Communion, or Eucharist, is one of the most ancient and defining practices of the Christian faith. Yet, in talking with Christians around the world, it seems that we have not always provided an adequate explanation of Communion because historically we have focused our arguments on what may or may not happen with the elements of this sacred meal, rather than what happens to the worshippers who come forward.
This article will focus on three (there are others) lenses through which we might help Christians understand the Eucharist. The three lens show that when we take Communion there is a past lens, a present lens, and a future lens. Let’s look briefly at each of these.
The first Eucharist took place at the Passover. Therefore, it is a dramatic reminder of God’s deliverance of the people of God; and not just remembering God’s dramatic rescue of his people out of Egypt, but our own greater deliverance out of the bondage of sin and the final judgment of eternal death.
We, of course, enter this amazing story of redemption through our baptism, but we look back and remember our baptism and our deliverance every time we come to the Table. So when Jesus “took, blessed, broke and gave” we remember that He has taken us out from our broken past, He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, He has broken the power of sin in our lives, and He has given us to the world as living signs and seals of His redemptive power.
Communion also celebrates Christ presence with us at the Table right here and now. We accept the declaration of Martin Luther when he declared that at the Ascension of Christ he rose from “here” to “everywhere.” This means that at the Ascension of Christ He re-assumed his omnipresence and He can be present with us here and now. He has promised to meet us at the Table and, indeed, “wherever two or more are gathered in His name” (Matt. 18:20). Robert (Bob) Stamps, a former dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary, used to say that “Jesus would never throw a party in His own honor, and then not show up!” We meet the real Presence of Jesus at the Table. This is why Wesleyans do not “fence the Table,” but instead invite everyone forward, because the very act of coming forward and meeting Christ is a “means of grace” and can bring someone to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
When prisoners get released from prison, they are often asked what they are most looking forward to in their new life of freedom. The most common response is that newly released prisoners are looking forward to “a hot shower and a meal.” This is precisely what happens to those of us who have been set free from the imprisonment of sin and death. The Lord Jesus, through the gospel, gives us a shower (baptism) and a meal (Eucharist) as a sign of our new life in Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Supper is also a sign of our future inheritance at the Return of Christ when God sets all things right and brings our deliverance into its full fulfillment. Our world is full of sin and fallenness and we eagerly await the visible, bodily return of Christ. Paul himself testifies about this when he says in reference to the Lord’s supper in I Cor. 11:26 “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We look forward to the Blessed Hope of His Return and the great marriage supper of the Lamb. The Eucharist elements are like the hors d’oeuvres of the that future Banquet. We take the bread and cup in anticipation of that day when we eagerly run to that greater Feast when we sit down at Table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We will also sit down with sinners, prostitutes and the poor who have also been joyfully received at this wonderful Table of forgiveness and grace.
In conclusion, at the Lord’s Supper we look in three directions: past, present and future. This is why one of the great liturgical declarations embedded in the Eucharist is the statement: Christ has died (past), Christ is Risen (present), Christ will come again (future). All three directions are gloriously captured in that single declaration. So, brothers and sisters, let us keep the Feast—and keep it well.