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Jesus's last meal still serves up lesson for us all

Eating and drinking in a sacred or ritual meal is common to many spiritual traditions. Christianity has its own meal practise, known by different names: Holy Communion, the Mass, Eucharist – which means “thanksgiving,” the Lord’s Supper.

Eating and drinking in a sacred or ritual meal is common to many spiritual traditions. Christianity has its own meal practise, known by different names: Holy Communion, the Mass, Eucharist – which means “thanksgiving,” the Lord’s Supper. This meal is practised by different groups of Christians in a variety of ways. But they all reflect the Bible’s witness that Jesus shared a last meal with his friends and invited them and those who came after them to eat and drink in the same way in his memory.

Holy Communion – the terms most familiar to me as a Lutheran Christian, is a meal practise that not only shaped the earliest expressions and experiences of the followers of Jesus, but continues to do so up to today. This meal invites participants to be changed by what they receive, and therefore changing every meal, and “communion” with all people, the earth, and God.

Holy Communion is most commonly practised as Jesus first shared it, by breaking bread and sharing a cup of wine, joined to words that promise the presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine. While this may seem strange and even repulsive, the words reflect that Jesus gave his life - body and blood, in love for this world, and through death to new life continues to be a life-giving and life-changing presence now. How can a simple ritual of a little bread and a sip of wine do all this? 

Some years ago a preschool child who observed this meal practise in a community where children were not included, repeatedly asked his parents to take part in the meal. After reading and reflection, the parents asked the community what prevented children from being included. The leadership decided they would need to question the child’s understanding by asking what is happening in this meal. The chid answered, “God feeds us.” None of the adults thought they could have given a clearer response.

This meal practise in my own tradition has continued to evolve. From a less frequent, more individually focused and somber expression of forgiveness in communion with God open only to professing adults, it has been restored to a weekly meal, open to all, in joyful thanksgiving and hope of new and changed lives, in communion with God and our neighbour - more like the way Jesus ate and drank with anyone, and the love and acceptance and hope that offered to hungry people.

And this meal continues to hold further reminders of Jesus’ life that can shape daily living today: in everyone sharing a little, so there is always enough for everyone – a practise of food equity and justice that our world and those who are hungry so desperately need; giving thanks for food as a precious gift of the earth and God – and giving thanks at every meal and recommitting ourselves to be better stewards of the earth in our interdependence with all living things; eating and drinking in communion with one another as with Jesus – changing how we live and commune with everyone as our neighbour and equal and friend in love and forgiveness and peace and joy!

Eating and drinking together have always been central to human spiritual and cultural practise. This suggests that how and what we eat and drink forms and changes us for a greater and common good. What and how will we eat today, and how is it changing us and this hungry world?

Rev. Lyle McKenzieRev. Lyle McKenzie is pastor of Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria and part-time chaplain in Multifaith Services at the University of Victoria.

You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE

* This article was also published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, May 28 2016