The Cost of Communion
Does Your Wardrobe Need an Upgrade . . . ?
I was chatting with a Roman Catholic lately. He and his wife were about to go shopping for their 7-year-old granddaughter's first-communion dress. He told me they'd been quoted a price range of anywhere from $70-300! And it’s often the main part of an ensemble, together with a shrug jacket and crown. (Yes, I had to look up “shrug.”)
Taken aback, I asked him, “What about used dresses from older girls or from mothers who saved theirs as a keepsake?”
But according to him, nope: too much competition between parents.
Anyway, the guy told me later the dress topped out at $200.
Ironically, though not a Catholic, I also have to wear a special “communion outfit.” I didn’t just need it for my first communion; I have to wear it 24-and-7. And it’s worth a heavenalot more than $200. In fact it’s priceless.
[God] dressed me in the clothes of salvation. He put the victory coat on me. I look like a man dressed for his wedding, like a bride covered with jewels. [Isaiah 61:10]
That’s the prophet Isaiah poetically describing God’s gift of salvation to those who put their trust in Him. It’s like we’re exposed in our sin and shame, and God covers us with His mercy, so that our sin—though it still exists—is no longer a barrier to having a relationship with Him.
Isaiah puts it beautifully, but the New Testament goes even further, combining the clothing metaphor with a specific Person:
You [believers] have taken off those old clothes—the person you once were and the bad things you did then. Now you are wearing a new life, a life that is new every day. You are growing in your understanding of the one who made you. You are becoming more and more like him. . . . [Jesus] Christ is all that matters, and he is in all of you. [Colossians 3:9-11]
When a person becomes a follower of Jesus, they are in a spiritual sense “wearing” Him as their round-the-clock attire. What this means is that Jesus represents us before God the Father; we’re acceptable to a perfectly righteous God because we’re “clothed” with Jesus’ own righteousness. God accepts the believer like He accepts His own Son.
We commune with God because of that gift of “clothing.”
I have to immediately interrupt myself here, because I can imagine some readers thinking, This sounds like God the Father is a mean-spirited Judge, while Christ is our soft-hearted defender.
The Logic of Salvation
But this overlooks the fact that both the Father and the Son—and with them, God the Holy Spirit—are offended by our sin. All three Members of what Christian theologians call the “Trinity” hate sin equally.
This means there’s a certain logic, an arrangement, to salvation. Although the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all have the same divine nature—among the Three it’s the Father who has the supreme authority. It’s simply a different role from the roles played by the other Two. And because the Father is the supreme authority, He’s the supreme Judge—and therefore it’s His judgment that has to be satisfied.
In order to provide that satisfaction, God the Son took on human nature as Jesus Christ to represent sinners in his death and resurrection. It’s by that means—and only by that means—that the justice of God is satisfied. God is thereby free to treat us as if we’d never sinned without compromising His perfect justice.
The Cost to God
But we shouldn’t think this was a robotic, emotionless business transaction. You don’t click a few buttons at PayPal and download salvation. Communion with God—meaning not a church ritual, but moment-by-moment relationship—cost Him dearly. It cost Jesus the extreme suffering of Roman crucifixion as well as a temporal but crushing separation from His Father—God punishing the God-Man as an enemy (a mystery we’ll never understand). And it cost the Father and the Holy Spirit that same separation, and having to watch Their fellow Godhead Member suffer what he suffered.
The mystery of Matthew 27:46 is worth contemplating all by itself, for a good long time.
But because the Divine wisdom and knowledge is perfect, all Three Members of the Trinity were agreed upon this course of action. It was the only way to save sinners. And so:
The Father sends the Son;
The Son walks the Earth as a normal man—but sinless—and pays for our sins;
The Father, as the Ultimate Judge, accepts that sacrifice and thus welcomes sinners into fellowship with Him;
The Father and the Son both send the Holy Spirit to act invisibly in the world, influencing us and leading us toward faith in Christ and adoption by God, for our ultimate good and the glory of God.
The Believer’s Wardrobe
Earlier I mentioned competition between Catholic parents when it comes to how fancy their children’s first-communion attire is. Jesus once told a parable about a father who would have blown them all away. After his son had treated him like dirt, left home with his dad’s money—and then returned destitute—here’s what happened:
“His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.’ ” [Luke 15:21-22]
That father lovingly, mercifully, graciously established a new communion (relationship) between the two of them by restoring the son to full status as a member of the family. And this was signified, in part, by new clothes. Communion attire.
This is what God offers sinners. You. Me. Everybody.
In fact, God’s been doing this for an awfully long time. He’s been in the “clothing business” since humans first rebelled: “The Lord God used animal skins and made some clothes for the man and his wife. Then he put the clothes on them.” (Genesis 3:21)
These first sinners were both heartbroken and terrified: they had just rebelled against their Creator—and their only Provider—and were getting evicted from the Garden of Eden. God had every right to erase them from existence. But He refrained from doing that. And while He could have sent them out naked into the wild, He mercifully gave them something to wear. But He didn’t just toss some rags at their feet as they were leaving the Garden, and say, “Put those on and get out of My sight.”
