The Practice of Spiritual Leadership: Join in Communion
By Kevin Witt
Shortly before he died, Jesus initiated a special spiritual practice for his followers. Some people call this simple meal the Eucharist—thanksgiving and blessing. Others call it the Lord’s Supper—remembrance and re-experience. Still others call it Holy Communion—sacred oneness and unity. But how does Communion help us know God and be formed as Christian leaders?
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
First of all, the basic elements of this meal are common foods even among the poor of Jesus’ day. Instead of opting for fancy dishes, Jesus purposely chooses the everyday food and drink of the time. Meals themselves are part of our daily existence. The meaning here is that this meal is available to all. Notice that before they eat the bread or drink the wine, Jesus blesses it, he thanks God for it. Thanking God for the bread and drink is a recognition of its sacredness. It comes from God, so it is called the Eucharist—a meal of sacred thanksgiving.
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)
Jesus realized that he would be killed soon. This was the last time before his death that he would be together with his closest friends and followers. He wanted them to remember what his life was all about. He taught, proclaimed, lived, and ultimately died trying to get his message across: God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. God forgives whatever you may have done in the past to hurt, when you failed to do the loving thing. Jesus declares that it is a day of new beginnings; that, with open arms, God embraces us. With this meal Jesus reasserted this message, essentially saying, “Believe it. Trust it, for this is the new promise or covenant that I am willing to give my life for.”
Jesus was “God with us” willing to suffer in order to overcome any separation we may have from God. When he says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” the word remembrance means more than it does in modern English. Remembrance here means more than just to recall. It means to relive the love of God shown in Jesus. When we break the bread and drink the cup, we have the opportunity to re-experience God’s love and the presence of Jesus who is still with us. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s way of demonstrating that nothing will defeat love. Even today, whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Lord dines with us in Spirit.
I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:15-17)
When we share in this meal, we proclaim that we are followers of Jesus. We declare our willingness to join him in spreading love throughout the world, even if it means that we may suffer for it sometimes. We are one with Jesus and his mission. If, then, Jesus unites us, then naturally we must be one with one another. We are all fed from the same loaf and drink from the same cup of God’s love. This love unites us with God and with each other, so the meal is called Communion (“united with”).
Spiritual Practice—Living the Lesson:
Participate in Communion (arrange for a clergyperson to help).
Focus for Journaling, Reflection, and Prayer:
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” What do you think he might have meant by that?
For Further Study:
Sacraments and Discipleship: Understanding Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in a United Methodist Context, by Mark W. Stamm (Discipleship Resources, 2001, 1-800-972-0433).
The Meaning of Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church, by E. Byron Anderson (Discipleship Resources, 2000, 1-800-972-0433).
Sunday Dinner: The Lord’s Supper and the Christian Life, by William H. Willimon (Upper Room Books, 1-800-972-0433).
The Practice of Spiritual Leadership. Copyright © 2002 General Board of Discipleship. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Kevin Witt is Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship.