Christmas and Holy Communion
As I sat in our traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service this year (a particularly difficult year), which included the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, I was struck by the connections and significant intertwining of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. With due respect to N.T. Wright’s writings that challenge us to think not only about Christmas and Easter as we read through the Gospel narratives but also to the Life lived in-between, I still find threads from these two seasons that are bound together in this special worship service, threads which create a tapestry of hope.
In considering the meaning of Christmas, it is this: that God came to us in human form, willing to be borne by human hands. But the Table reminds us that the prospect of “God among us” is a scary thing – the Holy among the Sinful. This terrifies us so much so that human hands bore Him up and placed Him on a cross. And yet, this was the very means that God used to bring about our salvation. In the crucifixion, this Jesus (the Sinless) suffered on behalf of the Sinful, allowing His body to be broken for us and His blood to be spilled for us in a sacrifice that took the penalty for our sin, while placing on us His cloak of righteousness. Communion engages us as we are, frail and broken, and offers us the opportunity to freely take and hold the Body of Christ.
In my Reformed leanings, the Lord’s Supper also leads us to ponder the spiritual presence of Christ, that He is with and among His people when we eat and drink together. What I realized as I took part in the Feast of the Lord’s Supper at this worship service was that there are two times in the Gospel of Matthew that the author speaks of “presence” (there may be more than two, but these two immediately jumped to mind). First, Matthew tells us of Isaiah’s prophesy that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Then second, after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead Matthew quotes Jesus, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In Christmas and Holy Communion this year, I saw the link of God’s presence from Christmas to Easter. And in this difficult past year that saw the loss of several friends, the death of a mentor, illness, and intense work-related and ministry-related stress, I desperately needed to know this. This is the God who would be with us in the form of a baby, but also the God who says He will be with us to the very end of the age. Linking these two thoughts has pushed out the dread of a holy, just, and all-powerful God among a sinful, self-interested, finite people (of whom I count myself a member) and helped me realize the hope in the simple reminder that God is with us. What an overwhelming thought! Merry Christmas.