This Sunday we are talking about Mark 14: 22-31 where Jesus institutes what we call ‘The Lord’s Supper.’ or the observance of Communion. In my church tradition, we observe this symbolic feast each week.
This wasn’t just any meal that Jesus was eating when he did this but was actually the Passover meal that Orthodox Jews would eat each year. This meal is meticulously described in Deuteronomy 16: 1 – 8, Exodus 12: 1 – 20, and Leviticus 23: 4- 8.
Other traditions became part of the observance of Passover in addition to what God had prescribed in the Torah. One of those new traditions was the Four Cups of Passover. When a family gathered to eat there were four cups that would be shared by everyone at the table.
The first is called a cup of sanctification (setting apart). The word for it literally means, “I will bring out.” The second is a cup of Deliverance, freedom from slavery. The third is called a cup of salvation, or redemption (literally “I will redeem”), and the fourth is called the cup of ‘Hallel’, the Hebrew word for praise.
While sharing this meal Jesus and his disciples would drink the Cup of sanctification as they began the meal. They would share the Cup of Deliverance once the story of the Exodus had been recited to each other. In Mark 14: 24 Jesus takes the third cup, the cup of redemption and says to his disciples after they have shared it, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Jesus then shocks his disciples by adapting the prepared Passover script and says that He will not drink the fourth cup, the cup of praise until the day of the beginning of the new kingdom. The disciples would have been shocked. Not once in their lives would they have missed drinking each of these cups during Passover. This cup was left strangely full on the table as the disciples left to pray on the mountain.
Our sharing of communion is such a complex combination of things, many of which seem to be contradictory. It is a feast made up of a small bit of bread and a little bit of grape juice. It is in response to the command of Jesus (Luke 22: 19) but was never meant to be a mindless ritual. It is a new covenant practice embedded in an old covenant tradition. It is a solemn reminder but at the same time, a celebration. It is an individual practice that was meant (commanded) to be shared in a group.
We do not have strict guidelines on how we are to share in this symbolic feast. With the exception of Jesus’ example in the Gospels and 1 Cor. 11, there are no other teachings on the practice of sharing communion together. Two things however occur to me while reflecting on it this week:
There should be no guilt in the celebration of the Lord’s Table. Jesus willingly died to take away my guilt. I should be grateful, glad, in awe, but not guilty that He would suffer for my sins. If I feel guilt when reflecting on the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice, then I have not allowed Jesus to purchase my deliverance. I am still clinging to the notion that I can account for my sins by feeling bad about them.
Secondly, The Lord’s Supper is supposed to be a communal expression of unity. Contrary to our present culture, we are called to partake together as a family and not a group of individuals. Private meditation during worship together is profitable but not practical while we are gathered together, 160 or more, in a room sitting next to each other. Jesus’ example was one of community and not isolation. Paul describes our partaking of communion as a proclamation of the gospel to each other.
May our gathering today be a bittersweet reunion of believers in Jesus Christ who share in a feast with Jesus present and proclaim to each other that He is Lord and that He is returning one day to complete the feast with us.