“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.””
(John 6:55-58 NASB1995)
I read this and wonder why Jesus chose to talk about His body and blood with these words, chasing people away? Couldn’t He have said these same things in a more palatable way? Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60).
It’s quite likely that if we were in the crowd that day, many of us would have defected as well. Although we would have heard about and seen the miracles up to this point, giving us hope about the possibility that God really was at work among us fulfilling the promise of a Messiah, these words would probably have been too much for a reasonable person to swallow. How would we bear them up against the good things we had seen this Jesus do? Eat my flesh and drink my blood. No, those words would have given us good reason to turn around and walk away as many did, dismissing Jesus as a fraud.
Thank God there’s more to this story! With these words Jesus introduced a new covenant and sacrament. He had shown many signs and wonders, and now He was looking to take those followers who were willing into a deeper relationship with Him, an acceptance of who He said He was. He was looking for the people who, because of all they had seen Him do up until now, would give Him the benefit of the doubt, waiting for a more thorough explanation of what He meant by these ‘crazy‘ words. He was looking for people who would trust Him, even though they didn’t understand.
All was not revealed in that statement that caused many to turn away; and there were some people who realized that and didn’t leave. They wanted to hear more, recognizing that the Jesus they had come to know was one of strange life-giving words. They looked at the things He had done for them and for others, and although they didn’t understand this matter of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, they must have believed that there was more to this subject than they were so far privy to.
For those who hung around He later went into deeper explanation on the final night He ate with His disciples before His death: And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22: 19-20).
Remembering Jesus in this way that is now a sacrament in our churches and small gatherings has a simple, but profound message: Jesus bled and died for our sins, and He rose again, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, and will one day return. Every time we eat the Communion bread and drink the Communion juice, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Cor 11:26). In other words, Communion is an act of remembrance of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. On the one hand, it keeps us humble and repentant, remembering Jesus’ sacrifice and our need for that sacrifice; and on the other it makes us grateful and full of joy that Jesus stood in our place, bridging the gap to bring us into relationship with God.
It wasn’t long before this beautiful celebration of remembrance became steeped in rules and regulations. In an effort to keep the focus on what it is all about, the Apostle Paul lectured the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10 & 11) about the uncompassionate way they went about celebrating the Lord’s supper. At the heart of Paul’s letter is the desire for Jesus followers to not enter into Communion lightly because it is about remembering the Lord’s death, and being hopeful about His return. That is still true today.
Over the centuries Communion has taken on a different meaning than its original purpose was. Man/religion has made it about a person’s worthiness to take it. Paul admonished the Corinthians to ensure that self-reflection was a part of this remembrance. This introspection is part of an inward transaction between a person and God that is for repentance where necessary. In that moment before you take part in Communion you make the decision to turn away from the sin in your life, accepting what Jesus did on your behalf, and vowing to do your best to stay on the road of repentance.
A definition of sin found in the Bible is this: to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17). Man-made rules have changed Communion to be about how sinless/good we gauge ourselves and each other to be – when really it’s about humility and repentance. The reality is that Communion is for every person who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf, and wants to turn away from sin. Instead, it’s become a heavy guilt gauge.
If you choose not to take Communion because you’re aware of sin in your life that you have no desire to turn from, then you are wise to do so. However, if you are repentant and know that Jesus is the only One who can save you, by all means, take, eat, and drink. You are the person that the sacrament of Communion was created for. Every time that tray is passed, each person it goes by has an opportunity to search their hearts and lives, and ask for eyes to see themselves the way God does. It is another chance to repent, make a change, and live differently; and to thank Jesus for changing their life.
These crazy words of Jesus are actually tied up with the promise of eternal life. “He who eats this bread will live forever.” This was not a statement about an institution deciding whether a person can or cannot take part in Communion – it was a choice, a personal invitation. And that is what it remains, no matter what anyone has made of it.
There is freedom in the sacrament of Communion- it signifies acknowledgement and gratitude that Jesus paid an unimaginable price on our behalf. Communion reminds us of our need of Him, and that in our weakness He is strong; and it is to be observed with thoughtfulness and in humility.
Communion is a chance to get honest with the Father and with one’s self. Are you born again like Jesus talked about in John 3? Are you repentant? Are you trying to change? Do you accept Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf for your inability to be perfect? Do you believe He will return like He said He would? Are you grateful that you don’t have to save yourself, and that Jesus paid the price for you? If the answer to these questions is yes, then the next time the tray comes by you, take, eat, and drink, and remember that He died for you – and then live like you believe all of that is true.
© Debbie Mendoza – May 2022