Honest admission: Communion has never really… clicked for me. I sit there on Sundays and try to really think about it or feel the gratitude I know I should and usually wind up drawing a bit of a blank. Recognizing and reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice through a physical act is all well and good, but for some reason the symbolism hasn’t ever had much impact. And it should! The strangeness, the enormity of the thing; the incredible, voluntary suffering of God should feel like a big deal. God found a way to offer us salvation despite our obstinacy and unwillingness to love and honor him. Can I better grasp the sacrifice itself? Can I feel it more deeply?
I recently heard an interesting comparison worth sharing. I can’t seem to find the source for this sacrifice analogy but in it humanity is likened to a human body with a faulty heart that needs a transplant. Jesus offers his at the cost of his own life. I kind of like that, but the question it doesn’t address for me is this one: Does Jesus’ resurrection make his sacrifice less meaningful?
After some reading and thinking, I don’t think so. The greater our love for our loved ones, the greater our pain when they are hurting, making terrible choices, dying. If God’s love for humanity and Jesus is not only great, but perfect, perhaps his suffering is that much more agonizing, whether temporary or not. The same might be said of Jesus.
Another interesting idea is that the way we understand sacrifice today is different from its biblical meaning. We seem very focused on suffering when we talk about sacrifice, but maybe it isn’t about how much Jesus suffered or even IF he suffered. Scripture tells us that he did (Heb 2:18, Mat. 27: 46, Mat. 26:36-39), and I believe that DOES make a difference, but should it affect our view of the validity of his sacrifice? In the Old Testament, it doesn’t seem that a sacrifice is more or less effective based on the level of suffering. Sacrificing to God means to me that we present something valuable to him, saying in our hearts, “yes, this thing is important to me, but I can give it up, offering it to you as an expression of my gratitude for your love and because I know that YOU are greater. I have faith that if I surrender to you, you will do more for me and through me than this ever could.” So Jesus offered his blood, simply because that is what God said it would take and because he understood the greater benefit.
Another way of thinking about it is in terms of WHO did the sacrificing. We always talk about Jesus being the one who made the sacrifice. And that is true, according to the Bible. He offered himself. BUT – he did it on our behalf. Usually, I understand that to mean that he died for our sakes.’ Also accurate, but I think there is more we can infer from that. Let’s consider the necessary players in a typical, Old Testament-style sacrifice.
- People – gotta have a sacrifice-or
- Lamb (as an example) – gotta have a payment
- God – gotta have a sacrifice-ee (someone to whom payment is owed)
So, how do we apply this format to Christ’s sacrifice? When we say he did what he did on our behalf, he took on the roles of both sacrifice-or AND lamb. Christ gave himself over at the betrayal and urging of the people. But if he had not willingly gone to the cross, and the people still executed him, the only motives would have been those of the people and the desires of their hearts were not good, faithful or God-seeking. Could God have honored such a sacrifice? I don’t mean to limit his power at all here, but I don’t think so. I think it is against his nature and innate purity to accept anything so unclean (Gen. 4:7). But the offering Jesus made was pure and right.
Another few thoughts on communion: We see god “eating” in Exodus, too, but in very different context. When Moses comes down from the mountain after receiving instruction from God only to find the people worshipping an idol, he has the idol crushed and the people ingest it (Ex. 32:20). They are, essentially, eating their sin. It is an interesting parallel to think that we practice God eating when we take communion, too. Jesus’ body was broken and his blood shed because we broke it and spilled it. So when we take communion, perhaps we should reflect on the fact that our God is powerful enough to use even our most terrible evil to ultimately deliver us from it. God worked our sin for good so that we may truly “commune” with him. That is true sovereignty.
Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
***Please don’t hesitate to point out any faulty presuppositions or errors you may notice! I would love to hear from you.