We are becoming an increasingly forgetful society. Statistics taken from the year 2000 and 2015 show a 25% drop in attention span. This trend describes a people who from time to time forget their own birthdays (7% in fact), forget major details about the lives of those closest to them (25%), and who can recall very few of the things they have just seconds before read or studied. It describes a people who read only about a quarter of the articles they come across, and who retain even less of the information they do read. We are a distracted and forgetful people.
God knows this, which is why on the night before his death, Jesus gave humanity a gracious gift so that the most important act in the history of the universe would never be forgotten. He gives believers the gift of his Body and Blood to be taken, eaten and drunk. This gift gives us three assurances:
The assurance of what he has done (1 Corinthians 11:25)
Jesus tells his disciples on Holy Thursday to practice Holy Communion in remembrance of him. We pull all kinds of stunts to remember what we need to remember. Some people tie a string around their finger. (Or maybe no one actually does this.) More likely you are like me, constantly telling your phone to remind you what to do and remember. When Christ gave us Communion, it was as if he was saying: “Hey Siri, remind my people of my love for them by giving them the physical, tangible gift of my sacrifice for them in, with and under the elements of bread and wine.” Then once it’s set, he schedules it to repeat regularly throughout the Christian’s life.
Christ insists we never forget the cross. The cross isn’t just a part of Christianity. It is Christianity. It’s not just the believers’ introduction to the faith or the “first stop” on on a long road to behavior modification. It’s the operating system for the whole of the Christian life. Each time we receive communion, the scene of God’s sacrificial love is visibly played out before our eyes. It calls us from our self-centered distractions to see the Savior, God himself, hanging dead on a cross to accomplish your rescue. This is a scene we must never forget. It leads us to the second assurance given in Communion, which is that we are forgiven through that act of receiving his Body and Blood.
The assurance that we are forgiven (Matthew 26:28)
When Christ institutes Communion on Holy Thursday, he commands the disciples to drink of the cup which is the New Covenant in his blood, “given for [them] and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Many have understood this passage to simply be a symbolic assertion of what he would do the following day on the cross. This doesn’t tell the whole story. While the cup is effective because of what Christ would do on the cross, the forgiveness of sins in Matthew 26 is connected to the drinking of the cup.
This understanding ruffles some feathers. I’ve been approached by people upset when I make this claim about Communion. In saying this, they think assume I am implying that the cross was not truly a successful “once-for-all” sacrifice as Hebrews 10 promises. This isn’t the case. This would be true if the Cross’ power was only useful to bring a person to faith.
But this isn’t how the Bible describes the cross. The Bible describes the message of the cross as the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Cor. 1:18). Notice that Paul says the cross’ power is for those “being” saved. He’s speaking of the process of being made holy that continues throughout the believer’s life. He doesn’t say it was for those who “were” saved, speaking of the instant act of the exchange of Christ’s righteousness for the believer’s sin. He saw the cross as the ongoing power source of the Christian life, not a one-time experience. On the Cross Jesus won the forgiveness of our sins. But it’s through the Word of the Cross that God daily distributes the forgiveness of sins. The Word of Christ crucified provides believers with the daily assurance that they are forgiven and adopted by God. In Communion, God connects his Word and promise of forgiveness to his chosen elements of bread and wine, and he asks the believer to partake regularly.
This point makes sense when described in the context of other areas of life. Those of you who are married, the next time you wrong your spouse, instead of confessing it and apologizing, why don’t you tell him or her: “Honey, I already asked for forgiveness when we were dating. Quit bothering me about it. I’m already forgiven. You have no reason to be upset, and there is no use in discussing it. It doesn’t matter what I did.” Let me know when you do, so that we can schedule your marriage counseling. Human relationships don’t work like this, nor does a relationship with God.
Both our relationship to God and our relationship to others must function on the fuel of grace and forgiveness. Communion provides this for the believer. First Corinthians 10:16 reminds us that in Communion we “participate in” or “fellowship with” the Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for us at the cross. This means that as we receive these gifts, we experience the sacrificial, forgiving love of Christ. In this, our tongues taste the assurance of his fresh forgiveness for our moment by moment struggle with sin. He’s really there giving us real forgiveness.
The assurance that we are not alone (1 Corinthians 10:17)
This forgiveness of Christ unites believers under one banner. As some have said, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Christians see the cross and are struck by the grace and love of God. They stand humbled under the forgiveness he has won for us. They rest in the reality of his presence. Communion assures us of this. Throughout history, God has come to his people in Communion. The same bread that Paul ate, we eat. The same cup that he drank, we drink. Paul says the we who are many are one body through Communion.
If this is true, the same Christ that sat with the disciples remains with us today. The same Spirit that he gave his disciples so as to equip them to serve him in ways once impossible still dwells in us. The message contained in broken bread and blessed cup is ours to spread today. Communion unites us with God and with each other to proclaim his death and all its benefits until he returns. Anything that would draw your focus from this is a distraction. It’s like the phone you need to check 40 times a day for no particular reason, keeping you from your work. It’s the enemy drawing your eyes from what we need to most remember—Christ crucified–which is our message. That is our power. That is our hope.
For this reason, God gave us Holy Communion. He knows that the message of the Cross is so far removed from our grasp that we need a tangible assurance of his forgiving presence. He wants us to believe that despite our weakness and failure he is there. It’s a gift that literally gives us the grace to taste and see that He is good (Ps. 34:8), and allows us together to find our forgiveness and strength in him. So he invites you—Take! Eat! Drink! Enjoy his gift for you.