The Mystical Teachings of Christianity by Jim Lewis
When Columbus was preparing for his trip to find a new way to the East, some of the things he had to contend with in addition to the ships and supplies were the misconceptions and superstitions of his crew. It was believed by many in those days that the earth was flat. The crews thought that if they went too far west they would fall off the flat earth. If they had been prepared in consciousness with the truth about the earth, it would have helped to relieve their fears.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries some radical thoughts were brought forth that were to change the world. Copernicus and Galileo came forward with the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe. It was difficult for the religious leaders of the Church to accept this idea. In fact Galileo was made to recant his idea. The mistaken beliefs about the universe, earth, about man and his potential were great stumbling blocks in our educational evolution.
We still have similar problems today. We want to grow. We want to know about ourselves and our potential. We want to know more about God. But our mistaken beliefs are a stumbling block in our efforts to know the truth. Even when we read the Bible we do so seeking to prove what we already believe. When someone comes along and tells us that our beliefs are not in harmony with truth we often become fearful, upset, frustrated, and angry. Instead of listening and considering we become defensive and try to preserve the tradition.
What has this to do with communion? Simply this: I am about to make some statements about this service which will seem challenging to accept. I know, for I went through this myself. I came from a Catholic background, as I have said before, and was taught that God was present in the bread and wine used to celebrate the Mass and in the wafer given to those who partook of the communion service. I was even told that I was not worthy enough to touch this consecrated bread with my hands. I accepted this teaching with a simple faith. By that I mean I did not understand how God could be in the bread, but I felt I didn’t have to understand, only accept and believe it.
As the years went by, I began to question what I thought was my faith. Now I know it wasn’t my faith, it was the beliefs that I had accepted that I began to question. I wasn’t questioning the validity of God even though it seemed that way. This time of searching for true answers is quite challenging. At times I would feel guilty and at other times fearful. These feelings were inevitable, for I was in the process of changing my consciousness.
The communion service as a ritual is important in the church. I have no intention of trying to convince anyone, or even the church, to give up the practice. However, I do believe that when we understand the meaning of the symbols that Jesus used and the mystical idea He was trying to communicate to us, we no longer need the symbols or the ritual. I feel that worshipping the symbols as God is a mistake. When we come to the realization that it is, we should do something to correct it so that we can partake of the true communion service about which Jesus told us.
In the Protestant view, the communion service is only a symbolic ritual to remind the people of Jesus, the Last Supper, His crucifixion and resurrection, and of what they mean to salvation. Most use unleavened bread and grape juice in the service. One that I know of uses leavened bread. According to Mark the Last Supper was not the Passover meal; it was the day before, the last day of leavened bread.
The Catholic branch of the Christian church attaches much more meaning to the service. It believes the essence of the bread and wine is actually changed into the body and blood of Jesus. This idea of transubstantiation was bitterly contested and rejected by the Protestants. Both believe, however, that only baptized believers should partake of the service.
We have come to accept the communion service as so inherently Christian that we may be disturbed to discover it didn’t originate with Christianity. We may be further amazed to find that in all probability it was not instituted by Jesus at all, but by Paul.
You may say that Jesus’ statement, “Do this in remembrance of me” is in the Bible; I know those words are there. But I also know, as do many traditional Bible scholars, that there are quite a number of “sayings” of Jesus that it is doubtful He said. If you are interested in a further study of the search for the historical Jesus and what He taught, I would suggest you read the book, Jesus, by Charles Guignebert, Professor of the History of Christianity at the Sorbonne. Professor Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Theological Seminary in New York City says of this book, “There is no book which will give the interested layman a more comprehensive account of what has been written and said about the life of Jesus and a fairer estimate of conflicting evidence.”
Guignebert was a former Catholic priest, who spent a lifetime in the research of religious belief. Toward the end of his life he held the chair of the History of Christianity at the Sorbonne.
In addition you might also want to read Albert Schweitzer’s book, The Quest of the Historic Jesus. Schweitzer did quite an exhaustive study of the Gospels and many books written about them. He states, “We must be prepared to find that the historical knowledge of the personality of Jesus will not be a help but perhaps even an offense to religion.” His conclusion was that there is very little truly historical information in our Gospels about the man Jesus.
Knowing the truth will not destroy our faith and will not depreciate Jesus in any way. Knowing the truth may alter our views about Jesus so that we can truly appreciate Him more. The problem is to learn to separate what Jesus really said from the interpretations of His followers who did not always understand some of the things He said to them.
