It is Maundy Thursday. The day when we remember Jesus having a meal with his disciples, a Passover meal, a meal to remember the Israelites coming out of Egypt and to celebrate the freedom of Gods people.
Remembering was the main theme of the meal, something that Jesus took and shortly before he was arrested, tried and executed, and knowing that it would happen, took two elements that would have been there at the meal and said, “Do this to remember me.”
It is something that most Christian churches still do. And it is something that unites us; that is until we encounter theology. (Warning: the following uses big words.)
Firstly there are all those names: Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Mass.
And there’s different understandings, all with confusing names like transubstantiation, consubstantiation etc. Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, you will be.
Some say that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. Some that the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the bread and wine – both of these ideas come under what is known as “Real presence” theories, of which there are many. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who say that it is to remember what Christ did, nothing more.
Then there’s denominational practices. Some use wine, some non-alcoholic wine; some use grape juice, some blackcurrant juice; some say the wine must contain alcohol, some that it must be non-alcoholic. Communion has even been performed with a McDonald’s burger and Coca-Cola. Now you should be confused.
People were confused in the old days. Early Christians were accused of cannibalism, because those outside the faith heard talk of eating the body of Jesus and could not see beyond the jargon to the symbolism. These days the confusion is within Christianity.
A few years ago, not back in the old days, the internet Church St Pixels were talking about if it was possible to do communion on line. It got nowhere. The forum Ship of Fools also discussed if communion could be done on the internet, with similar results. No common ground could be found between those who said that an ordained ministerof some sort must be present to bless the bread and wine (or their substitutes) and those who thought that any Christian could do it. Similarly no agreement could be found between those wh believed in some kind of real presence and those that said communion was about remembering only.
The meal that unites became the meal that unties.
In real life I have found things to be different. ( Not that there’s anything unreal or surreal about on line relationships.)
I have received communion at very high Anglican* churches, who call their service “Mass” and believe in transubstantiation and I have received communion en Evangelical Anglican services where they don’t. I have taken unleavened bread, ordinary bread and whatever those wafer things are made of. I have taken real wine, non-alcoholic wine and Ribena. In Anglican, Methodist,Baptist, Pentecostalist and other buildings.
In all these places with all these ideas the act of taking Communion together united us. When we put aside our theological differences and, as Jesus said, “do this” we are united.
Which goes to show that Communion only divides us if we want it to.
Just do it.