“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered 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’” (Matthew 26:27, 28).
Sometimes we need a visible reminder of those things we cannot see. A wedding ring can remind us of love and commitment. A flag can be the symbol of liberty and patriotism. A pin can be the symbol of fraternity or fellowship. Since we cannot see the past, we often use symbols to remind us of unseen days and events. That is also why we put up monuments, build historic sites, and place historical markers. We cannot see the past, but we need to remember what happened there and how it affects our lives today.
The oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere—the Mikve synagogue in Willemstad on the island of Curaçao in the South Caribbean—shows the value of a visible reminder. It dates from the 1650s. Every day, sand is sprinkled on the floor of the synagogue as a reminder of the years their Jewish ancestors wandered in the Desert of Sinai on their way from bondage in Egypt to the freedom of the promised land. A visible symbol, it was thought, would aid the memory.
Likewise with the famous Coventry Cathedral in London, bombed by enemy aircraft in World War II. After the war, people of the church wanted to build a new cathedral, but they did not want anyone to forget what had happened there.
So, the ruins of the old building were incorporated into the new building. By design, visitors must pass through the ruins before they enter the beautiful new building that represents resurrection and new life. The ruins are a visible reminder of what happened there.
So it is in Communion, we believe the visible symbols of the bread and the cup keep fresh for us the memory of our freedom from sin and our hope for a better promised land, made possible by the torn body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. The symbols remind us of the wonderful new life we have in Christ.
J. Michael Shannon is professor of preaching at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University.