This is my fourth column seeking to show the gospel shape of our communion service. So far we’ve been through creation, sin and judgement. When meeting people on the fringes of Christianity, I try to ask, “Based on your impressions, what is Christianity all about?” I think of this question as a good test of how well people like me have been doing their jobs. The most frequent answer is along the lines of “values”, “treating other people well” and “living a good life”. It’s pleasing that people still come to Christianity for these good things, in spite of the bad press we sometimes receive!
But the service of Holy Communion should leave us in no doubt as to what is actually the central part of our faith. The climax to which the service builds is a commemoration of the climactic event of history, God’s great work of salvation, the death of Christ. Each week we read Jesus’ very own words explaining the meaning of his death: “This is my body given for you” (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24).
His death was for us, specifically as a “sacrifice of atonement” (1 John 2:2). Jesus, himself sinless, bore the wrath of God for our sins, so that we could escape God’s judgement, and instead inherit his eternal kingdom.
Jesus’ death is a shining jewel with so many facets that the New Testament never tires of speaking about it. Indeed, we will be praising the Lord Jesus for his work on the Cross forever and ever: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise” (Rev. 5:12). But in a short summary like this, there are two things we must say. Firstly, the Cross shows us that sin cannot be ignored. If there were any other way for us to be saved, surely God would have taken it. Secondly, the Cross is the expression of God’s love: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Jesus died because God loves you and wants you to be with him.
By eating and drinking, we symbolise our own total dependence on Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and thankfulness for his loving sacrifice. We also pledge ourselves to the repented life of love for God and neighbour. For who could truly understand the death of the Son of God and not be deeply changed?