The Bible is filled with images of Jesus eating with people, hanging out with people, welcoming people, eating with all sorts of seemly and unseemly people. He was accused of eating with tax collectors and sinners… seriously, the worst kind of people. While invited to the table of Simon the Pharisee (who did not wash his feet and welcome him) in Luke 7, he was adequately welcomed by the sinful woman who crashed the party and washed Jesus feet with her hair.
Even in the book of Acts one of their first controversies was over who they should eat with… Gentiles or their own kind and whether they should eat–meat sacrificed to idols or not? Paul and Peter clashed in the Epistles over the fact that Peter had avoided eating with Gentiles because the Judizer’s might disapprove and consider him defiled for sharing the table with Gentile believers. Somehow the idea of eating and drinking is tied up with the new community that has been created in Christ Jesus.
And it all began when the church was born at Pentecost. Acts 2 tells the story of how the Spirit was poured out on all flesh–men and women, old and young prophesied, people from all languages were present to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A second Pentecost took place when Peter was sent to Cornelious in Acts 10. Low and behold when the gospel was shared with Cornelious, a Gentile and his household, the Spirit was poured out on them as well, just as it had happened in Jerusalem.
These events were significant in the life and understanding of the church because a new community was being formed within which there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male nor female. In Christ a new body was formed that would bring together the ethnos or nations of the world. In Christ the barriers between people would come down and they would find a common identity in Christ as the body of Christ.
This new community was given a meal to share–the Lord’s Supper, or as some say the Communion or the Eucharist. This meal represents the welcome heart of God as Jesus himself is both host and meal at the table of the church. When I was a child I only grasped the remembering what Jesus did for me part of the communion meaning. The bread represented Christ’s body that was broken for my sin, the wine represented the blood that Jesus shed for my sin. It was about me and what Jesus did for my sin and why I should remember his life-giving sacrifice for my salvation. It was as simple as that–a great place to begin my understanding but perhaps only the first layer of meaning. Deep down, I always wondered about more insights yet unknown to me. I had a number of subsequent experiences and some teaching that expanded the whole meaning of the Lord’s Super.
Sharing in the suffering of Christ
This is one meaning that is present but not always known. As God’s people, we in some sense ingest Christ through the broken body and poured out blood. We enter the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We share in his suffering, are crucified with Christ, joined with him in ministry to all of the world. In the end of Matthew, we read about how when we serve the ones in prison, the strangers, that we in some sense are actually serving Christ. To minister in such a way invites us into both a solidarity with Christ and with the poor, the imprisoned and the unwelcome strangers.
In every society, it is most often the poor who are poor because of exploitation or illness or lack of resources for education. The imprisoned are not merely those who have broken laws but also include those who have been exploited by laws that favor the people in power over the people without power. The strangers are those who have perhaps fled war, famine, oppression or other such tragedies and come to a new country often with nothing but the shirts on their backs. These are the ones with whom Jesus finds himself in solidarity with.
I remember attending a Mass that was held by a Catholic Church in Minneapolis, MN. We were commemorating the vast numbers of immigrants who had died crossing the border between Mexico and the US. Littered about our space were crosses with the names of those who had died of thirst, in the desert or at the hands of exploitive coyotes. As the priest spoke the Eucharist liturgy in Spanish, I felt the Holy Spirit descend on us. The Spirit was grieving their struggle and sharing their pain. I was for the first time startled into the recognition that many of the border crossers were my brothers and sisters in Christ. We who had shared the communion table, we who drank from the one cup and ate from the one loaf also shared in one another’s suffering and the suffering of Christ. I could not help but weep in full intercession for others who would enter our country as strangers.
The body of Christ worldwide
In my country the USA, we seldom think about how communion is shared by believers worldwide. We take the elements most often with people who are of the same heritage or of the same ethnicity as we are. And without attention to the idea that believers all over the world are gathering in the name of Jesus and being welcomed to the table of Jesus each week, we forget just who is a part of the new community in Christ. It’s natural to think it’s all about us and our kind. But that is shortsighted. I remember how startled I was the first time I shared communion with brothers and sisters from another country in my home church.
The Lord had begun gathering immigrants to our church through his divine action. It felt as if a river was flowing through our congregation when 20 or more Hispanic people began to attend. I was a worship leader at the time and we invited them to join our team–we learned songs in Spanish and began to try to communicate with one another with a mix of Spanish and English. As we shared the table for the first time, I was struck by the meaning of being one in Christ and that while we had different customs, spoke different languages and came from different places, we shared a common faith in Christ and a common bond in the Spirit. There were deeper layers to the meaning of sharing the Table of God. Christ was not only my host, not only the one who died for my sins but he was the same God who died for everyone. He is the same God who welcomed me and the same God who welcomed others. And my self-centered beliefs began to be stripped away as I saw more deeply into the heart of God.
My life in Christ is somehow wrapped up in the lives of others from around the world. We share the Lord. If we share the Lord, if we are brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are one body, then what happens to my brother or sister in Christ is in some sense also happening to Christ and also happening to me. How can I be unconcerned about the matters that concern them? How can I ignore the injustices that my brothers and sisters are experiencing? How can I look the other way if they are being disrespected, marginalized, shot down unjustly in the streets? Suddenly their concerns are my concerns, their misery is my misery, their fears are my fears, their losses are my losses. And we weep with the ones who weep. Because we are one in Christ. We are one in Christ worldwide.
Let’s apply this
All of what I have said above is what fosters a heart that is toward others, a heart that is for others, a heart that is other-centered. Too often in the church, we are focused on saving or protecting something that we are afraid of losing. We fight culture wars trying to protect our Americanized version of faith assuming that our own perspective is the correct one. I would argue that we are in decline precisely because we are focused on protecting our own Christian culture rather than seeking ways to help others flourish. I believe that is why our politics are so focused on limiting immigration, deporting undocumented people and creating barriers limiting refugees. We have fears that we might lose our culture to refugees and immigrants and that we have to fight to protect our western Americanized way of living.
However, all of that is focused on self-preservation. The Bible tells us that whoever shall seek to save their life will lose their life. The other-centered way of living, the way of welcome… the way of sharing in the suffering of others is the way of Jesus and the way of life.
Remember in the gospels when Jesus wept over Jerusalem he did so because he had come and shown them the way but they would not receive him or the way of life he came to bring. 70 short years later, the temple was wiped out as the people battled and lost to the Romans. They had sought to preserve their way and their life. We as God’s people are called to bring the life of God to others and live in the way of Jesus toward our enemies–the Gentiles, the Muslims, the refugees, the immigrants, the oppressed. We are called to share in their pain and seek ways for them to flourish. We forget that either someone is a brother or sister in Christ or they might become a brother or sister in Christ. And that to welcome and share in their world is to welcome Christ and share in his world.
I think we are afraid so we self-protect. We are invited to lay down our lives–to entrust ourselves to Christ while we share our lives with others. In doing so, I wonder if we might find Christ already active in bringing oneness and unity to the world.
Following is a Communion Song that expresses some of this theology:
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please join our Facebook forum, and sign up for our newsletter!