This is the final entry in a series of posts drawing from my recent book on the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (Abingdon Press, December 2014). Part of the Belief Matters series edited by Will Willimon, this book explores the Lord’s Supper as a powerful means of grace for Christian formation, church renewal, and God’s mission in and for the world. I believe that a renewed emphasis on the Eucharist—that sacrament of unity and of love—is critical for our life in Christ, especially given the challenges and opportunities facing the church today.
You can read more about the book and order a copy by visiting this website. The italicized excerpt below (which is followed by some additional thoughts and commentary) comes from chapter 4, “A Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet.”
Up to this point, this book has explored the meaning of Holy Communion as a prayer of thanksgiving (chapter 1), an active remembering of Christ’s presence (chapter 2), and a celebration of the bread of life given for the world (chapter 3). Along the way, we have at different times focused on the past and present dimensions of this sacrament. There is also a third dimension, a third temporal reference, one that deals with the future. That future element contributes to a balanced perspective of not only what happens in Holy Communion but also what it demands from us, as we live into the kingdom of God that is, at once, already present and not yet fully revealed.
The Lord’s Supper is not simply a matter of past and present—a memorial calling us to remember what Christ has done for us and a means of grace and spiritual sustenance in the present. It also points forward to what is to come. God gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet here and now in this sacred meal, an anticipation of God’s promises ultimately fulfilled.
God gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet here and now in Holy Communion. Matthew 26 teaches us that Jesus will share in this meal with us in heaven. Jesus says, “I will never again drink of the fruit of this vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). In Communion we anticipate what is to come.
One Epiphany tradition involves baking a ring or figurine inside bread or cake. The ring or figurine represents Jesus our King. Predictably, when the time comes to eat this treat, there is a sense of anticipation about who will get the special piece. People bite into the bread or cake carefully so they do not damage a tooth or shift any dentures.
Jesus is in the bread of Holy Communion for us all; it is the sacrament of his body, and through it we all receive his presence by faith. Here and now we receive a foretaste of God’s promises fulfilled. Here and now we anticipate the heavenly banquet where we will feast forever with Jesus and with those we love. One of the chief tasks of the church is to bring as many people with us to that banquet as we can.
The idea of the future has a mysterious quality to it because it is always beyond us, in one sense not yet fulfilled. As you look ahead, what do you anticipate about the future? What concerns or fears do you have? Do you think that in the midst of the inevitable uncertainty regarding various aspects of our future, there is still reason to be hopeful about what lies ahead for you, for your family, or for others? Why or why not?
Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a banquet in Luke 14:16-24. In Matthew 26:26-29, Jesus promises his disciples that he will “drink of the fruit of this vine” with them in his Father’s kingdom (26:29). What does this idea—of not simply being fully in the presence of Jesus, but also having him eat and drink anew with us—suggest to you about the extent of fellowship with God that awaits us? Have you ever thought much about heaven as a feast with both God’s people and also with Jesus himself? What images come to your mind as you envision that feast?
While the past and present dimensions of Holy Communion are surely important, there is also a future component to this sacrament that should not be overlooked. In this great feast of our faith, God gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet here and now.
This post includes material quoted from Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (www.abingdonpress.com/product/9781426796333).