No, He made the clothes.
And He clothed them.
This was a small token of the unfathomable mercy of God. That mercy—that grace—becomes the believer’s “wardrobe.” On a line of hangers in our spiritual closet (it’s a luxurious walk-in), we find robes of hope and joy, a superhero power-suit for whatever task God assigns us, and armor against spiritual attacks (which are sure to come). These “outfits” are increasingly real and consistent in the experience of those who more and more consistently trust God, even though on the outside our “clothes”—our ordinary humanness—may be unimpressive.
The Cost to You and Me
Now, what’s the damage for all this fancy apparel? Well . . . nothing. Jesus paid it all at the cross. His death covered all of my sins, and his resurrection life is now mine to enjoy by faith. I simply go to God with my fat lot of nothing, and in exchange He gives me “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” for no other reason than that I’m “united with Christ” through faith.
On the other hand, paradoxically . . .
. . . this costs me everything.
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. . . . And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 9:23; 14:27]
Again, Christianity has logic to it: God isn’t asking you to “pay” Him anything for salvation. He doesn’t need anything from you. You trying to pay Him would be like asking your credit card company for a loan to pay off your credit card bill. Anything you might think to offer God is something you got from Him in the first place.
But the Christian life is God sharing His own life with you—and that life is all or nothing. God basically says to you: “Acknowledge Me as Lord, and I will share Myself with you fully. But I won’t be shared with other ‘gods’ in your life.” God knows He’s worth infinitely more than that.
How do you suppose my wife would react if I asked her to share me with other women? What do you suppose I’d deserve for asking a thing like that??
Now ask yourself: What is deserved by the person who asks God—the Source of all goodness, Who is worth infinitely more than any earthly thing or person—to share them with other gods (stuff you love more than Him)?
The Bible asks much the same question:
For there is no longer any sacrifice that will take away sins if we purposely go on sinning after the truth has been made known to us. Instead, all that is left is to wait in fear for the coming Judgment and the fierce fire which will destroy those who oppose God! What, then, of those who despise the Son of God? who treat as a cheap thing the blood of God's covenant which purified them from sin? who insult the Spirit of grace? Just think how much worse is the punishment they will deserve! [Hebrews 10:26-27, 29]
Understand: God doesn’t want anyone to end up in Hell. And while in literal terms He will eventually judge all who rejected His offer of salvation, and will cast them into Hell—there’s another sense in which unbelievers banish themselves:
The sins of the wicked will trap them. Those sins will be like ropes holding them back. [Proverbs 5:22]
“For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death. [Proverbs 8:35-36]
In that sense, then, the gift of salvation “costs” you everything. In a larger, truer, eternal sense, the “everything” you may have thought you were giving up is all the stuff you won’t be able to keep anyway if you end up in Hell.
God, of course, is fully aware of this, and that is why He refuses to share any part of your heart with other “gods”: stuff you love more than Him. If He were to allow you to keep your false gods, it would mean He couldn’t bless you by giving you Himself fully.
And since all goodness comes from God, and since He promises to give you Himself—salvation is really all gain, no loss.
So, it’s got to be all or nothing.
But if you’re willing to go all in . . .
. . . you’ll get a crown of infinitely greater worth than what’s worn by a little Catholic girl at her first communion. According to the Bible, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
I don’t expect to be wearing a literal crown; I think it’s a metaphor intended to capture, in just a tiny way, “what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) The same goes for other articles of “clothing” the Bible promises to those who entrust themselves to Christ and remain faithful.
The problem, in this life, is that the human mind cannot grasp the glories that await us in Heaven. Even the most vivid imagination cannot do justice to what God has in store for His people. So, the Bible tries to convey the inexpressible reality in poetic and figurative ways.
I leave it up to you to decide just how literal or figurative this heavenly vision is:
Then I looked, and there before me was an open door in heaven. . . . Immediately the Spirit [of God] took control of me, and there in heaven was a throne with someone sitting on it. The one sitting there was as beautiful as precious stones, like jasper and carnelian. . . .
In a circle around the throne were 24 other thrones with 24 elders sitting on them. The elders were dressed in white, and they had golden crowns on their heads. Lightning flashes and noises of thunder came from the throne. . . .
. . . [T]he 24 elders bowed down before the one who sits on the throne. They worshiped him who lives forever and ever. They put their crowns down before the throne and said,
“Our Lord and God!
You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power.
You made all things.
Everything existed and was made because you wanted it.”
One thing is abundantly clear, and I tremble every time when I stop to ponder it: if a literal crown is given to me, it won’t be staying on my head. I’ll be laying it at the feet of the One who really earned that crown; Whose crown it actually is; and Who lovingly shares it with me.
And He and His people will commune forever in glory.
 Not to be outdone, Catholic boys wear snazzy suits for their first communion. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that they’re not typically as expensive as the dresses. That’s kinda par for the course, no?
 See also “Why Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?”
 I’m not presuming “all” Catholics have this attitude. It’s just something the Catholic man I spoke with emphasized from his own experience.
 See also 2 Timothy 4:7-8.
 Or when the Lord Jesus returns—whichever comes first.