By Chris Ng '21
In honor of World Communion Sunday, celebrated worldwide every year on the first Sunday of October.
We often talk about the past like it’s a disease of unproductivity, as if thinking about it will only cause us to squander the few years we have left on this earth in a storm of “what-ifs” and “if-onlys.” But the truth is that there is something to be gained from reflecting and remembering the past. God designed us with memories for good reason. Because while He does want us to live in the present and to plan for the future, He wants us to remember the past, which serves as a powerful tool to guide the way we do both of these things.
One of the first ways God shows how He values the past is through the Jewish celebration of Passover. It was so called because the required rituals — the killing of a lamb for the feast and the requirement to eat unleavened bread — served as powerful reminders for the way that God worked on the day when the Jewish households were “passed over” by the plague which killed all of the firstborn of every Egyptian household. The sacrificial lamb was the price paid when each Israelite painted their doorposts with the blood of a lamb to signify their allegiance to the God of Israel. It allowed them to escape the wrath of the plague, and the unleavened bread is a reminder of the experience of God’s swift deliverance. In fact, it came so swiftly that every Israelite immediately left Egypt with no time to wait for their bread to rise. In this way, every time the Jewish people gathered to participate in these rituals, they remembered the miracle that God had worked.
But as Israel’s narrative continued, we see that they did not continue to live in a way that reflected their thankfulness at what He had done. They seesawed between utter devotion to God and extended periods of idol worship. Whenever the Israelites could only see their present circumstances and their anxieties about the future, they would run away from God because they had forgotten about all the times when he had proven himself faithful. But God, understanding our temporal and fickle nature, gave us covenant rituals that serve as reminders when we forgot, enabling us to live in the freedom of confidence in his promises.
And this same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who delivered the Israelites out of the hand of Egypt, is the same God who sent Jesus Christ to die so that all humanity might have their sins blotted out and be reconciled to Himself through repentance. And in the same way that He established the ritual of the Passover to remind the Israelites of his goodness, he gave us communion so that we would never forget the ultimate sacrifice: not the blood of just another passover lamb, but the blood of His very own son.
The first communion ever occured when Jesus sat with His disciples at the last Passover feast of His life. The bible says that He instituted this ritual when He “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26 ESV) Therefore, Jesus intended for every instance of communion — “as often as you drink it” — to be a time where each joyful family member at God’s dinner table would remember that they had been bought with a price. That their place at the dinner table was not free — their presence and participation in the meal itself a proclamation of the immense price that was paid: the Lord’s death.
Today, the institution of communion remains just as relevant, a reminder that allows us to live out our lives in the freedom that the gospel brings. It is His gift to us so that we don’t become jaded and cynical and forget to live each day in the knowledge that God sees us as precious enough for a perfect savior to die for us. It is a unique ritual with purpose — to relegate it to mere ritual takes away from the power that it should have in our lives.
But isn’t ritual just a physical act that we can perform and then forget about? Why, then, is it so central to the Christian faith? God values ritual because it reminds us of His promises, or covenant: and when we remember in our daily lives how He upheld his covenant through sending Jesus, we begin to live lives of thankfulness, informed by the fact that our lives are completely contingent upon His grace and moved by the reality of His overpowering love for us. The moment that we forget these two things we become like the Israelites who had forgotten God’s faithfulness, and live our life by our broken human judgements instead of God’s promises. We live in the present by chasing the fleeting pleasures of this life, and plan for the future by storing up treasure for ourselves on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19.) And the moment we forget the immensity of the sacrifice, we dishonor it, attempting to live under the lie that Jesus’ unconditional love for us gives us a license to live however we feel like. But communion does not allow you to forget. It is impossible to live with such an earthly mindset when you are literally proclaiming the Lord’s death until His return — or at least, impossible short of holding that sacrifice in contempt. Instead, it makes us remember that “God's kindness [forgiveness through Jesus] is meant to lead you to repentance,” (Romans 2:4a) and we learn to value the treasures of eternity through living out our lives guided by confidence in God’s promises.
Communion shows the continuing desire that God has for His people to remember the miracles He has graced them with throughout time. In this case, it is the miracle of Jesus Christ — God made man, the only perfect spotless lamb deemed worthy of atoning for the sin of humanity, taking on the sin of the world and dying on a cross. So the next time you sit down for a meal at the table, do not forget that what is freely given to you — the broken bread, the cup poured out — were paid for with a dear price. And let that remembrance give you freedom to live in the promises of an eternally faithful God.