I attended my first Evangelical communion service at a Christian youth conference when I was 18. After a weekend of high-energy shenanigans with my friends, we began to wind down to hear the discussion topic of the night. The youth pastor in the front of the hall brought fourth a few loaves of Wonder Bread and hundreds of tiny plastic shot glasses of grape juice. He stretched his hand over the food items and prayed for a blessing over them before distributing it to the 200-plus crowd of rowdy teens, including myself.
At that time I had been debating on leaving the Catholic faith to become Protestant. Ever since a former friend from summer camp gave me a series of anti-Catholic bible tracts from Chick Publications, I had been wrestling with whether or not the Catholic mass was a form of idolatry. One of the hot topics that really divided me inside was the idea of transubstantiation – the bread and wine transforming into the literal body and blood of Jesus.
I remember the speaker at this youth conference proclaiming, “There’s no magic to communion! By eating this bread and drinking out of this cup, you are merely partaking in a symbol of what Jesus has done for you!”
“A symbol. That is all, right?” I thought to myself. “Why would it be anything more than that? If it was, wouldn’t that be some kind of witchcraft?“
As someone who was new to faith in Jesus, my whole worldview had been turned upside down. I’ve heard of the possibility of material objects having the ability to possess evil spirits, even as a cradle-Catholic. The mindset that was fed to me during my youth group years was that behind every idol hides a demon. As a result, everything to do with crucifixes, statues, rosaries or even the Eucharist itself scared the hell out of me – pun intended.
It took me years to wrap my mind around the biblical evidences supporting God being present in material objects. For example, how He talked to Moses through a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and Paul blessing hankercheifs and distributing them to heal the sick (Acts 19:11-12). As Christians, we are quick to accept that it happened in ancient times because the Bible said so. Nowadays it seems easy for us to assume that anything appearing to us as mildly supernatural in the form of material items should be automatically dismissed as demonic.
Over the years I developed a complicated relationship with communion. I eventually found myself withdrawing out of feeling unworthy to partake in it. This was largely influenced by my Catholic upbringing – that if I knew I was struggling with sin in my life, I should not receive it in an abusive manner (as mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29). On the flip side, I had also developed a complacency out of a lazy mindset that not partaking in all these churchy activities was not going to affect my salvation whatsoever. Wrestling with the issues of faith versus good deeds eventually led me to completely reject the doctrine of justification by faith alone (Sola Fide).
The other Bible verses that came into mind were that we aren’t to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4). Many people I know have used these verses to try and invalidate the Catholic Mass, but it doesn’t seem to imply that we live strictly off reading the Bible and not take care of our bodies by feeding it physical food. Similarly, regarding my issues with Sola Fide, faith and works need to go hand in hand and not one without the other (James 2:14-24). They are both important for our relationship with God!
If communion is reduced to just a symbol then what’s the point? When proclaiming the Lord’s death by accepting communion strictly as a ‘memorial’, are we neglecting to acknowledge that Jesus rose again and is truly alive? Does not everything we do have spiritual implications? Is God not present in communion (John 6:55-56)? Are we not called to become active members of the Church and be in communion with one another (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)?
A friend of mine quoted it hilariously simple (please pardon my language),
“God does weird shit. If we apparently believe He created the world in 6 days, talked through a burning bush, or was born out of a virgin to become a man, why is transubstantiation completely taboo?”
I’ve toyed with the idea of consubstantiation, which means that God is present in communion spiritually, but not in physical form. But I find it extremely difficult to find a middle-ground argument because of how I’ve wrestled with these theological issues combined with my personal experiences. Either God truly gave himself to actually become the consecrated bread and wine we consume (similar to the manna from Heaven in Exodus 16:15), or He is nothing more than a symbol made of Wonder Bread and McCain’s grape juice and simply does not exist whatsoever. If the latter is the case, then why do we even bother with communion at all?
I guess the questions I have to all of my Christian brothers and sisters would be: what is Christianity if there is no God in communion? Is reducing God to merely a symbol a subtle way of removing Him from our churches altogether?
I’m not a theologian by any means, but it’s food for thought.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
– John 6:53-58 RSV