1 Corinthians 11 (A Maundy Thursday text)
23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” It is so easy to think of the Holy Communion as a religious ritual. However meaningful we may or may not find it, however deeply spiritual, however healing or renewing, our eyes tend to see ‘church’ rather than Jesus. This is something people do. This is something religious organizations do inside a religious building presided over by religious professionals dressed in religious robes.
No. “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”
Two thousand years of tradition may stand in between Jesus and ourselves. These robes were once the ancient equivalent of blue jeans. Perhaps upscale blue jeans – but still, common everyday dress. The colored stole around the pastor’s neck is affected by the ornamental styles of the ancient and modern world – but it may have started with the towel the deacon put around his neck after washing feet. It is understandable that everyday items used for sacred purposes become objects of special care and beauty. When I have guests for dinner, I use my best wine glasses, not the cheap everyday ones. I use my nicest serving dish. I get out cloth napkins instead of handing out paper towels. So this banquet of Holy Communion now involves items of beauty and distinction. But we all know that we can use hamburger buns and a cafeteria water glass of two-buck chuck if we need to and Christ will still be present. Because this isn’t a religious ritual; “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”
Of course Paul received it from Jesus and handed it on to Timothy who handed it on to Polycarp who handed it on to generation after generation – but it all goes back to Jesus and that last night with his followers.
It connects us through time with Jesus. It connects us now with Jesus.
There was a time when gathering to break this bread was like gathering in the Soviet empire to read Solzhenitsyn. It was a radical and revolutionary act. In whispers we say the words that speak of the end of every Rome and the dawning of God’s reign. In whispers we are members of the Jesus Liberation Front, knowing that the supreme act of violence could not stop this Jesus. That we are members of his household. That he is present among us. That he breathes upon us his spirit, his love, his courage, his strength, his grace. That he will one day be manifest to all and all heaven and earth will be governed in harmony with his spirit, in union with his perfect grace and love.
Rich and poor, noble and serf, slave and free, Judean and Gentile, “Parthians, Medes and Elamites,” Arab and Israeli and American and Hindi, black and white, this amazing gathering of all people recognizing themselves sisters and brothers in one household of God, declaring by their very existence – and by this act of breaking bread together – that Christ has died, is risen and will come again.
Words of power. Words of hope. Words of transformation. Words of rebellion and resistance to the world as it is. Words of love. Words that connect us with the source and goal of life. “I received from the Lord what I am here handing over to you.”