Maybe you haven’t noticed, but we live in a consumer culture. Anywhere our eyes may wander or our ears tune to is often filled with advertisements demanding our attention. Once they have our attention, they are quick to point out something we lack, something we need, something we are afraid of and a solution to solve all those problems. Typically that solution involves purchasing something to alleviate the fears and stress induced by the advertisement.
I mean, seriously, who would want to look like these people?
(That Snuggie family actually looks like they’re having fun, but I digress…)
The basic story told in our culture is that there is something you lack that can be fulfilled by purchasing products. But, ultimately, we are never fulfilled as we are constantly told this story in order to get us to buy more products, stimulate economic growth,grow GDP and create jobs.
Oh I see you just bought a new smartphone? Guess what? Here’s the next model that does so many more things you think you need! Oh, you bought that toothpaste? Well, here’s one that actually whitens your teeth. You know what happens when you’re teeth are not white right?
How do you feel now?
I don’t really remember when or where this recently happened, but I heard someone reference the words of Jesus at the Last Supper which led me to think about this idea of our consumer culture in a different way. At the Last Supper Jesus passed around the bread and wine to his disciples saying,
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take and eat. This is my body.’ He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you.’ This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven.”
Matthew 26:26-28, CEB
Churches everywhere celebrate this meal on a regular basis as a symbol of their faith and in remembrance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet, when I recently heard these words, I was awoken to how the image of this simple meal (bread & wine) confronts the consumerist nature of our culture. The meal itself serves as a microcosm of the ministry of Jesus and what should resonate out among the community of his disciples.
First, like I said, the meal is simple. Bread and wine sets the barriers for entry rather low. Anyone can acquire those elements and the simpleness of them means it should be accessible. There are no instruction manuals or secret plans for how the meal is served, the bread is baked or the wine is poured. Our culture tends to glorify things that are newer, faster and innovative but that can often lead to over-complexity and inaccessibility. I love computers and our world has changed drastically because of them. But, my father never learned to use one and met a fair amount of pressure when his workplace transitioned to using them more and more. This simple meal of bread and wine bids us to resist the consumerist idol of the next big thing, leaves the doors open and seats available for anyone willing to sit down. The bread and wine are sufficient in their simplicity.
Second, the meal is shared. Full disclosure, I feel most of the methods used by churches to celebrate communion lead us to overlook this essential element. One church I visited even had prepackaged crackers and grape juice in buckets that people just picked up on their way out like some kind of consolation prize for coming to church that day. There is an essential element to sharing a meal, sitting around a table and being gathered together with people that we miss when we take a wafer off a tray or walk down an aisle and never have to look more than two people in the face. The bread is broken and passed. The cup is shared. This meal is about both receiving and serving. Our consumer culture loves to take and consume but it abhors giving and sharing. If I share what I have, that means my neighbor may not have to buy what has been shared. When we receive the bread and wine we are reminded that we are forgiven by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is then our responsibility to pass along the bread and wine, sharing that grace and forgiveness with our neighbors. Even those who might betray us, deny us or abandon us in a time of need.
Finally, the meal is sacrificial. Jesus encourages the disciples to, “Take and eat”. He does not ask for payment or anything in return. The meal is a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made and the inability of the powers in Jesus day (and ours) to understand what it really looks like to, “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Consumer culture expects payment for services, quid pro quo and retribution if terms are not met. The culture sees mercy and humility as signs of weakness that lead to being taken advantage of and pushed aside. In this meal, however, Jesus is showing us a better way. Similarly to the point of the meal being shared, it is because of a sacrifice we are encouraged to “Take and eat”. One person can take a loaf of bread and eat off it for a week. Or, one loaf of bread can be shared and feed a table full of people. Some who could afford to buy many loaves of bread and some who could barely spare the time to make it to the table that day. Out of Jesus’ example, we are invited into sacrificial living so that others are able to “Take and eat” and live a life worthy of being his disciple. Living sacrificially means we do not need to consume and are able to resist the culture’s siren song.
How do you need to resist the temptation to consume? What ways can the simplicity, sharing and sacrifice of the Last Supper be integrated into your day to day life?