Recently my wife and I had a conversation about communion while having dinner with friends. It occurred to me that the idea of communion has lost its sense of importance within the American Christian culture. Admittedly there have been times when I have taken the elements of the Lord’s Supper without fully recognizing the significance of the occasion. It is my heart-felt belief that how a person honors God and worships Him is a personal decision. As with any decision a person should at least have a basic understanding of the facts and purpose behind an action. A brief study of scripture can reveal the purpose and importance of communion allowing an individual to make an informed decision on how, when, and why to partake in communion.
The history of communion began at the last meal Christ ate just hours before His crucifixion. The Passover celebration was instituted in honor of events that took place when Moses was sent to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 12:1-28). Every year Passover, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was to be celebrated by the entire Jewish community. The center of the annual Feast of Unleavened Bread was a Passover lamb. Over time certain traditions were incorporated into the celebration that ultimately developed the rituals of Passover meal. Jesus, being a Jew, would have celebrated Passover in the manner customary of the time he lived on earth. One tradition was that during the Passover meal a cup of wine was left on the table that nobody was to drink. This cup was left for the prophet Elijah when he returns. It is easy to imagine the shock when Jesus took ‘the cup’ and passed it to his disciples (Matt. 26:27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:20). It was at that meal the Lord’s Supper was instituted. Communion is one of two ordinances commissioned by Christ, the other is water baptism.
Luke 22:15-20 …”with fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given to you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”
Webster’s dictionary defines ‘communion’ as;
- State of intimacy.
- Christianity, sharing of bread and wine in remembrance of Christ.
The Lord’s Supper calls for thanksgiving, which is eucharista in the Greek and that is where the term “Eucharist” used by some churches originated. It is an opportunity to thank God for all the blessings that are ours because Jesus died on the cross. It is also an opportunity to fellowship first of all, with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and second, with other Christ followers.
Jesus commanded communion to be celebrated at frequent intervals until His second coming. The Lord’s Supper has several values to the past, present, and future. It is commemorative, instructive, and inspirational. It promotes thanksgiving and fellowship; it proclaims the new covenant; and it carries a responsibility.
Communion is commemorative. “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). It is an occasion to ponder the atoning death of Christ, the focal point of all history. It reminds us again of the cost of our redemption from sin and its penalty. It is instructive, the physical elements of bread and wine represent the incarnation of Christ. Consuming the elements is symbolic of the Atonement. When Jesus said “this is my body” and “this cup is the new covenant in My blood,” He meant that the bread and wine represented His body given in death and His blood poured out as a sacrifice on the cross. The Lord’s Supper is inspirational in that we are reminded that by faith we may enter into the benefits of His death and resurrection.
Communion is a solemn occasion that is not to be taken casually. 1 Corinthians 11:26-29 for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in and unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. The apostle Paul proclaimed that a person should “examine himself” prior to receiving communion. This is to remind us to approach the Lord’s Supper in faith, recognizing that we are about to partake of the Lord’s body. When a person examines their life for any rebellion against God, and such a sin exists, that person needs to confess it, turn away from it, and receive forgiveness. Communion is a wonderful time to receive grace. Communion should not be taken by those who refuse to repent and believe.
Taking the elements of bread and wine do not free us from sin, only Christ’s sacrifice on the cross can do that. Partaking in communion is a reminder of the reason we can share eternity with God. If you are a fellow Christian I encourage you to consider how you take the Lord’s Supper. Is it a rote tradition to you or is it a serious occasion? If you have not yet accepted the free gift of salvation please remember there is always room for more at the cross.
Rev. Burt Schwab