Table Manners

In a couple of weeks we are going to be observing Communion at Grace in both of our morning services (March 19) and then we will be doing it again the evening of Good Friday. Communion, for some people, is one of the most confusing activities the Church practices. When I was growing up, the tradition of my church was to take Communion 4 times a year. Other churches practice taking Communion every week; and to make the water even muddier, some churches take Communion with no regularity. What's up with all the different scheduling?

To make the matter a little stranger, churches even have different names for this activity. The church where I grew up called it the Lord's Supper (a Biblical term from 1 Cor. 11:20 popular in the South). At Grace Bible Church we call it Communion (derived from the Greek word koinonia which means "a participation together"). Other churches call it the Eucharist (coming from the Greek word eucharisteo which means "to be grateful"). These names can be confusing. I remember one time I announced in Alabama that we would be observing the Lord's Supper at a Sunday evening service. When the time came, a new believer with no church history showed up with a green bean casserole. He thought the Lord's Supper was some kind of potluck meal. We all had a good laugh, observed the Lord's Supper and then closed the evening eating his green bean casserole. 

Briefly, let me explain why followers of Jesus observe this practice. There is really only one reason: Jesus, prior to his arrest and crucifixion, gathered his disciples to share the Passover meal. Passover commemorated Israel’s liberation from Egypt, and the primary purpose of the meal was to remind current and future generations of God's power to deliver His people and the Exodus that transpired.

The disciples sitting around the table had the Jews' freedom from slavery in mind, but they had no idea that Jesus was getting ready to start a new liberation—one that would free all humanity from sin and death ushering in a new way of life and qualifying him to be Lord and Savior. Jesus told them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15–16). He then took the bread and broke it explaining "this is my body given for you." He poured the juice saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." When the meal and explanation was over he simply said, "Do this in remembrance of me." Whalah...this is why believers take Communion, observe the Lord's Supper and participate in the Eucharist. 

This precious privilege given to us by our Lord was meant to be an activity that allowed us to display our unity in Christ. Unfortunately, for some it has created division. What we call it, when we do it and who participates in it have been points of debate and division. One of my favorite stories that powerfully illustrates the real purpose of Communion took place in 1815. On June 18 of that year the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. After his victory, it was reported the British general attended a small church where he came forward and knelt down to receive Communion. An old man in tattered clothes knelt beside him. A deacon approached the old man, placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, and whispered for him to keep his distance from the duke. Overhearing this, the duke immediately clasped the old man’s hand and told him, “Don’t move—we’re all equal here.”

Communion is a personal invitation to identify with Christ in his death and resurrection in the power of the Spirit. There is no room for sinners to declare "I'm more spiritual than you" at Lord's table. As we get ready to celebrate communion at Grace I hope we are reminded of three things:

1) Communion should direct our attention to Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection and eminent return. 

2) The activity should be a display of the unity Christ has provided and remind us we are in this together. It is a communal activity, not a private act of devotion.

3) Participation reflects our personal identity in Christ. We belong to him.