John Mark Hicks has posted a series of articles on the scriptural roots of communion, and he’s provided some very helpful observations. We begin with his article Breaking Bread in Luke-Acts VI: General Observations.
The church continues the ministry of Jesus. … Jesus sat at table with saint and sinner, insider and outsider. … [They] continued this practice–they broke bread as a community and with outsiders. The church continues to break bread on the ground of what Jesus did, not on the ground of what the church did.
It’s a mistake to view the bread-breaking passage as being all about a Sunday morning ceremony. We best remember Jesus by living as Jesus lived, which includes sharing table fellowship with saints and sinners. This is love.
Hicks’ observation that Luke shows outsiders in Eucharistic settings is at odds with such (not much) later sources as the Didache, which require that unbelievers not be served or even excluded from the room.
The church eats a meal of redemptive hope. Every “breaking of bread” in Luke-Acts is a redemptive and eschatological in character. … Eating the meal (breaking bread) is a promissory act–God pledges the future to us.
Notice that the bread-breaking passages include many meals that are quite different from the Eucharist. And nearly all these passages unquestionably involve meals. None are unquestionably ceremonial meals such as we conduct.
The church eats in the presence of Jesus. … The church eats a post-resurrection meal with Jesus through the breaking of bread. Eating in the presence of the living Christ is not a funerary act or a sad memorial of his death, but a vibrant declaration of the gospel (good news) that Christ died and rose again for the sake of the world. But more than a declaration–it is, indeed, an experience of the living Christ himself. Thus, joy and celebration encircles the table rather than mourning and sadness. Why would anyone eat a post-resurrection meal with Jesus in sadness?
But when is Jesus with us in our meals? Only at the Lord’s Table? No, he’s with us when “two or three are gathered” in his name. Indeed, he’s with us “always, even to the end of the world.” Therefore, there is a real sense in which every meal taken in the name of Jesus or in service to his mission is Eucharistic.
The church invites “others” to share the meal. When the early church follows Jesus into the world, it is for the sake of the world. … There is no reason to presume that the “breaking of bread” in Acts 2 or Acts 20 only included disciples. … The table is not simply communal but also missional (more on that in the next post).
These are critically important observations — and far removed from our traditional views of communion. After all, even the early (but post-apostolic) church carefully distinguished between who could take communion and could not. The Eucharist was seen as a privilege and mark of the saints — and denied to sinners. But this would be to host a meal and refuse to serve the sinners — a very un-Jesus way to act.
Rather, the presence of Jesus is seen in the congregation’s love — for each other and for visiting unbelievers. The Law of Moses called for visiting Gentiles to share in the Passover. Just so, we miss much of the point when we treat the Lord’s Supper as a means of separating the world from our fellowship. Of course, “fellowship” in this sense is a sharing of our love, symbolized by eating together — not a declaration that the lost are saved. Rather, the idea that we only eat with the saved is precisely the attitude the Jesus came to reverse.
Now, as we ponder these thoughts, we begin to see how very far removed our approach to the Lord’s Supper is from the Biblical teaching.
* Biblical: We eat with sinners. Traditional: We only eat with saints.
* Biblical: The meal is a meal. Traditional: The meal is never a meal.
* Biblical: Jesus is present at all meals taken in his name with others. Tradtional: Jesus is only present in the assembly and only on Sundays.
* Biblical: The meal is sacramental because Jesus has a special presence when we gather in his name, even if not on Sunday. Traditional: The meal is not sacramental but symbolic only.
* Biblical: All meals have the potential to be sacramental — that is, to bring about Jesus’ special presence among us. Traditional: Only the crumb and sip on Sunday have spiritual significance.
* Biblical: Breaking bread with Jesus is a gift celebrated in joy. Traditional: Breaking bread is an ordinance obeyed ritualistically, even mournfully. We certainly shouldn’t sing during the meal!
Do you see the difference?