I grew up in a small town Baptist church and my grandparents were Lutheran. Later I went on to become a Calvinist of sorts then somewhere along the line, by way divine intervention I’m sure, I ended up in a faith family full of pacifist, neo-Anabaptist, open theist, rather peculiar Kingdom peeps. Needless to say my beliefs about communion have taken the shape of a Spiralgraph masterpiece. But I digress. Back to the story…
I wasn’t even old enough to understand the multiplication table, let alone abstract beliefs about communion. Are the crackers literally the body of Christ? Is there some extra dose of grace hidden at the bottom of the cup? Do we have to use bread and grape juice? Or can we commune with Coke and Pop Rocks – because you simply haven’t lived until you’ve tried Coke and Pop Rocks… Am I only to remember Jesus’ broken body and shed blood in the same way that I tried to remember the multiplication table? As far as my elementary brain was concerned, communion wasn’t meant for adults but for my cabbage patch dolls, since they were the only ones appropriately sized to drink from the tiny plastic cups.
To me, and probably to most kids, communion was simply a ritual. A thing we did from time to time in our Baptist church. A thing we most certainly did every time we visited my grandparents’ Lutheran church. And I heard rumors as a kid a thing you never did in a catholic church if you weren’t catholic. I didn’t understand why and I wasn’t about to find out either.
But discussing the particulars of the communion elements is not what I’m here to write about. Because, as Emmanuel Katongole points out in his book, Reconciling All Things,
God is not inviting us simply to affirm a list of abstract beliefs but rather to set out on adventure.
We’re not here because Jesus said, “Come. Hang out and discuss.” No, my friends, we’re here because Jesus said, “Come. Follow me.” To say yes to this invitation is to set out on the greatest adventure you’ll ever know. I’m calling this adventure, Cruciform Communion. And it begins and ends with Jesus.
We follow the way of Jesus.
We image the way of Jesus.
What Jesus did, we go and do likewise.
Over the years my ideas about communion have grown up a bit. I don’t find myself thinking so much about whether it was Luther or Calvin or Sally Jessy Raphael who had it right. These days I kind of think communion is actually an imaging of the cross-event. It is Cruciform Communion. Stick with me here, dear reader.
You see, if we want to get to know the life of Jesus the gospels are a pretty good place to tell us some stories. And one of the things that we see from each of the four gospels is Jesus telling the disciples, by way of Cruciform Communion, what is about to happen to him. In the story of Jesus sharing one last meal with his closest buds, Jesus does something remarkable. He TAKES bread. He BLESSES the bread. He BREAKS the bread. And he GIVES the bread.
From these accounts we can sum up Cruciform Communion in four simple words: Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given.*
Jesus didn’t just serve the meal. Jesus became the meal. Jesus himself was Taken, Blessed, Broken and Given.
Jesus laid down his life; he was broken and poured out for the sick, the hungry, the hopeless, the sinners… Indeed Jesus poured out his life for all because the Father, Son, Spirit shows no partiality. God shows no partiality!
Come one, come all. You are welcome at my table!
You who are sick, Come! You are well, Come!
You who are oppressed, Come! You who are oppressing, Come!
You who are slaves, come! You who enslave, Come!
You who are poor, rich, black, white, native, gay, straight, queer, barren, wounded, brokenhearted, mother, father, drunk, druggie, homeless, prostitute…
ALL OF YOU, COME!
And this outrageous inclusivity is that which we are to re-present. Mercy.
This radical inclusivity, this symbolic ritual of this 4-Part Cruciform Communion was never meant to be a one-time dinner. Rather we are instructed to “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 12:27) The “do” in this instruction is an ongoing action. As in, “keep on doing.”
But what, exactly, are we to do? Well, we are to re-present the Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given life of Jesus. We are to continuously make Christ’s sacrifice real, every single day to every single person by living out the Cruciform Communion. Just as Jesus didn’t serve the meal but became the meal. So too we become the meal. Now we are taken, we are blessed, we are broken, we are given.
We become the meal because of Jesus. I’m gonna give it you straight… Too often Christians stop short of the full meal. We take the first two courses but pass on the others. We want to gluttonously indulge in the blessing of our chosenness. But we turn our noses at being broken and given out for the sake of others. Discipleship ain’t no buffet, it’s a four course meal, baby. We are Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given. Because that is the way of the Cross. And because Jesus himself has commissioned us to be his ambassadors. Let me say that again, cause it’s kind of the pulse to the coming kingdom. God, through Christ, started this whole message of reconciliation. And then, as though Jesus had a temporary lapse of sanity, decided to pass the reconciliation baton to us. US. Broken, messy, proud, cynical, judgmental, yet gorgeously redeemed human beings. What a curiouser plan, Jesus.
“And God has committed us to the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making God’s appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:17-20)
Our gift as Christ’s ambassadors is, as Katongole points out, a “transformation into a new story that resists narrow boundaries and loyalties.”
This gift, this calling to be ambassadors and to be Cruciform Communion to all people, carries with it the intention to unseat other visions of God that don’t reflect the crucified Jesus.
(Your feathers are about to get some serious ruffling so listen close..)
This gift of reconciliation unseats the god of war, of violence, of partiality. This gift unseats the god of power, of nationalism, of materialism. This gift unseats racism, sexism, classism and any other ism that fails miserable to reflect the One New Humanity that was created through Christ. Can I puhleaze get an amen?!
Hold on, there’s more. This Cruciform Communion contains a two-fold effect.
When we come to the table we Remember and we are Re-Membered.
We remember that this, all of this, is God’s story. And we are not the creator of this story, but we are participants. As we come to the table we are Re-Membered together as one new humanity. As we come to the table this gift of reconciliation is passed around, constantly extending the hospitable invitation: “Come one, come all to Christ table. You are welcome here.”
At this table we are given a new story as one new humanity. We are given white robes in place of crimson stains. At this Cruciform Communion table we lay down our swords and pick up our plowshares. We lose our life so that we can find it. Where there is hate we love. Where there is violence we practice peace. Where there is oppression we bring liberation. Where there is judgment we extend mercy. Where there is unforgiveness we forgive. We lay aside all other allegiances except for that of the crucified Christ. Oh my friends, this is not our doing. For remember, this is God’s story. And we, we have the gift of participating in this story.
We are Christ ambassadors. We are to represent the life and message of Jesus in being Cruciform Communion for the sake of the world. May we, together, live lives that are Taken. Blessed. Broken. And so very generously Given.
*Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given was originally discussed in Henri Nouwen’s incredible work, The Life of the Beloved. A MUST read!
[NOTE] This blog post is the written sermon that I had the honor of sharing past weekend at the ReKnew CrossVision Conference, hosted at my beloved faith community, Woodland Hills Church. The focus of the event was, in a nutshell, Cruciformity – that is, if we want to know God we look nowhere else than to the crucified Christ. It is the crucified Jesus that helps us make sense of the seemingly warrior God of the Old Testament. (If this nutshell summary left you wanting, check out the ReKnew website for more. Or if you’re feeling extra intrigued, pick up Greg Boyd’s book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God. It’s just a leisurely 1500 page read. NBD. Fineprint… if you choked at the very thought of reading 1500 pages, don’t sweat it! There’s another, more digestible version titled, CrossVision. I seriously encourage you to check it out. It’ll change your life.)