Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Communion of the Saints

One of the most admirable traits of Islam, in my opinion, is the unity of the global Muslim population.  Five times a day rings the call to prayer, and five times a day every Muslim is called to face Mecca and pray to God. When I first understood this, I looked and found nothing comparable in my own background, nothing to echo the sweeping grandeur of a worldwide church united in a single act of devotion to God. To be honest, it was more than a little disappointing.

From this relatively recent appreciation of the Eucharist, I see what I was missing. For Christ Himself said of the bread that "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11: 24), and the earliest descriptions of the Christian church incorporate the centrality of the Eucharistic meal.

In the first post-Resurrection appearance recorded by Luke, Jesus walked with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, and when they arrived and "He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him" (Luke 24:30-31). When the two disciples returned to Jerusalem to share this with the eleven, "They began to relate their experience on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24: 35). Likewise, after the events of Pentecost, the members of the early Church "were continually devoting themselves to the apostle's teachings and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:30).

But Scripture does not merely treat the Eucharist as a sacrament shared only among the living. Christ declares that "I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29).

Indeed, Scripture bids us to "rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.... Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.... These are the true words of God" (Rev. 19:7-9). The Eucharist is shared among all the saints of God: it is the sign of our unity as the Body of Christ, that we partake of that body together.

Communion is by this measure more than a memorial and in a sense even more than a sacrament.  It is a pillar of our Christian identity, allowing us to anticipate the marriage supper of the Lamb, sharing the celebration "with so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1) and with the triumphal cries of the host of heaven.

This is the "new covenant in My blood" (1 Cor. 11:25) instituted by Christ. This is the communion of the saints.

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