I was raised in a church tradition in which Communion along with feet washing was practiced each quarter. It was indeed a special Sunday, even if seemingly (to me) tacked on at the end of the service to make probably a longer service. The cracker broken on the trays and the grape juice in the small cups in the other trays were all symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood, nothing more. And it was a memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice, not a participation.
I later left that tradition and by and by became settled into an evangelical church setting which essentially was no different in its understanding. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper was an ordinance, not a sacrament. And now we are members of an Anglican church plant which is sacramental in its understanding of scripture. You can argue the case from scripture either way, it seems to me. I’m not sure where the tipping point came. The last church we were members of leaned Lutheran but by nature was accommodative of Christians who differed on any number of subjects, including this one. But that church surely did have some influence on me more toward a sacramental understanding, as most (or at least many) of the people there, including the pastors believed in the Real Presence in Holy Communion/the Lord’s Table. The church as a whole practiced it once a month and it was offered every week, a good number including myself usually participating in that. So that probably had some influence on me, even as I was a bit back and forth on my understanding during that time.
It is hard to say that one factor may convince me of the position I’ve accepted now. It is surely likely a combination of factors, including a serious consideration once of whether or not I would consider becoming Roman Catholic. And a friendly take on and contact with the Eastern Orthodox Church. So that I do indeed see myself as a friend of the Great Tradition, even if not accepting all they taught (such as devotion to Mary, praying to the saints, etc.). What may have pushed me over was the importance of tradition in my theological understanding: scripture first (not only) followed by tradition (as in what the church has taught) and reason in the end followed by experience if that is understood aright. Although experience can be tricky, the first three, I think, holding precedence, particularly the first two, with the primacy being on scripture. What admittedly was the tipping point for me was when a kind of theological, biblical mentor of mine, Scot McKnight, who had been Anabaptist actually became Anglican, now a deacon and canon theologian. I was restless, wanting to do more in church for some time, and I found in our area a church plant not far from where we live in the same relatively new denomination Scot is a part of.
And so now my understanding is that Jesus is indeed made known in the breaking of the bread and the participation in the cup. It is a mystery since it is mystical, of the Spirit. I don’t understand the Real Presence as the Roman Catholics do, their official doctrine reflecting some kind of Aristotelian view (substance and accident). Rather I understand it in terms of something done by the Spirit which in a sense takes us back to Jesus’ once for all sacrifice for our sins in his death on the cross, and fast forwards us to the meal to come at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (N. T. Wright). Somehow we do participate in our Lord’s actual body and blood in partaking of the wafers and the cup, consecrated by the priest to that end (1 Corinthians 10:16). Without thinking we have to explain it.
The first time our Lord was made known in the breaking of bread:
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third daysince all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.