The sacrament of communion is one of two sacred practices in Protestant Christian churches. Baptism is the other. In regards to communion, believers are exhorted by Christ to drink wine (or, these days, juice) and eat bread in remembrance of His sacrifice on the Cross. In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants do not believe that the physical elements actually are the literal body and blood of Christ, but rather just symbolic elements of Christ’s work.
The Roman Catholic church’s insistence on the bread and juice being literal actually brings me to the point of this blog faster than I had anticipated. Let’s imagine if you’re Roman Catholic and you partake of communion one Sunday. The administrator of the communion solemnly warns you that you are literally taking in the real body and blood of the Lord. Wow! How awesome! What could be a more intimate experience with God, at least in this life? After all, didn’t Jesus preach that whosoever would eat His flesh and drink His blood would live forever? And since Christ instituted the supper, how can we conclude otherwise?
Well, let’s suppose this particular Sunday something goes desperately wrong; someone, by accident, spills the blood of Jesus on the floor. The church administration may be merciful to the person (I’m not sure how strict the priest would take it), but what on Earth could save that person from the most terrible guilt they’ve ever experienced, realizing that the blood of Christ will dry on the floor without accomplishing its holy purpose, namely, to satisfy you spiritually? “Dear Father have mercy on me! I’ve just spilled your holy blood!” Someone with a more liberal conscience may laugh at this, and that is part of the point. I find it very difficult to believe that the Son of God would take His actual blood and flesh and put it in the hands of pastors and priests who could have it subjected to the clumsiness of people. The implications of that fact would make communion so serious that to screw it up in even the tiniest way would strip you of whatever favor you had with God. It’s like passing a grenade around the congregation.
Protestant churches are no better though. They have a more rational view of the elements, believing them to be just symbols, but they, too, create binds on believers that have absolutely nothing to do with communion. For that matter, there are a whole host of things they put chains around, but I digress.
You see, before communion (at least in Presbyterian churches), there are several exhortations given by Protestant pastors: “Remember the words of Paul; whoever eats this bread and drinks from the cup in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Also, whoever does not believe in Christ should not partake of this meal. But if you are a believer and you have examined yourself, you may come and partake. Yet we encourage only members of the local church to partake.”
On examination, I hope you will see just how stupid this train of logic is. First, what does it mean to partake in “an unworthy manner?” Admittedly, I feel Paul is being too strict about a simple matter of bread and juice when he warns of guilt. But then, I must think God is being too strict, eh, since that phrase is biblical and therefore God-breathed? Yes, I do feel like this is too strict on God’s part, but it’s controversial moments like this where I retreat into my prayer closet and pray to God that He would be gracious to me and, in His own perfect way, give me understanding of the things He says that are hard to accept. I won’t just bow my head and say “This is God’s Word” as if wanting clarity and peace with the Bible was the unforgivable sin. I’ll just admit how I feel about the Bible (and its not like I disagree with a lot of it anyway) and just let the matter be. Anyway, maybe the best way to understand the goodness of the phrase is to understand the context of Paul’s warning, which many pastors fail to do: Paul is warning the Corinthian church of not seeing communion for the way it should be seen, namely, as a special, physical means to spiritually nourish the Christian. Communion reminds us of our sweet, perfect redemption in Christ, how He freely gave His life to save us from the wrath of God. We partake of communion out of the desire to experience emotional, spiritual, and physical pleasure from this beautiful truth. Nothing more, nothing less. We are simply worshiping our dear Savior. How can we not, if we truly sense His love in our hearts? If we don’t see it as such and act accordingly, then we have sinned against our Father. The Corinthians just viewed it as another meal without treating it with due reverence, and for Paul this is serious business. Understandable, I think. I can just hear the unemotional Calvinist rebuke me for even linking God with emotional sense, but if you deny such, then the point of the meal is lost. What are you really doing when you eat and drink, solemnly bowing your head down to the cold floor and “just taking communion like I should?”
Oh God have mercy on us! That should never be the case. If communion is simply duty, then the excitement that ought to be in our hearts doesn’t exist. We just participate in a meaningless ritual. And it boy does it not become so when we listen to this ridiculous rhetoric of “examine yourself before you partake.” What in the hell does that mean? Are Christians worthy to partake or are they not? Are not sinners welcome to the table, or is there some special internal exercise that comes before? The only ones who would be better not to take it are the non Christians. Obviously the observance means nothing to them anyway. Simple. But the table is ALWAYS open to the Christian. I don’t care what that Christian is guilty of; either he or she is forgiven or not, and if church elders have the power to take it from God’s children (even the forgiveness of their sins!), then I would have to conclude that Christ’s sacrifice only did so much. Man, what a sad message to the sick soul, the person who desperately needs grace from a Savior who is more than willing to comfort them. It is down right demonic to suggest otherwise. Either give me Christ or nothing at all, not this “flip a coin” suspense where I MIGHT be ready to take communion. Such suspense makes the meal pure fear. We’ll all think God is ready to punish the first person who takes it with sinful hands when it was prepared for such all along!
Don’t look inward, dear Christian, look outward, to your Heavenly Father. He pleads with you to take His flesh and blood and live! Eat and drink. Be filled. Amen.