It seems harder each passing year to go to the movies without being subjected to the growing phenomenon of 3D films. At times, I haven’t even realized I picked the wrong showing until the employee who takes my ticket hands me the special plastic-wrapped glasses. Perhaps some people enjoy the feeling of complete immersion into the fantasy on the screen, but I tend to prefer a little more separation from the plot during my movie-going experience.
But one place in life where we should all strive for a robustly “3D” experience is our participation in Communion, the Lord’s Supper. Our celebration at the Table is probably the most interactive thing we do in our corporate worship services, and the New Testament authors depict three different dimensions of this special observance. This ceremony has (1) backward, (2) present, and (3) forward looking components. We miss out on the richness of the Supper when we neglect one or more of these perspectives.
By backward-looking, we mean that communion is a memorial of Christ’s death in our place on the cross almost 2,000 years ago. When Jesus broke bread and drank wine with his disciples in the upper room on the night of his betrayal, he instructed them to regularly eat and drink “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). So the Lord’s Supper is an opportunity for us to remember that Jesus’s body was given for us, and his blood was poured out for many. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we look backward.
This meal also has a present-tense dimension. As we eat and drink at Jesus’ table, we are presently sharing fellowship with Christ by the Holy Spirit and with his body, the church. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). The shared cup and common loaf are meant as symbols of our participation (literally, “fellowship”) with one another and with Jesus. When we practice communion, we fellowship with Jesus and his people in the here-and-now.
But the Lord’s Supper has a future-orientation as well, looking forward to the great wedding supper of the Lamb with all of God’s people from all time (Revelation 19:9). Paul says when we eat and drink, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Jesus himself told his disciples that he expected to eat with them again, in his Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). So in our eating and drinking, we anticipate Christ’s imminent return.
So I encourage you to put on your “3D glasses” the next time we celebrate Communion together. At the table we look backward at Christ’s death, we look around at our fellowship with him and his people, and we look forward to the day we will feast with him in the Kingdom. May we together remember, participate, and proclaim Jesus until he comes again.