What I didn't know about Holy Communion...
I was looking forward to this month embracing the spiritual discipline of taking communion because I love symbolism - I love how God takes one element of life and creation and speaks depth of His relationship with us through it. I was excited about exploring deeper some of the symbolism of the bread and the wine and understanding something deeper of my relationship with God through it. I have not been disappointed.
One of the first things I explored was the nature of bread and wine in the Old Testament sacrifices. I was aware that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial practices, and that He is the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). What I wasn’t aware of is that the symbols of the bread and the wine were also part of Jesus’ fulfilling of the Old Testament covenant. Let me explain…
In the Old Testament there were several different sacrifices carried out daily and on special occasions by the priests. Every sacrifice involved blood through the killing of a unblemished animal and every sacrifice was also accompanied by a grain (essentially a bread) offering and a drink (or wine) offering.
So we see Jesus the night before He goes to the cross eating the Passover meal with his disciplines, knowing He is about to become the sacrificial lamb and accompanied with that sacrifice we see Him breaking bread and drinking wine and sharing it with His disciples and inviting them into it too!
The lamb offering was an offering for sin - for atonement - paying the cost for the sins of the world, but the grain and wine offerings had different functions. They always accompanied the different offerings, but the grain offering (a grain mixed with olive oil and various elements such as salt and frankincense) was a freewill offering. It was offered freely by those coming to sacrifice animals as an acknowledgement of God’s provision and as an act of worship.
So when Jesus broke the bread and said, ‘take and eat and do this in remembrance of me’, He was also saying that He was a freewill offering - that He was offering Himself freely and without obligation:
It is also worth noting that when the Israelites were first instructed about grain offerings they were in the wilderness and grain was not readily come by! To present a grain offering back to God was a sacrificial act that also demonstrated God’s provision in order to do so.
The wine offerings were poured out onto all offerings - they were an acknowledgment of the fruit God had provided and they too were sacrifices from the harvest given to God.
So when Jesus says, ‘For this is My blood of the covenant, being poured out for many, for forgiveness of sins.’ (Matthew 26:28) He was also showing the completion of the sacrifice being given - that He was fulfilling all the parts of the sacrifice and that He was replacing all the sacrifices once and for all.
Growing up in the church and thinking about Jesus’ death, I have wrongly assumed often that Jesus had no choice but to die - that because it was His purpose, He had no choice and it was basically forced upon Him. Maybe if asked I would tell you that He did have a choice, but more in a ‘you have a choice to brush your teeth but if you don’t then they will fall out’ kind of choice. But understanding that the bread, Jesus body, was given freely - that it was a freewill offering and that Jesus chose himself to die gives me a new sense of awe and thanksgiving for what He did and His trust in His Father in the process.
And daily, as I am invited to take the bread and drink the wine, I too am all to aware of His invitation to me too, to freely, not under obligation, but because of love, to pour out my life on His altar and to offer my life freely for Him, in thanksgiving and praise.
This post is part of a monthly series on Holy Communion, as I and my church community in Lima, Peru intentionally take Holy Communion daily as a spiritual discipline for the month of March. It is part of a year of intentionally embracing spiritual disciplines. You can read more about the year here.