There they were, all gathered together for one last time. Jesus had called them together from all walks of life. They were fishermen, tax collectors, beggars, young, old, short, fat; you name it they were there. They had been together for three years. They had walked thousands of miles, healed the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, made the blind see, the lame walk, and even raised a man from the dead. No one was ever excluded from what they were doing. They showed love and compassion to all, equally, and without condition.
But here they are those closest to him, gathered in a rented room on the second floor of a house having one last meal together. From Luke’s Gospel, we learn that it was Passover, and so they had just finished a wonderful meal, perhaps others were with them for that meal, but now, as we are led to understand, it is only Jesus and his closest friends. Seated with Jesus at this table is the one who would deny him three times. Also, sitting at this table with him is the one that will betray him and turn Jesus over the authorities that will eventually kill him. Jesus knows all of this yet, there they are, all seated together.
He takes ordinary bread in his hands; he holds it up and asks God to bless it. Jesus then brakes this bread into pieces and passes it around so that everyone might have some. As he gives this bread, made from the elements of the earth, around the table, he says to them that this bread is his body that will be broken and shared for all.
Then he takes a cup, a simple cup perhaps one that he had been drinking out of during the meal, Jesus fills it with wine and again, he holds it up in the air towards the heavens and asks God to bless it. As Jesus passes this cup around the table, he tells those present that what is in this cup is his blood that will be poured out for all, why, for the forgiveness of sins.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, we understand that Jesus said to “do this in remembrance of me.” But what is this that we are supposed to do?
There are many theories about what takes place during the Lord’s Supper. Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent is discussing what happens. Does it become the actual body and blood of Christ? Is Jesus really present in these elements? Is this just a memorial of what was done during that Last Supper? I am not sure there is an answer or that there needs to be one. I just know that something special happens during that sacred moment.
So important was this time that the Lord’s Supper was singled out, along with baptism by the Reformers as one of two sacraments. Just as a reminder, a sacrament is defined as “the outward sign of an inward grace and the means by which we receive it.” There is a grace given to us by God when was take this bread and this cup into our bodies. We are literally welcoming Jesus into our very existence. Not to be too crude about it, but the normal body function converts those elements into something different, and in a matter of time, it will be flowing through all parts of our body, providing nourishment, not only in a spiritual sense but in a physical one.
There is a saying in Celtic theology and spirituality that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but there are, thin places where that distance is even closer. There are those places or times in lives when we close that gap between our existences here on earth, and that is heaven, I believe when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are in one of those thin places. Spiritually it is as if heaven itself comes down and meets us, and we are transported, spiritually, to another plane of existence in our lives for the briefest of moments. This celebration of the Lord’s Supper becomes a sacred space where something spiritually awesome happens.
But we still have not answered the question of what the “this” is in the command to “do this in remembrance of me.” Again, theologians have been trying to answer this question, and there are many theories about the bread and the cup, but I think it transcends a simple meal and again has to do with the thin places.
Let’s go back and look who was at that table; those closest to Jesus, those he had called to “follow him” and work alongside him in his ministry. Those gathered with Jesus were simple people, with little or no education but with a desire to seek and find. Again, sitting around that table was the one who would deny him and the one who would betray him. There were those on both ends of the political spectrum and those in the middle. Young and old represented at this table, I also believe, the Da Vinci painting notwithstanding, that there were some women there as well. Surely his mother would have been there and some of the others that followed him. The bottom line is, no one was excluded from that table. So, perhaps the “do this” is do not exclude anyone.
But what about the action of breaking and sharing of the bread and cup? Jesus says that the bread represents his body and what is in the cup represents his blood, does this mean we are to perform human sacrifice? I do not believe so. Or does it mean that we are to sacrifice everything for others, for those in need, for those on the margins, for those in cages, and those in horrible places? Does it mean that we should share all that we have with everyone, including our very lives? I think we might be getting closer here.
In the early days of the church, the communion elements, the bread, and the wine would be brought forth from a room near the door of the church. The people coming to worship on that day would place their offerings of bread and wine and other things, in that room, and at the offertory, those things would be brought forth and placed on an altar or table at the front of the church. All of those items would be blessed and distributed as part of the worship service. That “sacrificial offering” if you will be a large part of what the early church did together. We read in Acts 4:32, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” They shared everything.
One of the beautiful moments for me, here in our little corner of the world, is when the Sunday School children bring the bags of donates food items forward and place them here at the table. In a genuine sense, we bless what is brought, and we bring it to those who have less than we do. This action of blessing and sacrifice is at the very heart and is the very essence of what it means to “Do this!”
Today, we commemorate World Communion Sunday. World Communion Sunday began as World-Wide Communion Sunday at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1933. The Rev. Hugh Thompson Kerr and his congregation sought to demonstrate the interconnectedness of Christian churches, regardless of denomination. Rev. Kerr appropriately chose the sacrament of Holy Communion to symbolize this unity. “The term Holy Communion invites us to focus…on the holiness of our communion with God and one another.” (This Holy Mystery, The United Methodist Church’s official statement on the sacrament)
Today we are joining others around the world in commemoration of what this command to do this truly means. People are gathering, or have gathered in churches, cathedrals, back yards, beaches, or any place where two or three come together and share from what they have with each other and, for a moment, they bring heaven a little closer to earth. It is nice to think that there are people all around the world, hearing those words of Jesus to “Do this” Maybe, just maybe, the actions we take this day will make the world a better place for all. In a few moments, you will be invited to gather around this table spiritually. The elements will be blessed, broken, and distributed to all regardless of your relationship with God. Our table is open to all who have the desire to become a little closer with God and to create a “thin place” within themselves and allow God to work in and through you. I hope you will accept the invitation.