Maundy Thursday: Eucharist & Communion
On this Maundy Thursday we remember the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist or, as some call it, Communion, is the act of coming together to partake in the bread and the wine, replicating in some form the meal taken by the disciples on the night Jesus was betrayed. It is interesting to note that two words (Eucharist and Communion), with very different origins, are used synonymously to describe this Holy Sacrament: the pillar of our faith and religion. The juxtaposition never struck me until this week.
I have been (and continue to be) enthralled with the idea of the Eucharist – the word, the ritual, the symbolism, and the origin. You see, the word Eucharist comes from the Greek word, eukharistia, meaning “thanksgiving” or eukharistos, meaning “grateful”. As this syntax fell from my tongue, I meditated on the implications of this when approaching The Lord’s Table. What does it mean to take the bread and the cup in gratitude? What does it mean to live life in light of gratitude? This strange word perplexed me and at the centre, eukharistos – kharis, meaning “grace”.
It appeared to me that all that ails us in life seems to stem from an attitude of ungratefulness and disregard for the grace given us on the cross. Our sin, our discontentedness, our overly-filled yet unfulfilled existence all originate from a failure to acknowledge blessing – the blessing that is represented in the blood and body of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are but entitled little children, who believe we should have everything that we please.
This includes community. Recently, I began reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He begins by writing, “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.” You see, Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together whilst involved in an underground seminary in Nazi Germany. In North America, we dwell in an unique pocket of history unlike many before. We are comfortable, relatively safe, free to dream and believe it is our right to be in community only with those we see fit. We work endlessly to fashion communities that suit our vision and our ideals. One of Bonheoffer’s main points however, is that community is not something we create. “It is a gift of God we cannot claim…Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” It’s just that we are not thankful for it.
“Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as those who demand but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what he has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise.”
While community and communion have different meanings they essentially come from the same word, communis. It means to have something in common. The brotherhood, of which Bonhoeffer speaks, is one of communion. We can share a geographical location with others in a community but communion is the sharing of intimate thoughts and feelings. There is an exchange, which happens on a spiritual level.
We experience this communion at the Lord’s Table. The Bible speaks of three different kinds of communion or fellowship: the daily fellowship, the Lord’s Supper and the fellowship we will experience in the Kingdom of God. In each instance, we are gathered together in the presence of God for the sake of Jesus Christ. You see, as Timothy Keller puts it, salvation is communal. This is why feasting is so important to the Christian faith. Feasting is, in nature, communal. He writes, “We live in a culture in which the interests and desires of the individual take precedence over those of family, group, or community. As a result, a high percentage of people want to achieve spiritual growth without losing their independence to a church or to any organized institution.” Keller explains how people, having had a bad experience with the church, then want nothing to do with it and all we are left with are “elder brothers” (a reference to the story of the prodigal son). But, he says, this is why churches are so often unpleasant. Keller refers to a letter by C.S. Lewis who writes about how each of his friends bring out something in him that another friend cannot. “Lewis is saying, that it took a community to know an individual. How much more would this be true of Jesus Christ.”
When we come to the Table we grow in our relationship with Jesus through the communion gifted to us through our salvation. What a privilege that is! Jesus came to the Table. He shared the bread and wine with the wounded, with those who would betray him, even with those who had already turned their hearts away.
Are we willing to do the same?
Do we extend Kharis to our brother or sister in Christ unconditionally? Salvation is not for the perfect. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I want to leave you with a final thought. The Cross is about grace. Salvation is about grace. Communion is about grace. That being said, how can fully understand grace, if we only accept the “perfect” and fail to not only, recognize but also understand our own total depravity and our need for grace? Come to the table as you are.
1 Bonhoffer, Dietrich, John W. Doberstein ed. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community New York: Harper Collins, 1954. Pg. 17
2 Ibid. Pg. 30
3 Ibid. Pg. 28
4 Keller, Timothy The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith New York: Dutton, 2008 Pg. 124