I came into the Kingdom of God questioning everything. Not because I was trying to disprove anything, but as a curious 16 year old, eager to learn about this God that had come into a relationship with, I was merely inquisitive as to where many of the Christian traditions and rituals came from. I would often naively ask, “Is this something God told us to do, or just something humans made up?” and I know that question in my heart was not coming from a place of arrogance or rebellion, but it was truly my young mind trying to wrap itself around all the new “things of God” that I was seeing and experiencing. Some Christians responded to my questions better than others.
For instance, I remember being slightly confused by the ritual of communion. I remember reading about the last supper and would try and picture what it must have been like on that evening. I can’t even begin to imagine the emotion and nostalgia that must have hung thick in the air. These were people that had literally walked, traveled, eaten, ministered, served, laughed, cried, and lived with Jesus on a daily basis for about three years, and now, He was telling them that he had to be killed, and that, in fact, one of the people with which He had walked so closely would be the one to betray Him, but He must do it, and that meal before them would literally be the last meal they shared together. Heavy stuff!
As I read the text I would try and put myself in the shoes of one of the disciples. I think when Jesus lifted up a piece of bread and said, “This is my body…” I would have leaned over to the guy sitting next to me and said, “Psssst! What is He talking about?!”. I think that might have been a little too profound for my small brain! But one thing that I think I would have taken away from that experience were His words, “Every time you do this, do it in remembrance of me.” So I am sure after that every time me and the disciples were just kicking back and sharing a meal together, there would be a certain since of reminiscence in the air, much like the evening of the last supper, as I imagine it. I do not think we would have had to create opportunities to break bread together and drink a little wine, but I think it would have just naturally happened, probably on a daily basis, us being close, and friends and all; but I guarantee that whenever we did do it, we would definitely remember our good friend and teacher Jesus.
As a young Christian, I remember finding the ritual of communion a bit strange: once a month, we would pass around little pieces of dry, stale crackers, and little shot glasses of grape juice, and then we would “have communion together”. It was never quite how I envisioned the last supper being. I was also confused because I understood the word communion to have more to do with relationships and company than a specific ritual or act. The New Penguin Dictionary defines communion as “intimate fellowship or rapport”. I was also confused about how, often after church, we would go out and eat, which were situations more like how I pictured the last supper, but there was rarely any mention of us doing that in remembrance of Jesus. I remember asking an older Christian about it:
Me: Why do we use little, stale crackers and shot glasses of grape juice for communion?
Old Christian: Because they are symbols of the blood and body of Jesus.
Me: Yeah I know, but wasn’t the last supper, in context of those days, just a pretty normal meal of those times? And seeing that wine and bread are not really staples in our diet around these parts, why don’t we just do it over a hamburger and coke or something?
Old Christian: Well, because that is just not the way we do it. Communion is a sacred time where we have to be reverent, and Jesus used wine and bread as a symbol of His blood and body, so we do too.
(I wanted to probe a little more about how a little shooter of grape juice was wine, but I didn’t want to push my luck and had more questions to ask.)
Me: Ok…so, if Jesus said EVERY TIME you do this, do it in remembrance of me, then why do we only do it once a month?
Old Christian: Well…uh, because…that’s just the way we have always done it.
Me: Yeah, but why?
Old Christian: (becoming a little annoyed and defensive) Because that’s just the way things have always been done and that’s the way we do it now.
Me: Ok. Thanks! (not satisfied in the least but trying to act appreciative)
I realized that humans feel safe within rituals and traditions. We like the “known” and are not always comfortable when those things are challenged. I feel that asking questions is very important. They should come from a true and humble place, but I believe it is good to question things. If we are doing things merely because “that’s just the way we have always done it”, have they not lost their meaning a bit? I think the important thing is to be open to read God’s word and be able to translate those truths and ways of honoring Him into our modern, everyday life. I am not saying the way people do communion is “wrong”, and I think it is an important ritual to maintain. However, what I am saying is that when we get to the point of just doing things “because we have always done them that way”, we should take a minute to really question, take stock, and reevaluate why we do it, and maybe even see how we can adapt it to our modern day way of life, making that act even more meaningful and relevant to us today.