The Lord’s Supper.
This meal at the center of Christian worship goes by many different names. Yet, regardless of your tradition Communion is of utmost importance. Some congregations celebrate it weekly, others monthly, and still others less frequently. It begs the question, why communion? Why is this celebration central to the worship of God’s people? Why has it been of such importance?
Communion Protects Against Disunity
The Apostle Paul wrote extensively about the Lord’s Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 10, he is chastising the church about idolatry. As he does so, the Lord’s Supper is central to his teaching. He begins by explaining how communion brings unity to the body.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor 10:16–17)
When we take communion we are announcing our unity with Christ and our unity with the whole body. By taking the cup we are unifying ourselves in his suffering. Eating the bread means that we are uniting with him and the whole church as his body and uniting with him in his incarnation. Communion is a proclamation that says, “I am with Jesus and with his body, the Church!” It is a line in the sand.
*On a side note check out 1 Cor 11:17–22 for more on unity and how it relates to communion. These Corinthians really had a hard time.
Communion Protects Against Idolatry
The context of that little passage in 1 Corinthians above finds itself in the midst of a larger teaching on idolatry. Check out the broader context:
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Cor 10:14–22)
To embrace communion is to set aside the worship of idols. When we take communion rightly it, necessarily, means that we are forsaking all others. Communion is the physical, right here, right now, reminder of the incarnational and transcendant Christ. He really accomplished something on our behalf. What have idols done? Nothing. Why? Because they are nothing. They are simply figments of our imaginations. We declare in communion that we are going to embody loyalty to Jesus and to him alone.
Communion Protects Against Sin
In 1 Corinthians 11 we see the full “words of institution” for the Lord’s Supper. They go like this,
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:23–26)
Paul goes on to say,
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. (1 Cor 11: 27–29)
In many traditions first the words of institution are spoken and then the warning to “examine yourselves.” When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is a time set aside for us to examine ourselves. Is there unconfessed sin? Are we harboring unforgiveness? Have we trusted Christ for forgiveness? The results of taking communion lightly without examining ourselves is to “eat and drink judgment” against ourselves. For those in Christ we must understand that it is not a judgment of exile. Elsewhere Paul makes clear that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. It is a judgment of discipline. We will experience discipline as one who receives it from a loving parent. The Corinthians were so negligent in this that they were getting sick and some even died.
Communion Reminds Us What God Has Done
Finally, communion is the physical reminder of what God has done. He has reconciled the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By the faithfulness of Jesus to God we are ransomed from exile. He reconciles his creation to himself and brings life to those who believe.
Jesus is the God-man. He broke into time and history. He “moved into the neighborhood” and lived among us. To remember the reality of what he has done, we celebrate with physical elements of the cup and bread. The cup is poured out, the bread is broken, and as we partake we are unified with him and one another. It is our time to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” in a very real way.
A Final Thought
Why communion? Ultimately because it draws us into the upper room with Jesus and the disciples on that last night. We find ourselves celebrating with them and yet filled with the same sense of weightiness about the need for the cross. The difference is, that when we take we do so as ones knowing the resurrection and the joy of that reality.
From the beginning of Christianity, communion has been at the center. It is crucial to our worship. Communion calls us to unity, faithfulness, repentance, and awe.