A sermon on Matthew 26 v.17 – 30, first published in the Baptist Times on June 4th 2010
Back in the days when Christianity was new, some people saw it as a Jewish sect and others as a monstrous cannibalistic cult where its followers were said to consume flesh and blood. Down through the centuries the Christian church has continued to hold services where the flesh and blood of Jesus are said to be consumed. Some call it the Eucharist – since it is a moment of thanks. Others call it the Mass – since the people are sent out at the end with the words ‘ie:missa est’ (go, you are sent). In other traditions it is known as the Lord’s supper, since the Lord himself instituted it, or as the breaking of bread – in order to remember its humble origins. The question is, whatever we call it…why do we do it?
The first reason we do this strange thing is precisely because it shocks us. In Matthew’s story of the Passover meal, there is a dawning sense of realisation that something special is happening – right up until the thunder-clap moment when Jesus breaks bread and refers to it as his own body. Communion is a reminder that in Jesus God’s good intentions stop being a theory and turn into shocking practice instead.
We share communion, too, because it sustains us – or ‘holds body and soul together’ as my Nan used to say. Since our bodies are hard-wired to look for food and drink until our dying day, Jesus links the remembrance of our salvation with this physical act. In this way we can no more forget him than we can forget to eat and drink. The phrase from the Anglican Eucharist about “feeding on him in your heats by faith” is a reminder of this.
- It is well worth researching all the different cups and blessings of a Passover meal – and seeing how each redounds with new meaning when pronounced by Jesus on this auspicious occasion.
- The hymn sung at the end of the meal would probably have been Psalm 116 v. 13 – 15
- How do you strike a balance between explaining communion every single time, which may be boring for the ‘regulars’ and ensuring that visitors understand what is going on.
- Is there a place in the life of your church where new Christians or enquirers can express any qualms they might have about this strange act of communion?
‘Every picture Jesus had ever painted in his stories, and every truth he had ever mentioned in his teaching would all be paid for with his precious blood’