The Dark Side of Holy Communion
Weekly Holy Communion
Anglicans love to take communion. It is part of our worship expressed in well-refined liturgies. So much so, that it is often difficult for Anglicans to attend non-liturgical churches where communion is not a regular part of Sunday worship. Something seems amiss as if the service is not complete.
But is our insistence on weekly communion overshadowing its deeper meaning?
There is a cultural proverb worth repeating: Familiarity breeds contempt. Sometimes those things most familiar to us are often the very things we take for granted.
The danger of weekly communion is the inevitable familiarity and potential loss of potency — a gradual degrading of meaning. The solution to this vexing problem isn’t, however, to limit the frequency of communion but instead to emphasize the deeper reality.
Before we can plum the depths of communion, we need to stop and reflect on art. In painting, the artist who masters the balance of light and shadow can fashion their painting with far greater detail. So it is with scripture. In Luke’s account of the passion of Christ, he gives us a vivid picture of the depth and riches of the communion table by presenting the communion cup in two different ways.
The Cup of Wrath
Very often we hear priests and ministers emphasize to the congregation the grace offered through the bread and wine. But this is only half the story. There is another side to the cup that we need to examine.
Luke 22:39-46 gives a vivid description of the agony Jesus’ suffering. The agony of Jesus before his arrest was so intense that it describes Jesus sweating “drops of blood,” a rare medical condition known as hematohidrosis — releasing blood through the sweat glands. The National Institute of Health associates this condition with severe mental stress.
What could have caused such a severe reaction?
Of course, it is easy to assume that Jesus’ stress was related to his anticipated suffering. But our passage gives us a clue as to what may be happening. Jesus prays, “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). Where did this metaphor come from?
The Cup of Wrath is a biblical metaphor used to depict God’s judgment. The Psalmist writes, “Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of the cup” (Ps. 11:6). The prophet Isaiah writes, “you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath” (Is. 51:17). Job declares, “Let their own eyes see their destruction, and let them drink of the wrath of the Almighty” (Job 21:20). There are more scripture references, but the literary image is quite clear. On our behalf, Jesus was about to drink the cup of the wrath of Almighty God.
The Cup of Blessing
But there is another cup mentioned by Luke. Earlier in his account, Jesus gathers the disciples together and gives them the institution of the Lord’s supper.
“Then he took bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And in the same way, he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).
When Luke 22:20 is placed side-by-side with Luke 22:42, there is a magnificent contrast.
|Luke 22:20||Luke 22:42|
|“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”||“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.|
The cup of blessing given by Jesus Christ to his disciples was also the cup of wrath given by God the Father to His Son Jesus Christ. They are one in the same. The cup that Christ offered to his disciples is the same cup He asks his Father to take from Him. What was death to Jesus, became life to us. They can never be separated.
That is the dark side of holy communion, the reality that Christ consumed the cup of wrath on our behalf. Had he not followed up his request with these words, “Yet not my will but yours be done,” then we would have never been inoculated against God’s wrath. And would have inevitably perished.
Only when we understand this shadow of communion will the light of its power shine brightest.
Consider This For Sunday
Guarding against familiarity can only be accomplished when we reflect upon the deeper meaning of communion. We must see that the communion chalice contains within it the double imagery of life and death. When we do this, we can see the beauty and complexity of Holy Communion in a deep, profound way.
As you take communion this weekend, stop and remember this point. Because Jesus drank from the cup of wrath, we drink from the cup of grace.