Family stories: a communion meditation

If your family is anything like mine, you share stories when you get together. It usually starts with recent events—the latest project at work or junior’s sports exploits—but, inevitably, the conversation turns to tales from the past. These are the stories that add color to our family trees and have ripened into legend by being told over and over again, the favorites.

One of my favorite stories from the past originated at my best childhood friend’s wedding. The setting was a beautiful vineyard in St. Catharines, Ontario. As the rehearsal dinner was winding down, the participants began to recount stories from the bride and groom’s pasts, everything from heartwarming to embarrassing. Before the group adjourned for the evening, the honor of having the final word was given to the groom’s elderly relative, Uncle Elmer.

Uncle Elmer and his wife had been married far longer than the majority of the dinner guests had been alive. The elderly couple, who grew-up and still lived in the Deep South, sat toward the back of the room quietly enjoying the conversation until someone posed this question: “What’s the secret to being married so long?”

Being a stately southern gentleman, Uncle Elmer wouldn’t think of addressing the group without standing. His gnarled hand reached for his nearby cane, and he slowly rose to answer the question. “The secret to being married for so long,” he began, in a stronger than anticipated voice, “is when you’re wrong, admit it.” He paused for effect, surveying the hushed room before delivering the punch line. “And when you’re right, shut up.” Despite the laughter, everyone seemed to agree with the timeless wisdom in his simple answer.

I imagine the Disciples shared some memorable stories, too:
“Remember when he called us to follow him?”
“What about that time he turned water into wine?”
“How many people did he feed with the five loaves and two fish?”
“Boy, were those religious leaders angry when he shut them down!”
“Lazarus was in the tomb four days, and he still raised him from the dead!”

But the very best story, the one that topped all the others, had to be the one about Jesus’ resurrection:
“They arrested him in the garden and took him to the palace for a mock trial. Then they beat him and made him carry his own cross up the hill where they crucified him. Later that same day, some followers took his lifeless body down from the cross and buried him in a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers. But even all of that wasn’t enough to stop him, because three days later he rose from the dead. Can you believe it? We can—we saw the whole thing!”

That’s why we pause each Sunday at communion time to remember the greatest story of all time—how Jesus ushered in a new covenant by sacrificing his own body and blood on the cross in order to conquer sin and death for the whole world.

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Trusting Jesus despite the fog: a communion meditation

Back when I was a child, Grandma used to ask my two cousins and me what we wanted for Christmas. Legos, some electronic gadget or sports equipment were the usual answers. Never clothes. Our tastes changed as we grew older, though, and our requests began to reflect the wants and needs (mostly wants) of typical teenagers. So, it shouldn’t have been a great surprise to Grandma when the oldest among us asked for a record album recently released by a popular rock band.

I can just imagine Grandma standing a few steps inside the entrance to one of those giant record stores that used to grace every respectable mall in America—handbag in hand, staring wide-eyed at the sea of wooden bins filled with vinyl discs while teenagers of every sort picked through them. As she later retold, a clerk saw Grandma standing there and asked if he could assist her with something.

“Yes, young man. I need Foghat Fool for the City.”

Having trained to be helpful, the clerk answered, “Would you like to hear that before buying it?”

“Nope. Just put it in a bag.”

My grandmother didn’t have a perfect understanding of what she was asking for, but she loved her grandson and trusted that whatever was in the bag was good.

Jesus said some pretty crazy things during his life.

Consider this small sample:

  • “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)
  • “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)
  • “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)
  • “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  • “…the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” (John 16:2)
  • “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (John 16:16)

But perhaps the strangest thing Jesus ever said might be his statement about communion:

  • Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:53-56)

Grandma was comfortable loving and trusting, and Jesus asks the same thing of us. Love Him. Trust Him. And when it comes to communion, He doesn’t ask us to fully understand it. Instead, He simply says, “do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)