Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have been thinking a lot about communion. What some Christians call The Eucharist, others The Lord’s Table. In this time of lockdown – I miss it. A lot. There are of course those who say that you can just have communion online. To me, that depends on what you think communion is – if it is just a symbol then I guess taking communion online is fine. But I’m an old school Scottish Highland Presbyterian – like the Puritans, Calvin, the early Church Fathers and the New Testament church, I believe that communion is more than just a symbolic remembrance. The Shorter Catechism expresses it well.
Q: What is the Lord’s Supper?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is shewed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.
I don’t accept the Roman Catholic teaching concerning the Mass – that the bread is literally turned into the flesh of Jesus Christ. I don’t accept that this is a resacrificing of Christ. He was sacrificed once for all. I was once asked by the Catholic Archbishop of Edinburgh, the impressive Leo Cushley, if I would take mass with him. I said of course not because I did not believe what he believed about mass and it would be insulting to him. He totally agreed and was relieved. He could not understand why Protestant clergy would be willing to take mass – if they were they should be Catholics! Once again I find myself in agreement with my Catholic brothers!
But neither can I go the standard evangelical route that Communion is just a symbol – a sign to remind us of Christ’s death. It IS a reminder. It IS a sign. But it is much more than that. It is a seal. It is a ‘strengthening ordinance’. It is a means of Christ communicating himself to us. It is a joyous feast – a eucharist. It is a unifying meal – uniting us with the local body of Christ, and the whole body throughout the world and all history. It is the Lord’s Table, a foretaste of the great communion in heaven.
“Therefore let us use all means for the establishing of growth in us, the word and sacraments especially. For as baptism admits us into the house of God, so by the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the blessed food of the soul, we are strengthened.” Sibbes
I did not always think like this. When I was a member in Morningside Baptist I recall one Sunday heading to Church with a Christian friend from Africa. It was a communion Sunday – something we tagged on to the end of the service. I was surprised that he did not take communion and on the way home I asked him why – “because I was not prepared”. My Pentecostal friends words were a rebuke to me – which caused me to examine myself. I was far too casual in my attitude towards the Holy Meal. Later, after joining the Free Church, I got used to, and loved, the whole idea of communion ‘seasons’. Of course that could be overdone and is not necessary, but I found it helpful to focus.
I also found the solemnity of the Free Church communions to be profound and joyful. I loved the symbolism of coming forward to ‘the table’ (the sheep and the goats often came to mind), just as I loved the symbolism of the one loaf and the one cup. I appreciated the fact that we did not turn wine into water/grape juice. I am of McCheyne’s view that to replace the wine with grape juice is an implicit criticism of Christ (although I accept that special provision can be made for those who are alcoholics, just as gluten free bread can be offered to those who have allergies). Every time I sat at the Lord’s table I found myself rising from it with a renewed sense of forgiveness and a deeper thankfulness for Christ. Unlike the Jewish Passover – where one chair is left empty for the absent Messiah – our table was full – because Christ IS present.
I’m not convinced that the wee thimbles of grape juice, or the diced bread, gingerly passed around; conveys the one cup, one sacrifice, one body of the New Testament. The nearest thing I have come to ‘proper’ communion here is when I go to the traditional 8am service at St Thomas’s and kneel to receive the bread and can partake of a common cup. Of course all that is stopped just now, but I hope we will return to it soon. I miss the communion. I need ‘all the benefits’ of the body and blood of Christ.
There is of course another kind of communion. I greatly enjoy walking and praying in the Artarmon Reserve….and also when I’m in the office going to the Botanic gardens. Being able to ‘commune’ wth the Lord in the beautiful creation he has made is wonderful.
And I’m also greatly encouraged by the ‘communion of the saints’ as we work together seeking to tell people about Christ. Last Monday’s Café Online with Colin Buchanan was superb. Pray for us as we continue this Monday with Ray Galea and look at the Message of Christ.
(This is a video of us soundchecking before last week!)
I pray that the Lord would communicate to us all the benefits of his body and blood, as we seek to serve, know and love him this week,
See you next week,
Yours in him,