On Missing the Point

Jerry Clower used to tell about the time that he and Marcel Ledbetter slipped into the church building early one Sunday morning and replaced all the communion juice with green persimmon wine. He said that everyone partook of the Lord’s Supper that Sunday, and then they all stood and whistled the closing hymn.

OK, my story isn't that dramatic, but the great Kool-Aid incident of 1976 almost comes close. This was before I came here, but someone told me about it under promise of anonymity. The person in charge of preparing communion evidently put off the task until the last minute one Sunday morning. When they hurriedly rushed in to get things ready, they discovered that there was no Welch’s grape juice. But there was a large container of Kool-Aid left over from VBS. If they mixed the Kool-Aid really strong, maybe no one would notice that the grape juice wasn't really grape juice. It might have worked too... had we actually had grape Kool-Aid. What we had was orange Kool-Aid, and that wasn't fooling anyone. I am told that as people partook of the cup, they looked around with extremely puzzled looks on their eyes… but no one ever said anything. They still don't!

I forgot about that story until years later when we had the great banana juice incident. We were preparing communion for the very first official service of the church freshly planted in Zhitomir, Ukraine. For some reason, grape juice was hard to find (though wine was more plentiful than drinkable water). But somehow we had it our minds that we had to find grape juice. Not long before the service, we passed a kiosk that had container of juice with pictures of grapes. The labeling was Russian, but it was obviously grape juice. Until just before the service when it was opened, revealing a bright yellow liquid and someone immediately labelled “banana juice.” We had communion, but I’m sure that when we got to the part where the cup represented the Lord’s blood, that must have lost something in translation.

In our reading for today in Matthew 26, Jesus observes “the Last Supper” with the apostles. It really wasn't the last supper; Jesus eats with his disciples several times after the resurrection. What he does is to eat the Passover with his disciples for the last time, and He radically changes its meaning and message for all time to come. The bread and wine of the Passover become a statement of the covenant of the body and blood of Jesus. Rather than pointing back to the freedom of the Hebrews slaves during the time of Exodus, now this meal points us to our exodus from the slavery to sin, freedom given us through the sacrifice of the cross. It is the sign of the covenant, a new covenant Jesus signed in His own blood and that we resign every time we eat the bread and drink of the cup.

It is interesting how divisive that communion has been through the years. It was largely a differing understandings of communion that kept the Protestant Reformation movements of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli from merging into one. In my own religious tribe, churches have split over any number of communion issues-- the number of communion cups, whether or not we can use grape juice rather than wine or MUST use wine and not grape juice, whether or not you can sing while the cup is being passed, etc. A professor in grad school told me about a church that split over whether or not the one cup had to have a handle (as in a coffee mug) or not, because without a handle, a cup isn't a cup-- it's a glass!

Somewhere along the line, we missed the point. The point of communion is not making sure we get all the details (like numbers of cup and exactly what's in the cup) right. The point of communion is NOT our cup at all— the point is the cup that Jesus drank for us. In communion, we participate in the cross and focus on what Jesus did for us there. Communion isn't about what we do but about what He did. In communion, we share in Christians death on the cross and in His resurrected life after the cross. And we give thanks. That is the point!