I’m tackling a topic here that could make some people mad. I want to tread lightly. I understand that I am critiquing and attempting to undermine a strong tradition in Protestant Christianity. I know that the people who keep this tradition are often deeply passionate about it. I know that the regular practice of this tradition honors the God of Israel and keeps the sacrifice of Messiah central in churches. I applaud the intent and fruits of this tradition. I will even admit that, in worshipping with churches, I often partake of it myself. And I forget about differences and disagreements and I genuinely worship nearly every time I do.
But I must critique the tradition of the communion service, a.k.a. the Lord’s Supper. You know what I mean, the thimble of Welch’s and the microscopic wafer of unleavened bread. I read the story of Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, who partook of his first communion in a Baptist church. He asked what communion was. They said, “It is a little like your Passover service.” So that Sunday morning he skipped breakfast to save room. He came looking forward to Gefilte Fish, Brisket, Carrot Tzimmes, and the whole schmear, only to be crestfallen with the appearance of the thimble of Welch’s and the tiny wafer. “Just like Gentiles,” he thought.
Here is my big question: where does Yeshua ever say we are to drink a little juice and eat a tiny piece of bread in remembrance of him?
Here is the fantasy version: Yeshua and his disciples sat on the same side of the table posing as DaVinci painted his famous picture. Meanwhile, Yeshua was reciting the words of institution right out of his pocket New Testament. He took out tiny clear cups made of plastic the size of a thimble. He broke out a metal dish with perfectly round wafers from the Christian bookstore. His deacons came to the front and received the dish and cups from him. The organist played as they passed out the juice and wafers. After eating, they all sang “Blest Be the Ties That Bind.”
That, of course, is not at all what happened.
Here is the real version: Yeshua and his disciples enjoyed a Passover Seder the night before he was killed. They followed an older, simpler version of the same Passover Seder celebrated today in Jewish homes. After the meal, Yeshua broke one of the main symbols of the Seder, a piece of unleavened bread. He asked them to eat it and said it was his body. He led them in drinking the third cup (after the meal) which probably already represented redemption. He said, “do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). The “whenever you drink it” part has an obvious meaning: whenever you drink the third cup of Passover (not whenever you invent a new ceremony of drinking a thimble of juice).
Therefore, it is our practice, and that of many Messianic Jewish congregations, to remember the body and blood of our Messiah at the Passover. We do not have weekly, monthly, or quarterly communion services.
What is the origin of the Protestant communion service? Simple: the Catholic eucharist. It is simply a eucharistic sacrament scaled down to a non-sacramental remembrance. Sometimes the practices of Protestantism owe more to the Catholic tradition that preceded them than to the Bible. I do not mean to make light of Catholicism either, but simply to point out that traditions carry over into Protestantism with minor changes. I would assert that much of Catholic tradition is of questionable origin, created in the crucible of a pagan world being Christianized. The magical elements of pagan worship are often baptized and incorporated into Catholic tradition in ways that sit wrongly in my kishkes.
So, are you keeping the intent of Yeshua when you celebrate a communion service? Can your church handle a change back to biblical intention? I don’t want to get anyone fired from a pastorate or split any churches, but what can be done? I hope some day soon, before Yeshua comes, more churches will make Passover an annual tradition and remember the body and blood of Messiah on the third cup.