(This post is a communion meditation shared at my own local church.)
The Lord’s Supper deals in the realm of symbols and signs. Signs and symbols are visible, tangible representations pointing us to something behind the symbol. The thing itself is a signpost reminding us of something bigger and grander than the symbol. Let me give a couple examples.
If you’ve been watching the Olympics over the last week, you’ve no doubt noticed symbols. Each country has a flag carried or worn by their athletes and waved in the stands. Various flags are shown on video screens or held up by victors standing on podiums. Now the flag is just a piece of cloth with some dye mixed in. There’s little intrinsic value to any flag and you can pick them up at the dollar store. But the flag is a symbol of someone’s country. It’s a symbol meant to capture a country’s history, values, story, people, and its beauty and resources. The flag represents the country and a person’s homeland, which is why it’s so meaningful to people at the Olympic Games.
In the Olympics, the medals are also significant symbols. While this might be just an American thing, I check the medal count every couple of days. The medals do have some inherent value but their real value is symbolic. Someone gets to stand on a podium in front of the world’s eyes on behalf of their country and they receive a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The medal represents their victory, their hard work, and honor. They’ll keep it forever because when they see the medal they’ll be reminded of what they accomplished, their experience, and a host of other feelings or emotions. The medal points to something bigger.
For a non-Olympics example, take my wedding ring as an example. It’s a covenantal sign, a symbol. Now, the ring itself isn’t worth much. I don’t wear it because I’m big into accessories and jewelry. So what’s the point if it’s not about the bling or the way it looks as a fashion accessory? Why do I wear it? When I see or feel my wedding ring it’s a reminder of my covenantal vows. It symbolizes the reality that Melissa and I are united to each other and we belong solely to each other. When I see it I’m reminded of both of my love for her and her love for me. Wedding rings, like Olympic medals and flags, are signs and symbols pointed to something deeper and greater and more valuable than themselves.
THE BREAD AND WINE
When we take the Lord’s Supper, the value isn’t in a piece of bread or the juice itself. The elements are visible, tactile signs pointing beyond themselves to something greater. They are symbols that represent the body of Jesus broken for us and the blood of Jesus poured out for our sins. But they are also dynamic signs in that they are to remind us, to stir up something within us, and to bring into our living memory what’s being pointed to. Let’s take one minute and reflect on a couple of things being pointed to.
As covenantal signs and symbols, they remind us first of all when we eat them that God’s love is set upon us. The Father didn’t have his arm twisted into putting up with us. The Father sends Jesus because he loved us and for the purpose of saving, reconciling, and adopting us. The symbols of Christ’s broken body and shed blood point us to the love that sent Jesus. The meal is a reminder that we sit at the table with our Father who welcomes us in, smiles overs us, and delights in us.
But they also point us to the gracious sacrifice of Jesus for undeserving sinners. The sight of the bread and cup is a reminder to us that through Jesus all our sins—past, present, and future—are washed away. It’s a chance to take a deep sigh of relief because Jesus took our worst so our shame, embarrassment, and guilt are objectively removed from us. The bread and cup teach us we don’t buy these things, earn these things, or keep these things. They are free and gracious gifts received by faith. God puts a meal on the table and we freely receive it. These things remind us that Jesus alone not only wipes away our sin but he brings us into the presence of God, into the heart of God, and into the favor of God.
The communion elements are similar to other symbols we’re familiar with, but there is one difference. These signs and symbols of the bread and the cup don’t merely point to something; they do something. Jesus promises that when his followers eat this meal in faith he uses it as a means to strengthen our souls, to feed our faith, and to fellowship or commune with us. They don’t just point to Christ but when we eat them by faith and believe all the gospel-promises we have in Christ, the Spirit uses them in our lives. It’s similar to how the Bible is more than paper and ink and God speaks through his living and active Word when it’s preached. So also, these Communion symbols are a visible gospel preaching to us and to all in here the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As the communion elements are passed, take these moments to reflect on all that the bread and the cup tell us. Remember the love of God for you in this gift. Remember the grace of God for you in this gift. Let them stir up gratitude and joy for all that we have in Christ. Because this meal is for those who have believed in Jesus Christ and can rejoice in what they have in him, if you have not yet turned to Jesus than simply pass the elements on. It’s not meant to be an embarrassing thing or an excluding thing. We’re glad you are here and our prayer is that today you would learn more about who this Jesus is and how you might come to know him.