English: Communion setting at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America worship service: an open Bible, both unleavened bread and gluten-free wafers, a chalice of wine, and another containing grape juice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For nearly two thousand years of Christian history, the primary discussion points around the Christian Eucharist have been of what the elements of bread and wine consist, whether the actual body and blood of Christ, and what is required of the worthy partaker, what is a sufficient understanding of what the elements represent in order to permit communing. I propose there is a more important question, a deeper question. What is God the Holy Spirit doing for us in the Eucharist?
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul repeats the Lord’s command in giving the Lord’s Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me.” These are important words. The word “remember” is a liturgical/covenantal word in the Old Testament. In Genesis, God promised that when He sees the rainbow in the sky after a rain, He will remember his covenant and act. In Exodus, God remembered His covenant with Abraham and acted for the sake of His covenant and led His people out of Egypt. In Deuteronomy, God commanded His people to remember the Sabbath. He also gave covenantal blessings and curses for the faithful observance and the failure to observe the Sabbath.
As I participated in worship yesterday, I was amazed and continue to be amazed to watch my two year old grandson Davy participate in the Eucharist. Davy may be a little distracted during some of the service, but when it is time to partake in the Eucharist, Davy pays attention. He sits up straight and starts talking to his mother and father.
We have a fairly standard liturgy for our worship service, so many of the words become familiar. It is a dialogue format so there are congregational responses written out to the pastor’s leading the worship. When the pastor gets to the point where he breaks the bread and prays, Davy can often be heard saying, “Break bread, Jesus’ body, eat it.” Sometimes he will recite portions of the pastor’s dialogue. He is usually similarly engaged in the distribution of the wine. When the bread is actually distributed, Davy is very patient in holding his bread until it has been distributed to everyone. This is not normally in Davy’s character when it comes to bread. Davy may not have a theologians perception of whether there is transubstantiation, consubstantiation or some other spiritual reality to the elements, but he knows he is participating in the tradition of the church.
What we have lost in our current academic treatment of the Eucharist is the wonder of what is going on. We have lost the joy that the Eucharist is a tutor. Through the elements of the bread and wine, the Holy Spirit is uniting us to Christ. We are being lead to love Christ. It is nothing we do, but what the Holy Spirit works in us.
When we read to our young children, our children may or may not comprehend what is going on in the story. As a matter of fact, I have had my grown children tell me that they love going back through old TV shows we used to watch when they were young because they gain a more refined understanding of the story line. Similarly, they have joyful memories of the traditions of stories being read, but they don’t remember the details. That is perfectly fine. The important thing is that they experienced the traditions. They follow the leading. They are taught and molded by the traditions.
It is the same way with the Eucharist. When a child sits through a sermon, it is doubtful that he retains much of what is said in it. What he recalls is sitting with Mom and Dad hearing the word of God. Jesus commanded us to partake in His body and blood. A child’s memory should be informed by the fact that week after week Jesus gives Himself for His people. This is an impression that is life-long. It is an impression that will change the next generation.
Add to this then that God always acts when His people remember. He led His people out of Egypt, He executes his blessings and curses in Sabbath worship, and He fulfills his promises in the Eucharist. This is holy war language. God changes the world when His people fulfill the Eucharist rightly. For those of you in a church, talk to your people about this. This is the way to change the world.