Texts: John 12:15-17, I Corinthians 11:23-26
When I was in seminary, I had a strategy I would use when struggling with a theological concept. I would take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the center and make two columns. On one side, at the top, I would write, “What I don’t believe.” At the top of the other column, I would write, “What I do believe.” Sometimes, sorting out what I didn’t believe about something first would help me clarify what I did believe. Over the years, this strategy has continued to help me grappled with difficult or hard-to-understand faith concepts.
For some time now, I have wanted to preach a sermon on the meaning of communion. My desire to do so comes out of years of conversations with some of you and your own wrestling with how to make sense of what is represented in this meal we call The Lord’s Supper. Like many of you, I have struggled with how to frame what we-the church-are doing when we gather around this table and speak the words, “This is my body and blood given for you, as often as you eat this bread and drink from this cup, do so in remembrance of me.” I have talked before, and even preached on the violence represented at the table and how I believe that glorifying such violence diminishes our faith. I have even declared that I didn’t believe such a sacrifice was necessary for humanity to know of God’s love for us. At some point in my ministry, I made a conscious decision to never again say this is my blood given for you because of the images that such speech can conjure up. I couldn’t and I still can’t reconcile that language and way of speech with a meal that I understand to be about love. How helpful is it, really, to even symbolically reference the bread and juice as Christ’s body broken for us and his blood shed for our sins? And yet, when participating in this meal, if we don’t make some connection to the sacrifice Christ made, what do we have left in terms what it all means? If we don’t acknowledge what the bread and cup represent, are we simply engaging in an empty ritual that holds no significance for our spiritual lives?