As Christians and churches move on from the celebration of Easter to the ongoing, eternal celebration of God’s resurrection power at work in us, I am reminded of a note that came across my desk recently from a dear church member. Responding to my frequently-employed definition of the gospel (“the gospel is the good news of what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to deal with the problem of our sin”), he commented:
“I do not understand why all of the churches which I have attended seem to recognize primarily only one part of the gospel at communion or the Lord’s Supper. I have to believe that we need to remember Christ’s work as you have defined it in the gospel, and include this remembrance in our communion each Sunday.”
My friend’s suggestion raises several more questions: Are we guilty of ignoring the fact and implications of the resurrection of Jesus in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper? Do we functionally leave Jesus in the grave when we focus on his death in holy communion? What bearing does the resurrection have on communion?
In response, I’ll offer just a few thoughts:
1. It does seem that the primary focus of the Lord’s Supper is the death of Christ. I conclude this from Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church regarding the Lord’s Supper, which he concludes with the statement, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). When we take the emblems of communion, we are treasuring the truth of Christ’s death, celebrating and participating in its benefits for us, and proclaiming it to each other as the unified Body of Christ. Christ’s death is the focus.
2. We cannot think about the benefit of Christ’s death without thinking about the benefit’s of Christ’s resurrection. I say that because Jesus regularly spoke of his death and resurrection as flip sides of the same coin, two dimensions of the same event. Almost every time he referred to his pending crucifixion, he promised his resurrection as well. For example, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19). Jesus knew that his purpose was death and resurrection, and he rarely spoke of one without speaking of the other. Therefore we shouldn’t speak of the benefits of the crucifixion without speaking of the benefits of the resurrection as well. This is clear in John 6, when Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:53-54). Our celebration of the Lord’s supper (eating his flesh and drinking his blood) is to include a celebration of our participation in Christ’s death and a celebration of our future participation in his resurrection life on the last day.
3. Many (most) Christians fail to understand or appropriate the full benefits of the resurrection for us today. We understand well the future benefits of the resurrection – our own resurrection from the dead in Christ. But we often miss the Bible’s consistent teaching that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us now (see Ephesians 1:15-23). Not all of the benefits of the resurrection are future. In Christ, because of his resurrection, we are now new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is the resurrection that enables our regeneration (or new birth): “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection is the guarantee that we are justified, or declared righteous, in Christ: “[Christ] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). And it is the resurrection that unleashes the sanctifying power of God by reorienting our perspective to the heavenly realm rather than the earthly realm: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1-2).
The resurrection means much more than we might think…I hope and pray that we come to a deeper appreciation of this, at the Lord’s Supper, and in all of life.