When we open our minds, we are preparing ourselves for real spiritual growth; we will come to understand the mystical teachings of Jesus and how great they really are.
Now, for the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” These words are used as the authority for the communion service. They are found in Paul’s description of the service as recorded in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter eleven, verse 24. This is the earliest recording of the supper and service. There were no other Gospels at that time; Mark, Matthew, and Luke had not been written. The letter was written to the church at Corinth in 55 A.D., some 29 years after Jesus left. Paul was not at the last supper. He says Jesus appeared to him and told him many things. I question whether Jesus did so, for some important information was wrong and has been proven wrong. Did Jesus tell Paul that He, Jesus, would return again soon? Paul believed and taught this, and yet it did not happen then and hasn’t happened since.
Now let us go to the Gospels and see what they say. The first Gospel written was Mark. Some conservative Bible scholars date it as early as 66-67 A.D., in order to interpret Jesus’ statements about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem as prophecy. However, the more accepted time of writing is after 70 A.D., some 44 years after the time of Jesus.
Keep in mind that there were well-established churches at this time, yet the church had no firm doctrine. Paul mentions in his writings many heresies that he encountered in his travels. People were coming into Christianity and still continuing to practice their former rituals which were considered pagan.
Mark does not mention in his Gospel that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He must have known of Paul’s letter; he knew Paul and worked with him until they split up. Mark, according to non-Biblical Christian teachers, received his information about Jesus from Peter. Mark was not a disciple of Jesus. He may not have even known Him too well, if at all. However, Peter was at the supper, so Mark’s Gospel can be considered the testimony of an eyewitness.
The second Gospel written was Matthew. It too was written well after 70 A.D., probably sometime in the 80’s. Now Matthew was a disciple of Jesus and was present at the supper. However, he doesn’t mention these words.
The third Gospel to be written was the Gospel of Luke, in the late 80’s A.D. We find these words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” in Luke’s Gospel. Yet Luke was not a disciple and he was not present at the Last Supper. Luke was a companion of Paul and he received this information from Paul, who was not there either.
Now we come to the Gospel of John. It was written in the 90’s or maybe even after the turn of the first century. By this time the practice of communion was well established. This would not be a difficult practice to encourage, for many of the people coming into Christianity had practiced a similar service in the pagan religion. Most Biblical scholars attribute a higher level of meaning to John’s Gospel. It is sometimes referred to as the “spiritual gospel”. John was a disciple of Jesus; he was at the Last Supper; he was an eye and an ear witness. You would think that John would want to strengthen this service authoritatively by telling more of the details or at least confirming what was already written and in circulation in the churches. However, John makes no mention whatsoever of the bread or wine or the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” John mentions the Last Supper, but he tells the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, something the others fail to mention.
With this information, we must ask ourselves the question, “Why did John deliberately omit any reference to the bread and wine? Why didn’t he add authoritative weight to what was already being practiced in the churches?”
John probably understood Jesus’ mystical teaching about the bread and wine and the service. He knew they were only symbols. He knew also of the use of these symbols, not only by Christians but also by those whom Christians called “pagans”. He probably knew of the trouble Paul had in dealing with the people at Corinth. Corinth was one of the most immoral cities of its day. Paul describes how they had been eating and drinking at the communion meal. It wasn’t a service as churches have today. It would be more like a covered dish dinner, only they would eat a lot more and drink and get drunk. They probably thought they should have a good time.
In his letter Paul scolds them sternly about this practice; he says, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (I Cor. 11:27) In so many words he is saying they are as guilty as those who killed Jesus; that was strong and probably effective medicine. The force of this passage continues down to the present, as I realized when I received a letter from a lady about it. She was a good person, living a good life, but she thought she might be doing something of which she was unaware that would make her guilty. If she had known the background information, she would certainly see that Paul would never suggest that her life was as corrupt as those of the Corinthians.
Both the pagans, who had a similar ritual, and the Christians have lost the mystical meaning of the communion service. The object of the ritual was to enable the worshipper to establish oneness with the god, to symbolically die and rise again from the dead and have a new life with the god in a new world. This was a well-cultivated theme in many religions of the day. The people believed that by drinking the blood and eating the bread it would be possible to absorb the qualities of the god.
