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3 November 2019 | Vicar Writes

Receiving from the Lord at the Communion

By Terry Wong
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For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Cor 11:24-26

For some of our Services, the Holy Communion is a weekly experience. Others have it fortnightly. Why do we celebrate the Communion at all?

For a start, this is a tradition handed down to us. Paying attention to the words of Scripture, St Paul said, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” (v 23). And He went on to speak of an event, not just a teaching. It was one where on the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and broke it, he took the cup and drank it, saying this bread is my body for you, this cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this in remembrance of me.” That for the disciples later, this act, indolent with his cross-sacrifice, was obvious.

What was Paul’s specific instruction? The phrase “Do this in remembrance of me” can be translated “Do or make this as my memorial.” We are not just given something to say. We are not given form of words. We are given an action, something to do or perform. And as we do so, we continue to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. In this “in-between times”, we continue what was handed down to us from the apostles.

However, this Christian tradition is much more than just a past memory or pious nostalgia. The word remember, or anamnesis, is significant.

Research into the Old Testament way of understanding God’s works in the past as the Jews celebrate them in the present through rituals can be helpful. In this respect, the continuing Jewish celebration of the Passover meal is an example. Anamnesis is an "objective memorial” where, as one celebrates the past, God’s saving acts continue to be effective in the present. The benefits of his death and resurrection are received and experienced in the here and now by faith with thanksgiving; yet, the historical event remains "once for all" and never repeated. This is made abundantly clear in Scriptures (see Romans 6:9-10, Heb 9:25-28). It is not a repeated death; Jesus is not re-sacrificed.

Yet, it is not just a psychological recall either. The unanimous tradition of the Church (in the east and west) in the first millennial testify to this: it is an active memorial, where we appropriate for ourselves what Christ had given to us in the past, and is still giving. In this sense, he is the true celebrant at every communion. It is something enlivened by the Spirit as we meet as his people and gather in His Name. We are united with him and enter into the mysteries of His death and resurrection. We centre our lives on it. In so doing, we also offer our own lives for His Service, remembering that at the heart of the Christian faith is self-sacrifice.

Instead, at every Communion, let’s re-centre our lives on the heart of what Christ had timelessly done for us: His saving act for our holy reconciliation and our future hope for a wholly reconciliation.