of that decision.
What else do the bread and wine offer as poignant teaching vessels?
1. The life and teachings of Jesus are our true food and drink. We survive spiritually as Christians by making Jesus Himself — His love, His care, His promises, His power, His principles, His words — our sustaining meals. He — and only He — can satisfy our deepest longings. Grape juice comes from a vine; all branches draw their strength and nourishment from the Vine which is Christ Himself. He told followers in John 6:63: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” What we eat and drink comes right inside – and becomes part of us. The same must be true of the teachings of Jesus; we need to hunger for them, embrace them, internalize them.
2. The bread and wine must be preceded by confession and reconciliation. Whoever eats the bread or drinks of the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, Paul warns, will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. This would include giving these emblems their proper respect, certainly. Beyond that, the Bible teaches that Christians need to come to the communion table figuratively cleansed by the preceding footwashing ceremony: pride surrendered, sins confessed, misunderstandings resolved.
3. The Lord’s Supper brings unity. It’s significant that Jesus took just one loaf of bread, broke it into pieces, and shared it with His twelve disciples. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper — Methodists, Episcopalians, Adventists, Catholics, Pentecostals — all believers around the globe are looking to the one and only Redeemer as our exclusive hope of eternal life. All differences are swept away at the table where Jesus serves us. In Adventist communion services, an open invitation is always given: Christians of any persuasion is welcome to participate as a full brother or sister. These two sacred rites also remind us that it is impossible to be a true disciple in isolation from the body of believers; it would be meaningless to wash one’s own feet.
4. This quiet feast with our Lord brings anticipation of His Second Coming. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). Even Jesus, realizing He was about to say goodbye to these rough fishermen He had truly grown to love, gave them this promise: “I will not drink of the fruit of this vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
5. “Show some respect.” We watch the Olympic Games and cheer for our nation’s victory. How, then, do the triumphant athletes handle the flag? Is it a joyful but dignified moment, honoring the reality that their freedom to compete was purchased with battles and blood?
The world drinks to forget; the Christian drinks to remember.
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David B. Smith writes from California. (16 of 28) His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Biblebay