Today we celebrate the death of our Lord and Saviour by eating and drinking around His table.
The meal that we eat has been reduced to its barest elements. We do not eat the whole Passover as Jesus and his disciples did. We only eat a small piece of bread and drink a sip of wine.
The Passover meal was one of the most important feasts of Israel – celebrating their redemption out of Egypt. Jesus used it to point to his own sacrifice of redemption on the cross. Christians do not celebrate the Passover in memory of Moses and the Egyptians but in memory of Jesus’ redemptive death for us.
So eating bread and drinking wine reminds us of his broken body in death and the covenant signed in his blood- the covenant of forgiveness and pardon. It is in the activity of eating and drinking that we participate in this memorial.
The bread remains bread and the wine remains wine. But as we eat and drink in remembrance of him we share with each other in his death for us.
The framers of our Prayer Book were careful to remove superstition from the Lord’s Supper. They knew that at the heart of the misunderstandings of the Lord’s Supper lay a profound misunderstanding of the Gospel.
So at the end of the Lord’s Supper they explain what kneeling during the Supper does, and importantly does not, mean.
“It is here declared, that … no Adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either to the Sacramental Bread and Wine, thereby bodily received, or unto any Corporeal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural body and blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural body to be at one time in more places than one.”
We feed on Christ spiritually (“in our hearts by faith”) not physically with our mouths. If a person is too sick to receive the bread and the wine “he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.”
Central to our remembrance of Christ is not the bread nor the wine but our fellowship of eating together as we remember his sacrifice for us. So the Lord’s Supper is also called “Holy Communion” for it is a corporate meal that we share. It is not to be celebrated alone -“There shall be no Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except there be a convenient number to communicate”. And we are exhorted most strongly to be in love and charity with our neighbours, even to the point that the Supper is to be denied to those who cannot or will not be reconciled to each other.
Our unity is to be a real unity of living in love and charity with each other – forgiving each other and being reconciled to each other – lest we eat and drink to our own condemnation. It is not symbolised in the bread or the wine but in eating and drinking together in remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death for us.