Jesus ate many meals with people. These meals were the occasions of his teaching and healing. The people who ate with Jesus experienced acceptance and forgiveness.
It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus gave a meal to his church as a means of receiving and continuing in his grace today. We call that meal the Lord’s Supper – or Holy Communion – or the Eucharist. Certainly, we each experience God’s grace to us at the table of the Lord. This meal, however, is not solely about my personal and individual relationship to God. There’s a reason that we call it “communion” and that we share it with other believers.
This meal – like all meals – creates and sustains community. For the same reason that we eat together as families, we eat together as the family of God. The meal that Jesus gave us on the night before he died is the koinonia meal. It is the fellowship meal and the sharing-our-lives-with-each-other meal.
Jesus calls his meal the sign of a new covenant. He likened it to the covenant made with the people under Moses at Sinai. At the mountain, the people who had received and experienced God’s grace became bound to each other and to God in a new way.
All covenants were made with groups. Even covenants such as those made with individuals were implicitly made with the groups that those individuals represented. The covenant with Abraham was really a covenant with his whole family and with all of his descendants.
The New Testament authors each try to bring out the communal aspects of the covenant remembered in the Lord’s Supper.
Luke tells us that the disciples argued about greatness. They were looking at the kingdom as individuals. Jesus tells them that true greatness is to serve your brothers and sisters.
Paul tells us that the Corinthian Christians were approaching the Lord’s Supper in a selfish manner. Paul tells them to “discern the body.” That is, we are to recognize that the body of Christ is present not only in the bread, but in the fellowship.
John emphasizes the communal aspects most of all. It is clear that he is describing what we know as the Last Supper, but he never reports Jesus’ words of institution: “This is my body; this is the new covenant in my blood.” John doesn’t tell us about that. What he does tell us is that Jesus washed feet, that he gave a new commandment (“Love one another as I have loved you”), that he told the disciples to abide in the vine (a picture that says as much about Christians’ relations to each other as it does about their relationship to God) and that he prayed for our unity.
The celebration of communion is too often a time of sadness and heaviness. We remember the cross of Jesus, to be sure. Communion reminds us that we all fall short of such complete self giving. But the Passover on which communion is modeled is a joyous occasion. It recalls the great deliverance from bondage that God worked in the days of Moses.
Even at the Last Supper, Jesus’ looked past the crucifixion to the resurrection. The crucifixion scattered the disciples. In John, Jesus said that the disciples’ grief would be turned to joy. Luke reports that Jesus said he would not drink of the fruit of the vine until he drank it anew in the kingdom of God. The resurrection gathered them together even stronger than before.Let’s not let the sadness overcome us, then. “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” Jesus said that at the table with his disciples just hours before his death.
Jesus has made us one by his blood. He has given us each other as brothers and sisters.
There are many things that separate us: space, time, social background, education, interests and ideas – to name a few. We do not always understand each other. Sometimes we fear loving or being loved. Sometimes we have hurts or wounds that keep us from opening our lives to others. Even with all of this, we ARE one because Jesus makes us one.
We cannot create Christian unity. Only God can. Unity is a gift of God. It is created by God, and received only by faith. My faith in Christ tells me that you are my brothers and sisters even before I experience you as my brothers and sisters. The unity that God creates is not dependent upon feelings or experiences. It is not even dependent upon space and time. I am a brother to every Christian, everywhere, in every time.
We do not come to this table, then, to make something happen. It is not a little exercise that we do to make us feel closer to each other. If that happens, that will be nice, but that’s not the point.
We come to receive the gift of koinonia – fellowship – sharing – participation. We cannot come with a spirit of individualism or self-sufficiency, nursing grudges, unwilling to forgive. Neither can we come with arrogance or pride. We can only come willing to receive the gift of oneness in Christ, and willing to live accordingly.
Jesus says, “This bread is my body, just as you are my body. You belong to each other, just as you belong to me. This cup is the New Covenant in my blood that makes you one with each other and one with me. Look around. See those at the table with you. They are your brothers and sisters. Love them, as I have loved you.”