A few months ago, I was inspired by the Vigil of All Saints’ Day in the Book of Occasional Services to consider creating my own vigil service for another feast day, namely for Corpus Christi. The idea was, like the All Saints and Easter vigils, line up a bunch of scripture readings that together build up to a major theme or point of Christian doctrine and celebration. So, over a couple months I pieced something together which quickly became too long and mixed-up to work as a vigil service. It does, however, work as a sort of “tour of the scriptures,” and thus liberated from a strictly liturgical use I’m free to move back and forth between the Old and New Testaments in order to better teach.
So what I have here is the basic run-down of how I might introduce the Sacrament of Holy Communion to someone who knows nothing of historic / Anglican / Catholic teaching on the subject. It’s still somewhat devotional and not purely catechetical, as I kept the responsory psalms along the way.
#1 the Institution of the Passover
READ Exodus 12:1-8, 21-27
RESPONSE Psalm 143
REFLECT: This is where it begins – the Passover Feast in which God delivered Israel from the tenth plague in Egypt. The sacrifice and eating of the spotless lamb, and the sprinkling of its blood, set the stage for the salvation of Israel from bondage to the Egyptians and formed the basis of the annual feast that remember and re-appropriate that event for generations to come.
#2 the Giving of the Manna
READ Exodus 16:2-4, 31-35
RESPONSE Psalm 78:1-4, 17-31
REFLECT: The second layer of Old Testament types and shadows is the “bread of the angels” given to the Israelites to sustain them in the desert. Being constantly on the move, they were unable to grow grain or safely multiply their livestock; they had to rely on God to provide them food lest they all starve to death.
#3 the instructions for the Atoning Sacrifice
READ Leviticus 16:2-5, 11-19, 32-34
RESPONSE Psalm 67
REFLECT: The third and final major Old Testament layer is the atoning sacrifice that Aaron (and the High Priests who would succeed him) were required to make on behalf of the people of Israel. He would prepare himself according to certain rituals, prepare the sacrificial animals according to certain rituals, and finally pray for himself, his family, and the entire people of God.
#4 the Priesthood & Sacrifice of Jesus
READ Hebrews 7:23-8:7,13, 9:11-15,24-28
RESPONSE Psalm 43
REFLECT: Now, in the New Testament, we read of Jesus being the High Priest of the New Covenant. His personal preparation as priest and sacrifice are compared as parallel to the ministry of Aaron & his successors, and also contrasted, as Jesus’ sacrifice is infinitely more effective than the old.
#5 the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus
READ John 17
RESPONSE Psalm 122
REFLECT: In a manner extraordinarily similar to the order prescribed back in Leviticus 16 (part #3), Jesus here prays for the whole Church, including not only his immediate disciples but also those who would follow in future generations. This takes place as Jesus is preparing to offer himself as a sacrifice on the Cross.
#6 the Institution of Communion
READ 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
RESPONSE Psalm 111
REFLECT: Now the various pieces really begin to come together. In the context of the Passover ritual, Jesus institutes the Communion ritual with bread and wine, making use of the old ‘remembrance’ language, tying it to his sacrificial death, and introducing it as the “new covenant.” Here, St. Paul also adds the warning that judgment is connected with participation, such that those who unworthily eat it may even die.
#7 the encounter on the Road to Emmaus
READ Luke 24:28-35
RESPONSE Psalm 116
REFLECT: After his resurrection, Jesus spends some time with two of his disciples. He teaches them extensively from the Scriptures, culminating in the “breaking of bread.” This is both a witness to the universal Christian practice of observing the Ministry of the Word before the Ministry of the Table, and the first example in the Scriptures of the revelatory power of this ritual: it revealed Jesus to the disciples in a way that even the biblical teaching could not.
#8 St. Paul’s teaching on Communion
READ 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 15-21
RESPONSE Psalm 95
REFLECT: St. Paul here points us back to the Old Testament to see Christ and the New Covenant foreshadowed in various events, including the “spiritual food” of the manna. With that in mind, he then teaches that the bread and wine are a participation (or sharing or communion) with the body and blood of Christ, just as the sacrificial food in Old Covenant worship was a participation in the Altar, or Pagan rituals are a participation with demons.
#9 Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse
READ John 6:25-70
RESPONSE Pascha Nostrum (1 Corinth. 5:7-8, Romans 6:9-11, 1 Corinth. 15:20-22)
REFLECT: Now, at last, we’re prepared to take in the famous “Bread of Life” Discourse. Knowing how the spiritual food of the Old Testament manna was applied to Communion by St. Paul, how the Old Testament Passover ritual was transformed into the New Covenant ritual, and how the life-giving atoning sacrifice of Christ our High Priest on the Cross also plays into it, one can see how Jesus wove it all together when he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood as necessary for eternal life.