The first Passover was celebrated by a group of slaves. The Israelites had been oppressed by the Egyptians for a long time. God raised Moses up to deliver the people out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. On the last night spent in Egypt, the Israelites ate the Passover meal. They remembered what God had already done for them and prepared for what God was still going to do.
The first Lord’s Supper was celebrated by a group of homeless wanderers. Just before His death, Jesus and his closest followers gathered in a room to commemorate the Passover meal. During that meal, Jesus declared that He was the new bread and the new wine. He was the new covenant. Just as the Passover was the meal celebrated before freedom from Egypt, this Lord’s Supper was the meal celebrated before freedom from sin and death.
The book of Acts tells us of a church that met and shared all things together. Those who were “haves” sold what they owned and shared the proceeds with those who were “have-nots.” There was no in need because everyone openly practiced generosity. The early Christians met every day and always took the Lord’s Supper to remember in part the Passover but much more so to remember the sacrifice of Jesus.
By the time we get to I Corinthians, people have messed it up. The Christians who were meeting in homes in Corinth completely forgot what the Lord’s Supper was about. Those who were the “haves” really made sure the “have-nots” knew it. Those who had reveled in having even more. They discounted the have-nots. In fact, even though they were taking the bread and drinking the wine, Paul tells them, “What you are doing is not the Lord’s Supper at all.” In fact, he even says that their meetings are doing more harm than good (I Corinthians 11:17-33).
On Sunday mornings when I take the Lord’s Supper, I take a piece of cracker that I pretend is bread and drink a sip of grape juice. I take both things out of a shiny silver tray. I receive the tray from the person on one side of me and pass it to the person on the other side of me in total silence. There is little awareness or acknowledgment of other people. It is introspective and isolated.
Which leads me to my question: can the privileged truly participate in the Lord’s Supper?
To me, it seems the Israelites and Jesus understood something the Corinthian church and I often fail to realize:
When you are in the position of having little, it is often easier to receive that which is truly needed.
I am not in need. Although I am not wealthy by my culture’s standards of wealth, I am in the top 10% of worldwide wealth. I am never far removed from the resources I need to survive and thrive. I never have to wonder how I am going to make it through the day. I never question if my basic needs are going to be met. I do not need much.
And I wonder how much that affects my ability to truly participate in the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper and Passover were both borne out of a time of extreme desperation and total reliance on the movement of God.
When all of my needs are met, do I ever practice true reliance on God?
Has there ever been a time in my life when I have truly felt desperation?
When I do perceive a need in my life, is my first thought to go to God or to go to a bank? or a store? or a government office? or another rich(er) friend?
Throughout my entire life, I have never truly been in material need. And if I am honest, I have allowed that fact to affect how I approach spiritual needs: I can find my own ways to take care of them.
In practice, if not in thought, my privilege dictates I do not need anything.
I am much more like the Egyptians than the Israelites; much more like the haves in Corinth than the have-nots.
So can I truly understand and participate in the Lord’s Supper?
One Saturday each month, we have a praise and worship night at Freedom Fellowship. We take communion differently than on Sunday mornings. Three people stand at the front: one holds a loaf of bread, one holds a cup filled with grape juice, and one is the hugger. Everyone assembled walks to the front, rips off a piece of bread, dips it in the juice, and then gets a hug (usually from my daughter). People walk around the worship hall and hug one another and offer words of encouragement.
Those gathered are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. There are rich people and poor people. There are those who are cleaned up and dressed well and those who have not showered in days. It is the first time in my life I have shared communion with people who are truly in need.
And I have learned something about the Lord’s Supper. I have learned that everything I have available at my fingertips has distracted me from participating in receiving the greatest gift ever offered.
Can the privileged take the Lord’s Supper? Yes. God’s grace offered through Jesus is available to all.
Can the privileged truly participate in the Lord’s Supper? That depends. Am I willing to acknowledge that all I have and all the opportunities available to me are irrelevant when it comes to what I need from God?