Joseph Bayly was an American author who died in 1986. He wrote several books including The Gospel Blimp, a series of modern day parables.
One of the stories in this book is called ‘How Shall We Remember John?’ It tells the story of a very close knit family, which had two sons, one of whom was called John.
Breakfast was always a special time for this family, they would sit around a large oak table, and they would eat a steaming hot bowl of porridge. As they ate their breakfast they would talk about what they were going to do that day, they would talk about their hopes and dreams, and it would be a time for sharing and a time for fun and laughter, before they would each make their separate way to either work or school.
Life went on like this for John and his brother, a breakfast of porridge and milk, walk to school, classes, walk home, chores, supper and study around the kitchen table.
Everything changed however one fateful Christmas. It was a very cold day and John and his younger brother went skating on the big pond. John had his skate’s on first, and set off across the pond, but as he reached the middle of the pond the ice gave way, and John fell into the freezing water.
It was several hours later that John’s body was recovered.
A few days after the funeral the family were sitting around the kitchen table, eating breakfast. Nobody was saying anything, they were all thinking about the empty chair against the wall. Eventually the mother spoke, “Look, we all love John, and miss him terribly. Now I have a suggestion to make. We all know how he liked porridge and milk. Well lets think about John every time we eat our breakfast. Let’s talk about him.”
And that’s what this family did. Every morning as the family sat around the kitchen table they would talk about John. Occasionally they would shed tears, but it wasn’t sad talk, instead it was a time for remembering, and after a while they found they could laugh and smile as the told stories about John. Sitting around that table, as they it felt as though John was still with them.
One day several months later, the mother said “I don’t think what we’re doing is respectful enough for John’s memory. I think we’re too casual about it. I think we ought to set aside time when we’re not rushed like we are at breakfast. Let’s say Saturday morning. And we’ll remember John in a more fitting place than the kitchen. We’ll sit in the front room and we’ll have a special time worthy of John’s memory.”
And so that is what the family did. Every Saturday morning, after they had eaten their breakfast, they would go to the front room and remember John. The mother would get some little silver cups for the milk and some tiny plates for the porridge.
This continued for a while, but then eventually these special times became less and less frequent. But John’s younger brother secretly wished they had never begun this “fitting” remembrance, and that instead they had kept on remembering John every time they ate breakfast.
This story challenges us to think about how and why we celebrate communion. How different is the way we celebrate Communion, to the way the first Christian’s celebrated?
That is why I am so pleased that tonight we can share this meal together, because it reminds us that it was within the context of a meal that Jesus instituted Holy Communion.
Jesus and his disciples wouldn’t have been sat on chairs around tables like we are, but would have reclined against one another on the floor, with a low table in front of them, the meal spread before them. Imagine for a moment what it must have been like in that upper room, try and picture the scene in your mind. The anticipation and excitement as Jesus’ followers talked to one another about the events of the last week, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus casting out the money changers from the Temple. The way the crowds had flocked to hear Jesus, and the obvious hostility of the religious leaders.
Listen to the hum of conversation and the sound of laughter and the disciples talk to one another. Imagine the smell of the food filling the room, and the sound of wine being poured into cups. Because tonight is the Passover, a time to celebrate God’s deliverance of the Israelite’s from slavery in Egypt. Then as Jesus begins to speak, a hush falls over the room. He takes the unleavened bread, used in the Passover meal to remind the Jews of their deliverance from Egypt, and he gives thanks, breaks it, and hands it to his disciples saying “This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this and remember me.” How do you think the disciples responded to these words? Did a murmur of shock and surprise leave their lips, or did they look on in silence as they took the bread and shared it amongst themselves.
Then when the meal was over, Jesus takes the cup of wine in his hands, called the cup of Redemption, the cup which represents the shed blood of the innocent Lamb which brought redemption from Egypt, and lifting it up Jesus says “This is my blood, and with it God makes his new agreement with you. Drink this and remember me.” The cup of redemption now becomes the cup that represents Jesus the Lamb of God, who through the shedding of his blood, sets us free from sin. Again try to picture the scene in your head.
The fact that Jesus introduced the Holy Communion within the context of the Passover meal is important for several reasons. Firstly the Passover was a celebration of how God delivered his people from slavery and oppression in Egypt. But through Jesus’ actions, it now becomes a celebration of the freedom and deliverance that Jesus won for us through his death on the cross.
Secondly, in giving us the bread and wine as symbols to remember him by, and setting it in the context of a meal, Jesus is saying something important about building community. Because sharing food together helps build and strengthen community. One of the best ways of getting to know someone is to share a meal with them. And one of the purposes of Holy Communion is that it builds and unites God’s people one to another.
Jesus gave us communion so that our relationship with him can be fed and nurtured, and that we can recall his sacrifice for us on the cross, and all that he has done and continues to do for us. But he also gave us communion so that we may be united with one another, and setting this communion in the context of a meal is a reminder of this. This is why in the communion service we often say ‘Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread.’ So that through receiving Holy Communion, we are united with God, becoming “one body and spirit” with Christ, and also that we are united together as his family, through the deeper sharing of our lives.