Unity Views on ... Communion
It would seem that the rite of Holy Communion (the Lord's Supper) is one of the most common doctrinal controversies in the church. How communion should be administered has long been a controversial issue. For centuries the church has been bickering about whether mixed or unmixed wine should be served, whether leavened or unleavened bread should be broken. There have been debates as to whether people should sit down, stand up, or kneel when partaking of the sacraments.
Then there are questions as to who should be admitted to the feast of Holy Communion and how often it should be prepared. In the Roman Catholic Church infants were at one time permitted to partake and later forbidden. Since the Ninth Century the laity has received only the bread; the cup has been reserved for the priesthood. Only recently have there been some minor modifications in this practice.
In the Fourth Lateral Council, it was decreed that any believer should communicate at least one time each year, at Easter. Later it was determined that this sacrament should be received three times a year - Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas.
But perhaps the main controversies regard the nature of communion. One of these has been the authenticity of the theory of transubstantiation - that is, whether or not the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, as some churches say they do. In the Church of England the archbishops were divided into three schools of thought. One school thought communion was a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Another thought that it was not a sacrifice, but a sacrificial feast. And the third of these said it was neither a sacrifice nor a sacrificial feast, but a simple commemoration. The Quakers have, in the last several hundred years, stopped observing the rite at all.
At the meeting of the World Council of Churches in Evaston, Illinois, in 1950, a committee was set up to study ways in which a common practice of partaking of communion could be established. This committee was to work on the problem and report in ten years. At this time writing (mid-1979) no acceptable plan has evolved.
With all this confusion about how Holy Communion should be observed and experienced, perhaps it is time to look at an alternative consideration. It is doubtful that Jesus intended to establish an institution for perpetual observance when He ate the Passover feast with His disciples. Communion, as it is commonly observed, is not a part of the religion of Jesus Christ; rather, it is part of the religion about Him.
We would do well to recall the words of the Apostle Paul,"The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit".
The account of the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples is given by all four gospel writers. The Gospel of Matthew records the words of Jesus Christ as He gave bread and wine to His disciples. But no expression implies that this feast was to be commemorated thereafter. In the Gospel of Mark, the same words are recorded with still no intimation that the occasion was to be made into a ceremony. Luke, after relating the breaking of the bread, has these words,"Do this in remembrance of me". In John's gospel, although other occurrences of the same evening are related, this entire transaction is passed over without notice.
What did the expression,"Do this in remembrance of me", really signify? It was an affectionate expression. Jesus Christ was a Jew, sitting with His countrymen, observing their national feast. Perhaps He thought of His own impending crucifixion and wished to prepare the minds of His disciples for what was to come. In effect, this is what He said to them:"When hereafter you observe the Passover, it will have an altered aspect in your eyes. Think of me when, in times to come, you observe the Passover together again".
On this occasion, Jesus was doing what the master of every household in Jerusalem was doing at the same hour. It was the custom for the master of the household to break the bread and bless it with the words,"Blessed be Thou, O Lord, our God, who gives us the fruit of the vine". Jesus did refer to His body and blood on this occasion, but they were not extraordinary expressions for Him. He always taught by parables and symbols; remember He also said,"The flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life".
Now what about the alternative? Lets consider the sacraments, in a deep sense. Wine represents blood, and blood represents life. Therefore, wine is symbolic of the Life of God coursing through our bodies. Bread represents the body of Christ, and this in turn is representative of divine substance. If the flesh profits nothing and the words are the important thing, why not observe communion by using our words in prayer? Since communion is concerned with the life and substance of God, then a real communion service is a prayer time when we appropriate more of divine life and substance in our lives.
This means that communion is a very personal thing; it does not necessarily have to be observed in a formal religious service. It can be done in the sanctity of our personal prayer place.
As you take time to have a real communion experience, you must become very still. In the dynamics of your silence, begin to think of the life and substance of God becoming more evident in every aspect of your life. Affirm for yourself that God's life is a powerful, divine element flowing through you, strengthening and energizing your body. God's life gives you a greater sense of service and a desire to be of greater benefit to others. In this rarefield consciousness of God working through you, you become more aware of His substance as evidenced in every respect of your life. This substance represents more of everything in life that is for your highest good. Your life is mightily blessed.
You know that symbols are not necessary when you are capable of touching the presence of God within you without the use of them.
This is your alternative regarding communion: Instead of the formality of a religious rite, communion can be a spiritual experience privately conducted between you and your God. This is a life-changing experience.
What could be more inspiring?
This item is an excerpt from the book "Alternatives" by William L. Fisher, and reproduced with the express permission of Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO.