Taking communion is a common Sunday ritual for most Christians. People receive bread and wine (or grape juice), eat it, drink it, and remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is a beautiful tradition where the church comes together to remember the shared identity and calling we have. It is also an incredibly practical reminder of the lifestyle of the church.
In the New Testament, many of Paul’s letters, the book of Revelation and the Gospels warn against the church becoming “like” the society at-large. From Jesus’ city on a hill to John’s call to persevere, the New Testament is filled with passages reminding the church to be set apart from the world; to be “good news” to the world. This was played out concretely through the early church’s sharing of possessions with one another, renunciation of violence, welcoming the stranger and outcast, and practicing noncooperation with many of the Roman festivals and feasts. This community that was inwardly transformed by Christ indeed had a communal, outward expression of that transformation.
Because of this radical lifestyle that characterized the early church, persecution was common. Rome regularly imprisoned and executed Jesus followers in order to maintain the Roman ordering of society. When daily faced with the possibility of torture or death because of the their common faith and life, the early church needed a reminder of why they were living out a faith that could cost them their lives. The Eucharist helped serve as this reminder. Jesus performed the first Eucharist immediately preceding his arrest, crucifiction and resurrection. The very context of the Eucharist would have given courage to the early church because of their understanding that the “suffering servant” they were following met his end in the same fashion many of them would also experience. This practice also offered hope as Christ promised a future bodily resurrection for his followers. These two realities, symbolized in the Eucharist, gave the early church the ability to live without fear of Rome’s sword as well as the ability to live into the eternal ways of the Kingdom of God.
We need this reminder more than ever today. Jesus once said those who believed would do even greater things than what the twelve disciples experienced. It is my belief that Jesus said this in part because he understood the power of community. With all the injustices happening all over the world, our planet could use some “good news” from communities who are living expressions of the inbreaking Kingdom of God. This is why the Eucharist is so important to our faith. In a world that celebrates war, rewards greed, and ignores the plight of the oppressed, the church proclaims and lives out a different reality. These two realities are colliding every day and are actively vying for our allegiance. Thankfully we have the Eucharist to remind us of who we are as the Church Univeral: a body of believers who have the courage to live radically faithful lives, the strength to endure persecutions, the hope in a kingdom that is just, and the love that would cast out any fear that may come from the empire’s sword.
May the Eucharist be celebrated in our meals as a 3-a-day reminder of who we are and to whom we serve.
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