“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Last month, on Communion Sunday, I noticed that the bread was still warm. After church, I asked our new Communion Steward, Mary, about it. She explained that she had just baked the bread that morning before church. She said she thought it would be a nice change and she was right. But it was more than a “nice change” for me.
Some folks’ first thought, on discovering the warmth of the bread, may have been, “Cool. Fresh bread,” like my wife, Charlotte’s. But my own first thought was that it was warm like the human flesh it was supposed to represent. Quite honestly, I found the thought disquieting—and more than a bit disgusting. The idea of consuming human flesh should be disturbing. Methodists don’t believe in “transubstantiation,” the Roman Catholic doctrine that says the communion elements are actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Instead, like the majority of Protestant denominations, we believe that the elements are—and remain—symbols of Christ’s body and blood, a view I share. However, I was reminded anew what the bread represented: The flesh of a real flesh-and-blood man, not an abstraction. A living, breathing human being like you and me, who felt genuine fear and pain. Especially pain. Excruciating, inhuman agony, from flogging, torment and, finally, a horrible death on a cross.
A savior yes but also a man. The Son of God yes but also a man. A good and kind teacher and friend yes but also a man. A man who lived and loved and sometimes wept and was occasionally angry. A man like us. And when we “‘Do this in remembrance of me,’” this is the man we are called to remember. Even as he spoke those words, he knew that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him not once but three times before the sun rose again. Yet he went on and suffered and died for each of them and for us as well, for all his disciples both then and for all time.
If you’re like me, you tend to focus on Jesus’ life rather than his death. Some denominations don’t have that problem; all their sermons have some reference to the cross, often to the exclusion of everything else. Neither is complete by itself and neither alone encompasses the totality of his remarkable life and death. His suffering and death were the price of our redemption. Our salvation was anything but cheap and we should never forget the price he paid. The thought of his torn and broken body and spilled blood should never cease to disturb us, and should demolish our illusions of being “good enough.”
But he didn’t simply die for our sins, he was raised from the dead to give us eternal life. One of the reasons that Jesus gave to the disciples of John the Baptist to believe that he was “‘one who is to come’” was that he raised the dead (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23). Paul wrote to his readers in Corinth, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15 ESV). If we believe Jesus was raised from the dead, we will be raised as well (Rom. 6:4; Rom. 10:9; 2 Cor. 4:13-14).
God often uses simple, ordinary things to convey the gospel: Fish and loaves, shepherds and sheep, widows and coins, bread and juice. You and me. Bread symbolizes warm flesh, bruised and broken for our sins; juice becomes life-giving blood, spilled for our redemption. Our lives can be representations of God’s grace as well. God’s simple yet profound truths are all-too-often forgotten or ignored. Often but not always.
“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” (Luke 22:17-20 ESV.)