Some traditions that we celebrate might seem odd to someone not in the know.
Imagine trying to explain a birthday party to someone who has never come across the concept before.
Not only do you have to explain the funny hats, the giving of presents, the apparent attempt to set alight to the cake, but you will have to explain strange things to do with time.
A birthday seems to suggest that someone has just been born – it is the day of their birth. Well, a part of birthdays is about remembering that day.
But it is also about celebrating the current day – why? Because it is exactly 10 or 20 or 95 years since that first birth day. The present day is also special.
But then you’ll also have to explain why it is that people say “Many happy returns”. You’re looking to the future and wishing that they may have many more days like this ahead of them.
In other words, birthday parties are about celebrating the past, the present and the future.
And how do we celebrate? Like with so many other things we celebrate – Christmas, anniversaries, new jobs – we celebrate with food. We have a special meal.
Well, at the very heart of our life together as a church there is a special meal too.
Like a birthday, its a meal that helps us to:
- remember the past
- celebrate today
- and look forward to the future
One of the most central stories in the Old Testament is the people of God’s escape from slavery in Egypt. It is a story that is returned to again and again by future generations. Indeed, every year since then, for 3000 years, Jewish people have remembered that escape story in a special meal, the Passover
Its a meal filled with symbolism. Lamb will be eaten to remind them that a lamb was killed and its blood smeared on the doors of their houses so that the angel would pass over their house and they would be protected. Bitter herbs that bring tears to the eyes are eaten to remind them of the bitterness and pain of slavery. Flat, unleavened bread is eaten to remind them that when the people of God fled Egypt they didn’t have time to wait for the bread they had made to rise – they had to flee straight away. And wine will be drunk to remind them of God’s promises that he would save the people and make them his special people.
This meal was a special way of reminding them of how much God loved them and how he had set them free. In eating the meal they re-entered once again the story of God’s liberation.
Jesus takes this special meal, a meal that had been eaten for a thousand years, and turns it upside down.
Jesus doesn’t take the bread and say: “Eat this, remembering the time when God helped us escape from Egypt.” Instead he says, “This bread is my body; eat it remembering me and the freedom I will win for you.”
In the same way, he doesn’t take the cup and say “Drink this remembering that 1000 years ago, God wanted your ancestors to be his special people.” He says: “Drink this, remembering that from now on, because of me, we can all be God’s friends in a new and very special way, we can be forgiven. This is a new start, a new covenant.”
In other words, “you thought escaping from Egypt was pretty special. But it is nothing compared to what I am going to do for you by dying on the cross and rising to new life. And I want you to eat this meal as a way of never forgetting it!”
But this special meal not only takes us back to the past, back 3,000 years to the escape from slavery, and 2,000 years to the Last Supper.
It takes us forward in time too, to a time that is to come.
Imagine you’re planning for a very special meal. Maybe its your birthday in a few weeks time; or someone is getting married; or there is a special anniversary. To make sure the meal is going to be good, you have a small taste of each of the courses that the restaurant will serve. You don’t have the full meal, you just have a small taste. What you eat gives you a real sense of excitement and anticipation of what is to come. If this is how good just one little taste is, how much better will be the full meal!
Well, communion, the meal of bread and wine that Jesus gives us, acts like that. It is a taster, what we might call a foretaste, of what is to come. One day, we will sit down at a banquet in heaven, for the greatest party ever, a banquet that celebrates that God is our friend and our king for ever.
And as we have that foretaste alongside one another, it reminds us that we will be sharing that meal with Christians all down the ages and Christians of times to come. We will be one from every part of the world, and from every generation – what a party it will be. When we participate in communion, we don’t go off to a corner all by ourselves, and ignore everyone else. No – we share it with others, a shared meal. Communion is our taste of what is to come.
In communion, lets remember the work of God in the past in setting us free; let us look forward to what is to come – that great banquet with all the saints in heaven; and let us celebrate now, with one another.