[Originally posted 17/4/2017]
Christianity is a very un-ritualistic religion. In fact it has only two official rituals. One is that of Baptism: at the beginning of the Christian journey a new believer is encouraged to be baptised, symbolising the death of their old self, and their rebirth in Christ. But after that singular event, there is only one ritual that Jesus commanded his followers to engage in as a continuing life practice. It is known as The Lord’s Supper, or Communion.
The ritual reenacts something that took place during Jesus’ final supper with his disciples before he was crucified – Jesus took bread and wine and gave it to his disciples, instructing them to take, eat his “body”, and drink his “blood”, which he said were given for us. Jesus told his disciples to retain this tradition in remembrance of him, and indeed the tradition continues today in churches across the world and is naturally a central part of Easter services with its intrinsic connection to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Reflecting on it this year, something struck me all of a sudden: Isn’t it amazing that of all the activities Jesus might choose as the single ritual his followers would have by which to remember him, he gave us the act of eating and drinking. That it is an act that nourishes us. An act not of giving, but receiving.
What an incredible God, who would have us remember and honour him not by performing some activity like walking a mile, or bowing down seven times or waving our hands in the air. Not an activity that expends our body’s energy, but one that provides our body with energy. Eating and drinking are the way that we humans receive what our body needs to live, to walk, to work. It is not an activity that represents giving something to God, but one that represents receiving him.
Could any ritual better encapsulate God’s heart for humanity?
What is the main thing God wants from us? How can we honour God? We might think that the way we can honour God most is by giving everything of ourselves to him. But while I wholeheartedly believe we must do that, I suspect that the most significant and important way we honour God is by receiving him. I suspect that the man who takes everything God offers him pleases God more than the man who merely endeavours to give everything to God. Because I don’t think God wants to possess quite us as much as he wants us to experience the joy of possessing him. As C.S. Lewis said: “God created us not primarily so that we could love him, but so that he could love us.”
By instituting the tradition of Communion, Jesus was saying, “You need me. So take, eat and drink. Nourish yourself with me.” And there is nothing we can do that exalts him more than taking.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”– Isaiah 55:1-2