What does Mennonite Brethren theology have in common with that of other Christian denominations? And what are the distinctive emphases of Mennonite Brethren theology? Our Confession of Faith is a short document, informed by Scripture, that names the perspectives through which we read God’s Word in order to live as Christ’s followers. This is the ninth article in a series by the Board of Faith and Life exploring the 18 articles of this formative document.
A meal that roots, renews, reconciles
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener…. Remain in me, and I will remain in you” John 15:1, 4a (NLT).
One of my favourite images in Scripture is of Jesus as the vine, and the global family of believers as the branches. I visualize a strong, powerful, and rooted vine that has the capacity to support and nourish thousands and thousands of branches – some intertwined, some short and spindly, some hefty and stretching – extending far down the field.
You may wonder how this image relates to the Lord’s Supper, as described in Article 9 of the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith. For one, the vine’s branches produced the grapes that were in the cup during Jesus’ final Passover meal, the first expression of the Lord’s Supper.
It is that same fruit of the vine that is most often poured into vessels in churches around the globe (although I have also taken Communion with sweet mango juice in a jungle church in Sabah, Malaysia).
However, the image of Jesus as the vine, and we, the global family of believers, as the branches, also brings fresh clarity to the Lord’s Supper. Most significantly, it affirms a fundamental underpinning of the Mennonite Brethren tenets of faith: the centrality of Christ. Sharing the Lord’s Supper roots us, renews us, and reconciles us to each other in our vine-connection with Jesus Christ and his Body.
When Jesus first shared the bread with his disciples around the table, he asked God’s blessing on it, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body” (Matthew 26:26, NLT). Again, with the cup of wine, he gave thanks to God for it, and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people…” (Matthew 26:27–28, NLT).
Our identity is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. We are participants in a covenant relationship with him.
Taking and ingesting the bread and grape juice is more than symbolically aligning ourselves with Jesus. Although Mennonite Brethren do not teach transubstantiation (the belief that the bread and wine actually become the physical flesh and blood of Christ as it is blessed), neither is the Lord’s Supper a mere memento of his death. We experience communion between our spirit and his Spirit. As Paul says to the believers, “When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17, NLT).
Therefore, as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are actually being reminded that Jesus is much more than a distant memory. His sacrifice, done once for all sin and for all time, is renewing us daily. He is present!
God’s Holy Spirit resides in us today and testifies – as we share the bread and cup together – to the active ongoing work of Christ in our lives. At the Lord’s Table, we are renewed and strengthened for true discipleship and service as we remain in the vine.
The imagery of the vine illuminates one more aspect of the Lord’s Supper: the gathering of Jesus’ family as one.
There is only one vine, and only one family. Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” must never be divided by race, class, or gender.
The Communion table brings together all those who have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour: they may be strangers, even enemies, yet they gather together to share one cup, one loaf.
In Communion, we engage in reconciliation as we eat with people we didn’t choose – but whom God chose for us. We are also a visible witness in the world of the reconciling work of God that is already at work through his body here on earth.
Depending on our local church practices, we may celebrate Communion once a month or every week; we may invite people forward to receive the elements or distribute them; we may read the familiar verses or consider other related passages to engage our hearts. Yet, in all the ways that the Church celebrates, the Lord’s Supper reminds us that we are one. One vine with many branches. One body with one head – Jesus Christ.
Taking this step of faith and submission to the Lord Jesus is a vital part of discipleship.
The next time you share the Lord’s Supper with your church, reflect on the reality that we are rooted in Christ, renewed daily by his ever-present Spirit, and reconciled to a beautiful global family. This is good news. Let’s share it.
[Robyn Serez is a member-at-large on the national Board of Faith and Life. She serves as Regional Mobilizer with MB Mission Eastern Canada and directs Leaders Collective in Ontario. Robyn loves to disciple people in mission.