Reading. Matthew 26: 17-30
It is the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Mass, call it what you will, to which I want to direct our attention now. There are four accounts of its institution in the New Testament, three in the first three gospels and one in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the earliest to be written. All four accounts are overshadowed by the crucifixion. They all begin ‘who in the same night in which he was betrayed’. And so the words are repeated at every celebration of the Holy Communion however simple, however elaborate. Judas Iscariot always stands in the shadows, so to speak. As Communicants we are never to forget when this sacrament was instituted and how it was Jesus came to be crucified. The connection between the Eucharist and the crucifixion is thus fixed for all time. ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’.
As far as the apostles were concerned the institution of the Holy Communion was totally unexpected. It took place in the course of a meal at which Jesus was the host. The apostles fell to arguing about seniority, perhaps sparked off by the seating arrangements. Then Jesus took off his outer garments, tied a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and insisted on washing everyones feet. The apostles did not like it. Worse was to come. Jesus announced that this would be their last meal together. And if this was not bad enough, that one of them would betray him to the very men who wanted to kill him.
As they were eating the meal Jesus took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them and said, “Take; this is my body”. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”. At the end of the meal a hymn was sung, then they all made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas, at the head of an armed crowd, identified Jesus with a kiss and the word ‘Master’. So Jesus was arrested.
All this is the background to the institution of the Holy Communion, vividly recalled in the words repeated at every celebration, “who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying ‘Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of me’”.
What he gave the apostles at their last meal together was BROKEN bread. It was his broken body they received, the body to be crucified in a matter of hours. Thus Holy Communion and the Crucifixion are inextricably bound together. The Holy Communion interprets the Crucifixion. The Crucifixion interprets the Holy Communion.
The Holy Communion interprets the crucifixion because
in the Holy Communion Service we RECEIVE. The broken bread and the wine are not placed on the Holy Table as exhibits but as the means of giving and receiving. It is, after all, at meals and over meals that fellowship is built up in everyday lives. The Holy Communion therefore is the divinely appointed way for human fellowship with God to be experienced. In the light of Holy Communion the crucifixion took place so that we might have fellowship with God, free access to the Divine Presence, all barriers done away. Indeed the cross is the ground of our confidence, the proper reaction to which is thanksgiving. No wonder the Holy Communion is also called the Eucharist, the Greek word for giving thanks.
The crucifixion is a mystery in the sense that it is difficult how God was really present, yet he was. So the real presence of God in the Eucharist is a mystery, but he is, there by his choice and he is present for our sakes, actively present. The Holy Communion stands for all time as our place of meeting with God.
In that first act of Communion in the Upper Room Jesus’s offer to his disciples and to us demands a response. He was saying to the disciples and to us, “I am offering you the gift of myself. Will you, in return, give yourselves to me?
LET US PRAY
Jesus, I receive your love