But what is the mystical meaning that Jesus was seeking to convey to us? Communion is union in consciousness with God. It is more than an intellectual thought or a feeling even though these are included. In a moment of union the soul is quickened and we are exhilarated both mentally and emotionally. This is especially true when an individual first begins the practice of communion or silent meditation.
The communion service that Jesus instituted is contained in His words, “When you pray, go within your closet and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret.” Many people reach out in thought and feeling to a god they think is out in space. But the true God, the Source of Creativity and Intelligence, is within you. Of course, God is omnipresent, but your place of contact or communion with Him is within your consciousness. What happens or can happen in a true communion service? The soul can experience a feeling of security and peace even though outer circumstances may seem to indicate turmoil and instability.
The soul, which is always “living, moving, and having its being” in substance is able to reform this substance. This happens every time the individual enters a high state of consciousness; when he goes up on the mount, symbolically speaking, as Moses went up on the mount and received an understanding of the law of cause and effect, and as Jesus often went up on a mount to symbolize His high state of consciousness. In a higher consciousness one must learn to deal with the possibility of using and expressing substance selfishly for personal gain.
Creativity is the ability of the soul to form substance in accordance with a spiritual idea. We sometimes use the word as if it is the bringing of something into existence that did not exist before, such as God creating souls or God creating the universe in the beginning. Creativity has been described as bringing order out of chaos. I don’t believe I would describe unformed substance as chaos; that implies it is a mess. Forming it does not change its character or its essence no matter how many times it is formed and reformed. Reforming does not wear it out or deplete it in any way.
The “bread” Jesus used is symbolic of this omnipresent substance of God. It is the very essence out of which all things are formed, including my body and your body. It is our thought and feeling, our beliefs that give it form. This is why Jesus said, “If you can believe, all things are possible.” Any form is possible.
The “wine” is symbolic of the nature of substance to be quickened or activated on various levels. Life is omnipresent. It is active in various degrees. In metaphysics we have tended to imply there are two essences, one substance and one life, but they are one. This one substance/life essence is very responsive to our thought about it. Thought as used here means feeling and belief.
Although this substance/life essence is unlimited in nature, it can take on the appearance of limitation because of our thought about it. Beliefs such as age, degeneration, wear and tear from use, and germs all have their influence upon the formation of substance, not upon its pure essence, but only on the form.
The belief that there is not enough to go around will also cause it to manifest to the senses as lack and limitation and shortages. All the while it is unlimited; we can never use it up. It can’t be wasted. It isn’t scarce even though we may think it is. One manifestation of it is no more valuable than another manifestation of it, for we are the ones that place values on its appearance. We think gold is more valuable than iron and yet they are both manifestations of the one substance. Our whole system of values will no doubt change when we come into a truly spiritual understanding of substance as Jesus was teaching. He changed the outer forms—water to wine—but He did not change substance.
He was even able to bring into manifestation this substance from its unformed state. He manifested the loaves and the fish. They did not come from a nonexistent state. They were manifestations of substance, a substance that was already in existence, a substance that only needed to be formed by a consciousness that had the “know-how”, and that Jesus had. Our conscious mind is so identified with formed substance that we fail to realize its unlimited character.
Jesus said, “Eat my body and drink my blood.” These were rather startling words for Jews to hear. The Mosaic law prohibited the ingestion of blood. There were special ways of preparing animals for consumption; a part of that preparation was the draining of the blood.
What Jesus is saying is symbolic: to eat is to appropriate in consciousness true ideas about the nature of substance/life. It is to think on a high level of truth about it. To contemplate, consider, and accept ideas of truth is to eat His body.
For example, when I think about my body as being formed of God’s pure and perfect substance, I am eating His body; that is, I am thinking the truth about it. I am doing more than just thinking about the form or the shape; I am thinking about the essence of it and that essence is perfect. It has nothing to do with cells, genes, or heredity for none of these things can affect the form unless I believe in consciousness that they do. When I think the truth about substance/life I am helping myself to experience better health.
Everything we see around us is formed of this perfect substance/life of God. You are using it all the time whether you know it or not. Taking time to have a true communion service will enable your soul to appropriate this substance/life essence in dynamic ways. When you still your intellectual thoughts and your emotions, the creative work of expressing substance on a high level will begin to take place in you and in your life. You will develop a peace and serenity that you have not known before. And better still, your outer life will be transformed before your eyes.
© 1981, Dr. James C. Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.