Heb. 13:10 – “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.”
Lev. 19:5-8– “When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his initquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people.”
As Americans, especially here in California, we have this stronghold in our minds where if anything seems religious, ceremonial, or based on tradition, our brains instantly turn off. We live in an age where everything is deconstructed scientifically down to Higgs Boson particles and the evolutionary cause all behaviors. We like to take things apart and examine the pieces. When we try to disassemble communion, we just find some grape juice and bread. We yawn and say “Big deal, give me something more functional, like some good music.” We have lost respect for mysteries, because once we decompose them, we no longer see God. Well, since communion is in the Bible, we’ll keep it, but begrudgingly! It just seems so religious.
Thus, in the last few years, I’ve been seeking for God to magnifiy communion to me. I must break this mindset that takes this sacrament the Lord commands, strips it of all meaning, and leaves His bride destitute and His priests starving. In studying church history, I’ve come across such different views such as the “Spiritual Presence” view and consubstantiation (I’m sure wikipedia could explain those if you’re curious), and I no longer see communion as an act we merely do “in remembrance of Me.” You don’t have to believe in transubstantiation to have a high view of the Eucharist (which, by the way, is a word that simply means “Thanksgiving”). There is a power in the Lord’s Supper, and it is a mystery. If we look at it under a microscope, all we see is bread, so we say it’s just there to help us remember. God must give us spiritual eyes to see the power of the body and the blood. Especially as I study the Old Covenant ceremonial law, God has been renewing my mind and heart in this area.
Lev. 19 (above) gives instructions about eating the sacrifice in a holy manner. This reminds me of another verse: I Cor 11:27-29– “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
In the Old Testament, eating in a worthy manner was a very natural thing: eat it within two days, not the fat, and only unleavened bread. It didn’t matter if you harbored bitterness in your heart toward your brother. As is typical, in the New Covenant, God has taken the visible and made it invisible. It doesn’t matter if we use sourdough and grape juice. In these times, eating in a worthy manner involves the position of our heart towards God and people.
One time at a small retreat, I was in a group of about a dozen taking communion. The group was small enough that we counted out the exact number of pieces of bread and little cups. I examined my heart and found some pretty deep unforgiveness towards someone in the group. So, despite the awkwardness of feeling that people would notice, I let the bread and cup pass silently. Afterwards, they found the extra portion and tried to figure out where it came from. I kept quiet and no one figured out it was me, and still I feel that letting the elements pass was of God.
I’ve only done this once or twice in my life, because I do not live under guilt. The point of communion is to come when you are imperfect and receive grace. When I harbor a very deep, raw offense is the only time I’ve ever refused to take communion because of the state of my heart. And it’s not because of a feeling of unworthiness (sin is sin to God), but because to do so in that moment would be to eat and drink in an unworthy manner. It’s something like Matt. 5:23-24. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Do you examine yourself before taking the bread and the cup? That examining will rarely keep you away, but it will often bring repentance. And examining will certainly increase the impact of partaking, because you will recall your sin and recall God’s grace over it as you eat and drink.
God yearns for us to partake in a worthy manner, not just because it’s tradition. He wants the Eucharist for us Protestants to be a deep, meaningful act. He wants to use it to deepen our bonds of love towards Him. He wants to increase the power of grace and our awareness of it in order to wash away sin and shame. When we drink, His blood calls out to us saying, “You are not saved by works but by Me.” When we eat, the flesh cries out, “I have been broken, the curtain has been torn, and the work is complete.” The two remind us that we are priests. They testify of God’s love for us. They say, “Be steadfast; He’s coming, again.”
Don’t you want that? So, take it more often. Take it in your small group and not just on a Sunday. You need that constant reminder and infusion of His power. And do whatever you must to renew your mind so that it will mean something to you. Don’t let the Lord’s table just become some of the static noise of the Christian life. We have barely begun to fathom the power of this sacrament.