April 15, 2019 • Life for Leaders
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Several years ago while visiting a church on Sunday morning I saw a striking communion banner. It featured a creative and tasteful weaving together of wheat stalks and bunches of grapes. I appreciated the artistry that went into the design and production of the banner.
Yet—and I am in no way criticizing this banner—I find it interesting that Jesus actually did not use wheat and grapes to represent his body and blood. Rather, he used bread and wine. These elements were featured in the Jewish Passover meal, which formed the basis of the Last Supper. They were not only items with deep theological meaning; bread and wine were also products made by human hands and human tools. They were the result of natural elements refined by human work.
I wouldn’t want to make more of this fact than ought to be made. Jesus’s main point in the Last Supper was not about work, but rather about his pending death and its meaning. Nevertheless, I believe it’s worth reflecting on the implications of Jesus’ choice of elements for our work. For example, in the Theology of Work commentary on Matthew 26 we read:
We cannot pretend to know why Jesus chose tangible products of human labor to represent himself rather than natural articles or abstract ideas or images of his own design. But the fact is that he did dignify these products of work as the representation of his own infinite dignity. When we remember that in his resurrection he also bears a physical body (Matt. 28:9, 13), there can be no room to imagine the kingdom of God as a spiritual realm divorced from the physical reality of God’s creation. After creating us (Genesis 2:7; John 1), he chose articles of our handiwork to represent himself. This is a grace almost beyond comprehension.
I am not a farmer, a baker, or a winemaker. My work does not produce elements that would be used in a communion service. Yet even as bread and wine represent Jesus, I would also like the products of my work to reflect him in some way. I would like the things I do each day to honor him. I want my work to be an expression of my faithfulness to my Lord, an act of worship to the One who gave his life for me.
Something to Think About:
As you consider the fact that Jesus used products of human work to represent the meaning of his sacrifice, what thoughts or feelings come to mind?
In what ways does your work honor the Lord? How might Jesus be present with you in your workplace?
Something to Do:
The next time you receive communion, pay attention to the elements, to the feel and taste of the bread and wine or juice. Consider that these elements were made by human beings whose work helps to convey the deep significance of Christ’s death.
Lord Jesus, thank you for giving us in the Last Supper a tangible, visible representation of your pending sacrifice. Thank you for choosing products of human work to represent the work you were about to do on the cross.
Lord, for most of us, our work will not literally produce items for the communion table. But we would like our work to point to you, to honor you, to make a difference for you in this world. Help us to understand how this might be so. Help us to work in a way that contributes wisely and well to your work in this world.
Glory be to you, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
The Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
In addition to remembering Christ’s death in John 6 Jesus says believing in him is like eating his flesh and drinking his blood. This is like a ravenous animal who sees a juicy steak and goes after it.
It is taking the Kingdom by force and violence (Matthew 11:12). This violence was not seen in Capernaum or other cities he visited with miracles and Jesus condemns these cities for not repenting (Matthew 11:21 ff.).
There is also a connection in the beatitudes about “hungering and thirsting for righteousness.”
So eating the bread and drinking the cup while it remembers his death, believing into Christ is also eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Thanks for making me think more about this.
Thanks, DiAnne, for your comment.