Whenever I receive Holy Communion (and these days I usually do so with tears in my eyes), I’m reminded of the great banquet at the end of time. I also know that as we participate in this eucharistic feast, we are joining with all the saints. I feel close to Christ at this point. I am also reminded that Robert is now in Christ’s presence.
Before taking the bread and wine, I will have listened to words like the following: ‘Send the Holy Spirit on your people and gather into one in your kingdom all who share this one bread and one cup, so that we, in the company of all the saints, may praise and glorify you forever…’ (CW Eucharistic Prayer B). Does the ‘may’ suggest a present experience?
- Is ‘joining in the company of all the saints’ a present reality, or just a foretaste of the distant future, or is it both? In other words, does this feast only begin at the end of time as we measure time or, as eternity operates in a different time zone, is there an ongoing feast already taking place in our present?
- Does my view of Holy Communion answer this question?
The Bible seriously celebrates food and feasting. From the beginning, there’s a variety of fruit and seed-bearing plants to be eaten.
After the flood and God’s covenant with Noah, meat, fish and birds are added to the diet, along with grains, fruit and vegetables.
Abraham made a feast of fresh bread, roast veal, cheese, curds and milk, served beneath the trees.
After the walls of the city of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, crowds gathered to hear a 6-hour-long reading of God’s word. This led to worship, sorrow and finally a community feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, to be shared with the less fortunate.
Jesus fed vast crowds of hungry people.
Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples and by doing this, enabled his followers to remember forever his death and rising, until he comes again.
Jesus provided the best of wines at a wedding. This resonates with the grand banquet at the end of time. In Cana Jesus was not the bridegroom, whereas at the end of time he’s referred to as a bridegroom coming for his bride.
Matthew writes (8:11-12) of many Gentiles coming from all over the world to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven. This is future-facing, but we already see evidence of people from the nations across the globe turning to Christ in a way that early Christians could not have imagined.
Tom Wright in Surprised by hope writes that 1st century Jews and early Christians held strong views that history was already going somewhere under the guidance of God. The future has already begun to come forward to meet the present. With the resurrection of Christ, the new age has truly begun.
Does that mean the great feast has already begun? Could that mean that the saints, already clothed in their resurrection bodies, are joining in the feast? Disembodied spirits would hardly join in something so physical. The resurrected Jesus ate food with his disciples, and cooked and presumably ate breakfast on the beach. You need some sort of a body to do that!
What about in Communion? I love the fuller version of the words said when receiving the bread. ‘The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving’.
Over the years I’ve experienced the presence of Christ in a unique way when I kneel or stand to take the bread and wine. I hold out empty hands to receive from God. I expect to encounter Christ. For me it is far more than an act of remembrance. It is a feast.
- If the new age has begun with Christ’ s resurrection, albeit incompletely,
- if my eternal life began when the Spirit rested within me,
- if this eternal feasting is going on now and the saints have bodies that are celebrating joyously in the feast,
…then I can join in the feast with them! It’s not just a future experience!
- If that’s not the case, the centuries old Anglican liturgy has deceived me!
What to make of all these ‘ifs’?
I don’t know, so I shall just enjoy participating in receiving bread and wine as often as I can. This is chiefly because it brings me closer to Christ, but it also enables me to touch on the experience of the saints in eternity in another realm!
I know God’s mind is unfathomable, but he invites us to wonder and to strive to know him more deeply. I know Robert is with Christ. I know my story is unique. But, in my grief, I want to know more…I want to know whether Robert is asleep, ‘disembodiedly’ conscious or has already received his resurrection body.
Writing Sudden death…then what? over many months has channelled my thinking. Many people haven’t thought much about this. That’s why I’m sharing my embryonic conclusions about resurrection bodies, eternity, life – plus reflections on the specific impact of sudden death. I wrote this on 19th June 2019.