Last autumn, my twenty-five year old nephew Harry visited from the Mid-West to attend to some business in New York City. As it happened, he was with us over a Sunday, so I invited him to attend the CPC Worship Service with us. Then I remembered that it would be the first Sunday of the month, when CPC regularly offers Communion as part of the Worship Service. I thought I had better mention that to Harry.
Harry confessed he did not attend church much, but he said he did not remember "Communion." He wondered if it might be the same thing as the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, which was celebrated at his parents' church. I told him they were essentially the same thing; each with a slightly different emphasis.
At CPC, I told Harry, (not unlike his parents' church) we observe Communion because Jesus told us to do so, and we do try to observe the commands of Jesus. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus had met in the Upper Room and ate with his disciples. 21 Corinthians 11:23-26 tells us:
"The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, 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, after supper he took the cup, saying,
'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you
proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
Then, in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29:
Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink
of the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ,
they eat and drink judgement on themselves."
At CPC, I told Harry, we regard Communion (the Lord's Supper) as a sacrament of the New Testament, and that by taking the bread and wine (grape juice), those that make themselves "worthy" by silently confessing their sins to Jesus Christ, communicate directly to Him for their spiritual nourishment. At the heart of Communion is the "conversation" with Christ. Importantly, there is self-examination taking place, because it would be hypocrisy for us to pretend that we are in communion with the Holy One while actually cherishing known sin in our hearts. We each seek to identify recent sin and beg forgiveness.
Harry asked whether during observance of the sacrament, the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Jesus? He wondered, as one is seeking to be in communion with Jesus, how could Jesus participate? I told him that there are three different Christian views on this question:
----- First, that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ.
This is the Roman Catholic belief, and it is called Transubstantiation. Before
the Mass, the elements are merely bread and wine. But during the Mass, through
the ministrations of the priest, they are changed so that, although worshipers
perceive only the bread and wine, they nevertheless actually eat and drink the body
and blood of Jesus.
----- Secondly, that the bread and wine are unchanged elements, but Christ's presence
by faith is made spiritually real, in and through them. This was the view of John
Calvin particularly, but also of other Reformers ---- that Christ is present in the
Communion Service, but spiritually rather than physically. Rev. James Montgomery
Boice tells us that Calvin called this "the real presence" to indicate that a spiritual
presence is every bit as real as a physical one.
----- Thirdly, the bread and wine are unchanged, and used as symbols representing Christ's body and blood., in remembrance of His enduring sacrifice. This theory
assumes Jesus is not present at all, at least no more than he is present all the time
and in everything. To those who hold this view, Communion takes on an
exclusively memorial character. It is only a remembrance of Christ's death.
In his book, Foundations of Christian Faith, Rev. James Montgomery Boice discusses the merits of these three theories, as follows:
"To begin with, we must say that there can be no quarrel with the memorial theory,
since it is certainly true as far as it goes. The only question is whether more than
remembrance is involved. The real division is between the view of the majority of
Reformers and the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Those who favor a
literal, physical presence (and Luther was one, though he did not accept the theory
of Transubstantiation) argue from a literal interpretation of Christ's words: "This is
my body." (Mark 14:22). But that hardly decides the matter, because such
expressions occur frequently in the Bible with obviously figurative or representa- tional meanings."
I told Harry that we (at CPC) speak of "the real presence" of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Communion Service as far as we know it, and seek to respond to Him and serve Him. But, we readily admit that there are times when this is difficult and the Lord does not seem to be present. Whether because of our sin, fatigue or simply lack of faith, Jesus often seems to be far away. Though we continue on in Christian life and in service, we long for that day when we will see Him face to face and be like Him. The Communion Service is a reminder of that day. It is an encouragement to our faith and an impulse to reach for a higher level of holiness.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this spring at CPC.