Why it is important to view communion as so much more than remembering – John 6:52-71, Part 3

If you’ve been to a Protestant church the picture above is probably familiar. A table with an open Bible, and the inscription, “This Do In Remembrance Of Me.” What does it mean? Read the Bible to remember Jesus? No. The inscription is referring to a phrase Jesus’ said to his disciples at their Last Supper, the night before he was arrested and crucified. The phrase refers to communion, the ritual that Christians practice to remember that Jesus lovingly, sacrificially gave his life for us. When we gather, Christians partake of communion to remember.

Jesus’ amazing story of self-sacrificial love got twisted over the centuries.  Why?  How?  When you read John 6, verses 53-59, it can seem like Jesus is saying that his actual flesh and blood are real food that are necessary for eternal life.  Just scan down through those verses and hear some of the phrases,

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”

“For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”

“The one who feeds on me will live.”

“Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus repeats the same thing six times over.  Eat my flesh, drink my blood.  Eat my flesh, drink my blood. And on and on.  It starts to get disgusting, doesn’t it?  

He sounds literal, visceral, as if somehow, we need to eat his actual body and drink his actual blood.  But how?  He’s long gone.  Some theologians, wrestling with the implications of getting Jesus life-giving energy inside us began to experiment with ideas about how maybe when Jesus told his disciples to celebrate communion, there was something deeper happening.  The bread and the cup, they wondered, might actually be miraculously transformed into the real body and blood of Jesus in the ritual observance of communion.  There are some churches and denominations that have a variety of perspectives on this. 

In the Protestant evangelical tradition, the primary way we understand communion is that Jesus was speaking not literally, but figuratively.  He was saying that the bread represents his body, and the cup represents his blood, and when we gather for Christian worship, we would do well to observe communion in remembrance of him.  We always want to remember with gratefulness his incredible loving sacrifice for us.  We don’t believe that we are re-sacrificing his actual body and blood, and we don’t need to, in order to experience abundant life and eternal life. 

What Jesus said to the crowd that day in John 6 was quite different.  He was speaking figuratively, and we should read him that way.  Look especially closely as verse 56.  Notice the clue he gives us to reveal what he means.  See his words “remain in me, and I in him?”  The idea behind the word “remain” is a persistence, a keeping on keeping on, an unwillingness to give up, an abiding, an allegiance, no matter what.  We give up control of our lives, in other words, to depend on him.  And we keep depending on him.  When we start to depend on ourselves, forgetting him, as we sometimes do, we confess it, and we return to him.

That’s why there is another understanding of communion called the Participation View.  Protestant Evangelical Christians are mostly familiar with the Memorial View of communion. The Memorial View says that when we take the little piece of bread and drink the cup, it is like we are having a little memorial service for Jesus.  And we are.  That’s important.  Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” just like many church communion tables proclaim.  But there is also a Participation View of communion, and I believe Jesus’ teaching in John 6 supports the Participation View. 

The Participation View says that when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are symbolically, in faith, participating in the life of Jesus.  We are saying, “Jesus, I am participating in this ritual to show that I believe in you, and I join my life with yours.”  That is meaningful because the little piece of bread and the little cup of liquid are obviously not even worthy of a snack.  You’ll get more than that if you go to Costco for samples.  The point of communion is not physical nourishment, but spiritual nourishment, pointing us to a lived reality that is both physical and spiritual.  What do I mean by that?  A lived reality that is both physical and spiritual?

Let me explain it this way.  Jesus wants us to have his life in our lives.  “Eat my body, Drink my blood.”  But how do we do that?  We remain in him.  If we want the life of Jesus in our lives, empowering us, then we continue giving up control of every facet of our lives to him.  That is what it means to remain in him. 

The astounding result, Jesus says, of remaining in him is that he remains in us.  Let’s not make any mistake about what Jesus is getting at here.  This is perhaps his most intense spiritual teaching.  We need him.  He will give this same teaching in other ways:

“Die to yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” 

This is why, in my blog posts, I often write about what real belief actually looks like.  Real belief in Jesus is not in our minds, as if he wants us to believe ideas in our brains.  Real belief is shown by how you live.  Does your life show that you believe in Jesus by remaining in him, by giving him control of your life? 

So what does it mean to give Jesus control of your life? 

It means that you have a new standard by which you think about choices and then act on those choices.  Your standard is no longer where you live, or the ideals of a political party, or your own personal preference, or what is easiest, or what you see most other people doing. To give Jesus control is to choose and act on what will align with his teachings.  It is saying, “Not my will, but yours be done,” which usually means that you can’t make those choices on your own anymore.  We need Jesus, to hear from him, to know his ways, to study him in his Word, to listen for the Holy Spirit.  We give up control to him.

Releasing control is difficult in any situation.  For the crowd that day in John chapter 6, Jesus’ teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood was weird, disgusting, odd, and definitely not the repeat of the bread and fish miracle they were hoping for.  Jesus was not performing for them.  What he was trying to teach them was far, far better than another free meal.  But they couldn’t see that.  What did they see? 

We’ll find out in the next post.

Photo by Mitchell Leach on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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