There was once a prisoner in solitary confinement who had lived a notoriously evil life since rejecting the Christian faith of his parents, who had baptised him as a child. He had been caught, tried, found guilty of his crimes and ended up in jail. As he decayed in his cell, the words which he had heard as a child came flooding back and in the quietness of his solitude he found that he repented of his sins, loved and trusted Jesus and knew that he was loved and forgiven for the first time.
That night his meagre prison rations were shoved under his door, a dry crust of bread, some beans and, most strangely, a glass of red wine.
As he prepared to eat, he prayed, thanking Jesus for dying on the cross for all his sins and, as he prayed, the words of Jesus came to him, silently, in his mind, “take, eat, this is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Then, as the prisoner took the cup of wine, again the words of Jesus came to him “drink this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
As he ate and drank, with faith in Jesus and great love for him, the prisoner felt assured of the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ and that he was accepted and incorporated into the body of Christ.
Here’s the question. Was he in true communion with Christ and the church?
The answer is one which flows from my sabbatical studies. Yes, the prisoner is in true communion with Christ and his church because Jesus is the great high priest. He had come to faith, by grace, and it is the words and the work of Holy Spirit which make his communion meal what it really is; a memorial of Christ’s death, the presence of Christ by his Spirit and the renewal of his covenant (see yesterday’s blog post). The meal was not necessary for his salvation, but it was truly an act of communion.
Conversion in solitary confinement is an exceptional circumstance. The prisoner was not free to attend a communion service, where two or three are gathered together as the body of Christ. On his release from prison he would not be encouraged to carry on solitary communion but join in fellowship with the body of Christ. Yet, because it is Christ who does the work by his word and His Spirit then, in that exceptional circumstance, the prisoner was in true communion with Christ and his church.
I believe this illustration is helpful for two reasons. It gives me a greater grasp the glory of Christ as High Priest, as this is all his work. I also find that a human “priesthood” is not required for anyone to truly receive communion from and with Christ. The role of the minister at communion is to speak the words of Christ so that the service acts as a memorial and covenant renewal, and Christ and the Holy Spirit do their work in the hearts and minds of believers.