What follows is a sort of confessional meditation about communion/the Lord’s Supper.
I lack a lot in technical insight, and I lack even more in devotion, but I still have the embers of a once-burning motivation to go deeper into (and to teach) the things of the Lord Jesus. I began writing this 2-3 months ago and returned to it recently, in the course of deep, investigative study of 1Corinthians 11.
‘Twas on that night, when doomed to know the eager rage of every foe,
That night on which he was betrayed, the Savior of the world took bread. . . .
– John Morrison, “‘Twas on That Night” (1791)
To remember that night. . . .
To observe its significance. . . .
To honor and memorialize the Immortal One. . . .
To share with other believers the meaning of this bread- and cup-taking. . . .
It has been so long since I had (what I consider) a reasonably viable communion experience that I can hardly muster the feeling of “missing” it on the occasions on which I don’t have (or take) the opportunity. There have been retreats and campfires and living rooms and dining room tables through the years, and a few other, isolated exceptions, but I am left high and dry by most attempts.
Even the communion times that I used to orchestrate for churches and smaller groups were most often lacking, in my estimation.
I wrote a few songs about the Supper; one of them was used in multiple groups and was self-published 3-4 times, in two different melodic iterations (with distinctly different affects). Another song was more of a solo thing, and another couple started gathering dust even sooner. About 20 years ago, an author-friend who knew I cared about such things sent me an out-of-print copy of an impressive treatise on the Lord’s Supper (by Warren W. Lewis, who had left Christian circles), suggesting that I might update/revise/write a new short book on the subject. I did not feel qualified but did write up a list of 52 different aspects of communion—ostensibly for weekly use throughout the year, so that the practice of it wouldn’t get “tired.”
Of course, not everyone experiences the Supper’s observance as “tired.” But there is something deep within me that longs for something more developed, something more richly meaningful, something more communal, something more Passovery, something more expensive or at least expansive . . . something . . . anything more. I long for this not only for myself, but for all of my siblings.
I have just about stopped believing it’s possible—until the final consummation of things, that is.
My broken body thus I give
For you, for all. Take, eat, and live.
And oft the sacred rite renew
That brings My saving love to view.
– John Morrison
Among other goals for me in working long and hard with 1Cor 11:23-26 has been to get closer to this text so I can get closer to the Lord through the “meal.” His saving love ought to be easy to bring to view in this way, you’d think, but for me, it has not often been so.
The “Supper” is described in certain scholarly circles as a “cultic ritual”/rite (and that epithet doesn’t carry the same connotations as in common parlance), but I want it to be more. I want to recover some of the rich sense of connectedness that I think Jesus intended, and that I suspect Paul was trying to instantiate in the Corinthians. For about 30 years I’ve retained a scholarly paper by Dr. James Walters on communal meals in Graeco-Roman antiquity—in the hope that it might some day be a source for real people today about real things that really happened in the real world of real first-century Corinth and other real cities.
I want to be part of a group that communes purposefully and meaningfully (whether it’s weekly or more or less often) as they worship and wait together.
The 25 or 30 English versions to which I have access have only these variants of the last phrase of 1Corinthians 11:26:
|“. . . till He come”
||“. . . till He comes”
|“. . . until He comes again”
||“. . . till he may come”
|“. . . until His coming”
||“. . . till he shall come”
|“. . . until He returns”
||“. . . until the Master returns”
A similar phrase appears in 1Cor 4:1-5, and I have also, almost coincidentally, studied that text deeply. There’s got to be something to this observant, expectant, faith-filled waiting, although some of us begin to flag in the vitality of expectancy as the years drag on. Others find in the events of 66-70 CE the denouement of things, i.e., that, after the year 70, Jesus wasn’t “coming” in the future anymore. Certainly, the destruction of the Jewish temple was a cataclysmic event not only for Jerusalem and the Jews, but for all those, including me, who would later believe in Yahweh and His son Yeshua as Messiah.
Presumably with 1Cor 11:26 in mind, the author of the poem “By Christ Redeemed, In Christ Restored” closed each stanza with the expression “until he come.” Here are the last words of the final (that is, “final” of the four stanzas I used to sing before the song, unfortunately, began to die out) stanza:
“With the last advent we unite by one bright chain of loving rite . . . until He come.”
– George Rawson, “By Christ Redeemed” (1857)
While the Rawson words are poetic, they may not be reflective or expressive of reality for some of us. I hope that most who read this do experience regularly what I do not. For my part, in my heart of hearts, I want to identify with Jesus “until” . . . and with all who have for twenty centuries remembered, memorialized, mused on, commemorated, and honored our Jesus in this way.
Till He come—O let the words
Linger on the trembling chords. . . .
. . .
See, the feast of love is spread.
Drink the wine, and break the bread.
Sweet memorials, till the Lord
Call us round His heavenly board;
Some from earth, from glory some
Severed only “Till He come.”
– Edward J. Bickersteth, Jr., “Till He Come” (1861)
In the event that these musings strike you as mostly a “downer,” I will next offer a meditational prayer I wrote for communion some years ago.