Communion Metaphor

by Ron Julian


This article is from a talk given to Reformation Fellowship Church on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015.

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Communion is a ceremony based around food and drink. This makes a lot of sense to me. In the Lord’s Supper, it is as if we are enacting a physical metaphor. The physical act of eating and drinking is very much like the spiritual realities it represents.

Food and drink—hunger and thirst—are incredibly powerful and important parts of human experience. Food and drink are life-giving. If we do not eat—if we do not drink—we will die. Our bodies are designed to tell us that we need food, we need drink. The longer we go without eating, the hungrier we get. The longer we go without drinking, the thirstier we get. And so the experience of eating and drinking is a very big deal.

When we start eating and drinking, we usually experience pleasure. We respond to the taste of what we are eating and drinking. And then, as we continue to eat and drink, we feel the satisfaction of our need. Our hunger and thirst diminish and disappear. And the result is: we don’t die. Without food and drink, we die. With it, we live. Our physical existence is sustained for a while longer. Every day, when we eat and drink, it is like we enact a little parable. We experience pleasure, we achieve satisfaction, and we receive life.

No wonder, then, that the Bible often speaks of the larger spiritual realities with metaphors of eating and drinking. The Bible portrays the things of God as pleasurable, like food and drink: “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8); “The judgments of the Lord…are sweeter also than honey” (Psalm 19:9-10). The Bible portrays the things of God as satisfying our longings, just as food and drink satisfy our hunger and thirst: “For [God] has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good” (Psalm 107: 9); “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

And of course, the Bible portrays the things of God as giving us life, just as food and drink do. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:48-50). Jesus is telling us that He came to be the true bread, the bread that gives true life, eternal life: Eat this bread—that is, believe in me—and you will live. You will never die. Jesus also tells us how He gives life to the world: through His death on the cross, through His broken body. As He says, “The bread which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). He says, “My flesh is true food” (John 6:55). It is my death on the cross that will give you life, eternal life.

And so in communion we have a ceremony where we eat the bread and remember Christ’s death. His broken body, his death for our sins, is like our food. We receive his salvation with pleasure. The salvation He brings us satisfies our deepest hungers. And in the end, His salvation will give us life, eternal life. And so that is what we celebrate and remember with the bread. Just as bread satisfies us and gives us life, so Christ’s death brings us a salvation that truly satisfies and truly gives us life.

And when Jesus had taken some bread and 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.” (Luke 22:19)

Jesus also asked us to remember His death by drinking from a cup that represents His blood—that is, the blood that He shed when He died for us. Just as with the bread, we are remembering the salvation that Jesus brought us by dying on the cross. And this time, we celebrate it through drinking.

Thirst is just as powerful an experience as hunger. We must satisfy our thirst, or we will die. And so, just as Jesus tells us that His body is true food, so He also tells us that His blood is true drink.

Are we supposed to be imagining that we are drinking literal blood? Not at all. Rather, as we experience the pleasure and thirst-quenching satisfaction and life-giving properties of physical drink, we remember that it is the death of Christ that will truly quench our thirst and truly give us life. Jesus poured out His life’s blood so that we might live.

In the same way Jesus took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (I Corinthians 11:25)

 

Copyright June 2015 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Ron Julian