I've been thinking a lot about the Lord's Supper recently, and why I find it increasingly crucial and comforting amidst the manifold discomforts of 21st century life (including uncomfortable church life). It has struck me that the Lord's Supper is a bit like time-travel. The weekly eucharistic ritual, enacted by millions (billions?) of Christians every Sunday, transports us simultaneously to the past, present and future. And each of these modes is beautiful and nourishing:
As we take the bread and wine of communion, we're transported back to Christ's passion. The Lord's Supper is an act of remembrance. We follow Christ's command to "Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Just as Passover is remembrance of God's liberating his people from bondage in Egypt, the Lord's Supper is remembrance of our liberation through the cross: Christ's body broken and blood spilt to atone for our sins. We remember our need for his nourishment. We remember the sufficiency of his grace. I find this weekly remembrance a supreme comfort and a more-necessary-than-ever gift. We are a forgetful people. Prone to wander. And today's world has little time for memory. The pace of life, the nature of technology, everything conspires against remembrance. In our frenetic, fidgety lives we must constantly be reminding ourselves of the central WHY of our faith, and the Lord's Supper is the greatest push notification we have.
To take communion is to also be present in a real time and place: present with Christ, present with one another, present in Spirit and present in truth. At a time when the trajectory of technology is away from incarnational presence and toward disembodied experience, the physical ingestion of communion elements centers us, grounds us, feeds us and unifies us in the crucial physicality of the body of Christ. And here we see that the Lord's Supper is not only an experience of connection across the boundaries of time, but also across physical space. For as we take the communion elements we are embodying the unity of all believers as the one body of Christ. Whether we are Baptists in Kansas, Copts in Egypt or Anglicans in Tokyo, the same blood of Christ is our nourishment. The same body is our bread of life. The unifying bond of the Lord's Supper goes beyond even the blood ties of family. "If blood is thicker than water," writes Wesley Hill in Spiritual Friendship, "then Eucharistic blood is thickest of all."
There is a crucial anticipatory aspect of communion as well. The meal is a bit of a sacred hors d'oeuvre: it whets our appetite for the future wedding banquet, providing a tangible glimpse of the triumphant, extravagant feast that awaits us in heaven. Communion is like watching a teaser trailer for the most epic film we'll ever see, a film in which we'll also be actors. In this way it is also an act of longing, an expectant act of faith as we await the return of Christ and the reality of his fully consummated kingdom. "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). The future aspect is a supreme comfort in these days of immense uncertainty, when most of what we think about the future is dystopian or apocalyptic. It's easy to grow weary, almost hopeless in the midst of dire headlines and constant fear mongering. But the weekly eucharistic rhythm is an antidote of comfort and hope.
What else in life allows us to transcend time and space in this way? What other religious ritual in human history has transcended culture, geography and time (nearly 2,000 years so far, and counting) in this way?
The Lord's Supper is a radical, mystical, pivotal habit in the Christian life. Churches: don't neglect it. Christians: treasure it. There are a lot of things that divide Christians today, but the Lord's Supper unites us. There are a lot of things that drain us as 21st century humans, but the Lord's Supper energizes us. It focuses our distracted minds, calms our fragile nerves, nourishes our weak flesh and reminds our forgetful hearts. Thanks be to God.