“I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
We can understand when someone wants to celebrate the life of someone who had a great impact on our world. Consider Paul Bunyon, for example. Several communities in the upper Midwest celebrate the larger-than-life lumberjack. Contests and festivals honor him. Woodsmen compete, people play games, and there’s all kind of food. Here’s the problem: these activities and events commemorate a person who did not exist.
In Tampa, Florida, there is a huge annual festival called Gasparilla Days. People skip work and school. There are parties, a flotilla, a mock invasion in a real ship, and a giant parade. The celebration takes its name from a pirate named Jose Gaspar. The problem is Gaspar never existed either.
During Communion, we honor a person who most certainly existed. It is quite rare today to find anyone who does not acknowledge that Jesus lived. Even nonbelievers and Jesus’ enemies admit that he existed. When we come to the Lord’s table we commemorate someone who really lived. He walked our streets and breathed our air. He felt the heat on his face and experienced pain when he stubbed his toe. He felt temptations akin to ours, yet won the battles. He faced criticism and disapproval. Finally, Jesus went to a cross and really died.
Yes, he existed, but we believers go a step further. We not only honor One who existed, but One who still exists. We believe Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever and reigns at the right hand of the Father. He is present with us in the celebration, just as he promised. We also believe he will come for us and take us to our eternal home. Even there, we believe he will join us at the table.
While the way we celebrate might be quite different and simpler than other commemorations, it is real because Jesus is real and has a real impact on our lives.
J. Michael Shannon is professor of preaching at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University.