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Communion Meditations (2015)

We Need To Talk

Originally scheduled for December 20

Let me be perfectly clear. Your author lives in Southern California — yes, Disneyland, beach bunnies, Hollywood stars and smog. Normally this is not too much of a handicap, but at Christmas time we get a visual bombardment from Vermont. I’m talking about those Christmas cards we all send. Designed in Maine, printed in China, they pose an interesting form of culture shock. Southern California has a climate very much like Israel; there are only two places in the world where the Joshua tree cactus grows. Israel is one; you guess the other. So here’s the problem:

·         First, what’s with this horse pulling a vehicle with no wheels? We know about horses. But we can at least ask that whatever you’re using behind that horse should have seatbelts.

·         Snow. Yes we know what it is. We occasionally visit it to go skiing. But we keep it up in the mountains where it doesn’t bother things.

·         Have you seen how these people dress in Christmas cards? If we did that there would be an epidemic of heatstroke.

·         At the Rose Parade each year, there will be some Iowa native holding up a sign saying, “Hi mom. Windchill factor +85°.” He is factually correct.

So, imagine the difficulties of explaining to our small children just what these things on Christmas cards are all about — and what possible relationship they can have to Christmas. If you think this is a problem for us, can you imagine all those poor children in Hawaii? You are warping their little minds with the strange images. (For the record: your author was born in Alaska. He lives in Southern California. That is not an accident.)


I bring this up to you as a matter of reminder. If you live in Vermont, the Courier and Ives Christmas makes perfect sense. But suppose you are trying to explain Christmas to someone who lived his entire life in, say, a jungle. You would be stuck explaining snow, sleighs and various other items which aren’t really particularly relevant to the Christmas story. And this planet has a lot of jungle dwellers. Evangelists know that if you want to be understood, you need to speak the local language. That’s true not only for the language of sound, but for the language of symbols as well. An African native might look at your picture of a sleigh going through the snow and be completely puzzled. Getting him to the manger at Bethlehem would be a long trip.


That, I submit, is one of the reasons why Jesus chose the elegantly simple symbols of Communion. They are common enough across multiple cultures and easy enough to explain.

·         The wine, representing Christ’s blood, bears a strong visual resemblance to blood. (We assume you have sense enough to use a red wine, or other grape product.) This is a liquid which is almost as universal as blood.

·         Bread also is nearly universal, and carries with it the interesting characteristic that for most people of most times bread was not sliced but broken — just like the body of Christ.

As you celebrate Communion remember that you are in fellowship with the church universal. Billions of Christians celebrate with you. In so doing the church universal he proclaims the physical sacrifice of the death of her Lord, Jesus Christ. He’s put it to you plainly, in simple language. Remember his death on the cross and the change it should bring in your life. Do this, in remembrance of Him.


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