Our understanding of what participation in Communion or Eucharist means varies widely, as do the ways in which – and the frequency with which – we practice it.
As a Disciple, I’ve become accustomed to taking Communion as part of every worship service. As the spouse of a minister, I run as much of a risk as anyone that my observation of this sacred rite will lose some of its significance.
The Greek word koinonia is defined as Christian fellowship or communion with God or with fellow Christians, said in particular of the early Christian community. Socrates remarks on the importance of koinonia when he says, “Heaven, earth, gods, men – all are held together by communion, friendship, orderliness, temperance and justice, prompting us to call the whole world ‘cosmos,’ order.”
This value of koinonia was shared both by Plato and Aristotle, although they had somewhat different takes on its role and interpretation. But one fundamental truth in which they both believed was that true communion – the societal bond rather than the religious ritual – stood in opposition to oppression.
Essentially, people could not come together in true communion while in a master-slave relationship. Koinonia required a leveling of power, a dismantling of hierarchy, so that all are equal in the community. This, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle suggested, was the foundation of justice, order and a realization of the basic greater social good.
This inheres different significance into the ritual practice of the Last Supper. It is not simply a discipline to reenact Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. It is his final rebellious proclamation that together as a unified (re-membered) body of faith, and by re-envisioning (remembering) Christ’s final acts, we are not only all one, but are all equal in the eyes of God.
This koinonia is stronger than the oppression exacted upon the Jews by the Pharisees or the Roman Empire. It is empowering, and stands in the face of any outside force that would challenge it. In sharing this meal, by drawing his followers together, and in asking them not only to do this with him, but to always do it and remember, he offers hope.
It’s been suggested that the meekness of Jesus often is misunderstood. On the one hand, some consider his “turn the other cheek” charge to be a demonstration of passive submission.
On the other, it is seen as a nonviolent expression of power in itself. By turning the other cheek, Jesus actually presents his offender with a conundrum. To strike again with the right hand, the aggressor would have to use the back of his hand, which was viewed as cowardly or weak. To strike with the left hand, which was considered evil or unclean, was vulgar.
Other examples of Jesus’ subversive nature can be pulled from the Gospel texts, though such interpretations are open to question. In the end, we take what we will from all of these biblical stories, based upon our own experience, instruction and personal bias.
Regarding the Last Supper, this kind of understanding not only demonstrates Jesus’ historical and philosophical wisdom and knowledge, but also his ability to see beyond the present, toward a future of which he was an integral part.
Did he know the future? Scripture suggests he didn’t.
Did he have a pretty good understanding of people and the many ways in which they would likely interpret, manipulate and even abuse his legacy? Based on the way things turned out for him, we can assume he expected lots of us not to get it.
This is just another of those human lenses through which we gaze upon the stories with which we are left. Oftentimes, I want to see a dissident revolutionary, so it’s no surprise that’s what I find.
I could be wrong, but I like to think of Jesus sharing one last meal, while at the same time sticking it to the establishment.