A while ago, I had the opportunity to talk about Communion in house church. With the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter, it seemed fitting to do a communion service. As to what I said, I figured I’d write the general gist for those of you who might be curious or who missed out on the fun of that evening. The talk started with a discussion about what communion is. Depending on your background, you might have heard it labeled “the Lord’s Supper” or the Eucharist and as a practice it stems from Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before His crucifixion. Confirmed by the Gospels, this supper was the passover meal which proves to be interesting because Jesus takes specific elements from the Jewish feast and applies them directly to Himself. In truth, there is a lot more of the passover meal that points to Jesus then just this one part (but we are going to limit our discussion for the time being). The first passage from the Bible we are going to look at is Matthew 26:26-30:
26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 26:27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 26:28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 26:29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 26:30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Essentially, as you can see from the aforementioned passage, communion involves the giving of thanks to God for bread and wine, recognizing what those elements mean in the context of Christ and then sharing them together around the dinner table. We could pull more from these verses but I really want to take a look at both the why we do it and the how we do it which is fleshed out elsewhere in the New Testament. As such, we’ll now turn to 1 Corinthians starting in chapter 10 and continuing into 11. In these chapters, Paul is addressing specific concerns regarding the sharing of the bread and cup among the Corinthian church. To start things off here we are going to look at why we do it. In chapter 10, vs 16-17:
10:16 Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread.
Two primary reasons for communion are found here: it is a direct sharing in the body and the blood of Christ and in this sharing we are united with Him as one. As for the first, it’s an opportunity to set aside a moment and remember Christ’s life, what He did and how and why He died. Partaking the elements of who He was (His body and blood) directly links us up with Him and allows us in some fashion to share in His life, death and resurrection as we reflect on it. Whereas the first reason applied more individually, the second applies corporately. To flesh it out, the model prayer for giving thanks for the bread sums things up better than I could:
As this broken bread was scattered upon the hills and gathered together and became one loaf, so may Your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom. (from the Didache)
I love this prayer because it so succinctly paints the picture: a loaf of bread is formed by the coming together of scattered grains from all over the countryside; likewise the church is formed by those of us partaking of the body of Christ and coming together to form a united “loaf” in the coming kingdom.
There is a third “why” to communion as well: it is an opportunity to hope for his return. In the passage from Matthew discussed earlier, Jesus says that He will not share this cup with us directly again until He returns (v29). And so, as we partake and remember and enter into what He has done, and are united, we also long for that time where once again Jesus sits and sups with His bride.
The final bit I talked about this evening is the “how” we do it. As far as “how” is concerned I’m talking about the state of our hearts more than anything else. And I’m not just talking about our individual hearts, but our heart as a community as well. To the individual response we turn first. When considering it, we need to keep in mind a couple of things the first being that we can’t share at the table of both Christ and demons. Sharing in the body of Christ is publicly picking who we choose to serve. It’s confessing “Jesus is Lord!” above all others. 1 Cor 10:21-22 says:
10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take part in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 10:22 Or are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we really stronger than he is?
Paul is referring here to the partaking of sacrificial meat of false gods. In our time, because we don’t do the sacrifices, it’s more of a recognition of Jesus alone. Not Muhammad, Buddha, Shiva or any other name a person might proclaim. This also singles out any idols that might be vie-ing for our hearts attention (such as individualism, consumerism, materialism, political freedom, etc). It must be Jesus only. And I harp on the “Jesus alone” because it’s quite important. Even acknowledging other idols or gods is a direct provocation of God’s jealousy. If you look at the scope of Israeli history, provoking God’s jealousy isn’t something to be done lightly or without consequence. The language of the prophets is harsh in dealing with Israel in the eyes of a Jealous God (exile, enslavement, genocide all come to mind when thinking back to the stories in the prophets).
There is another important bit to keep in mind as far as our individual hearts are concerned, and that is what they actually look like. Coming to the table of Christ with a heart darkened by sin, shame and any other sort of evil is strongly discouraged by Paul for a pretty straightforward reason: we eat and drink judgement upon ourself by showing ourselves guilty of the body and blood of Christ. That sounds harsh, I realize but look at 1 Corinthians 10:27-32:
11:27 For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 11:28 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 11:29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 11:31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 11:32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.
As I sat and meditated on this, the only conclusion I could come to is that a broken heart is the state required. This should be the result of careful examination. We all have sin, shame and evil inside that we need to be giving completely over to him, letting His blood wash us clean. This is what purifies us, making us righteous and worthy to approach the table of Christ. At this time of communion especially, if we are unwilling to recognize and do this and give it all over to God, Paul says in a fairly commanding voice “It’s on your hands!” Rather than being a worshipper at Jesus’ feet, we are like the soldier throwing the spear into His side on the cross.
That pretty well covers the state of our individual hearts. Next we need to look at our corporate heart (as the body of Christ). We need to keep in mind that Communion is something that we do together. It’s not something that I just do on my own because I can, but it’s an intentional coming together of the body in remembrance of Christ. As I’ve already shown, one of the reasons we even do communion is for the unification of the body. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that communion isn’t something that we can do with division in our midst. Paul addresses this specifically in chapter 11:
11:17 Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 11:18 For in the first place, when you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 11:19 For there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident. 11:20 Now when you come together at the same place, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper. 11:21 For when it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper. One is hungry and another becomes drunk. 11:22 Do you not have houses so that you can eat and drink? Or are you trying to show contempt for the church of God by shaming those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I will not praise you for this!
This was a big issue to the Corinthians. Within that body there existed the problem of class warfare. The well-to-do were completely gorging themselves on the meal while the less fortunate in their midst where left with the scraps. The best metaphor I can think of at the moment is that of a potluck, but a potluck where you only get to eat according to what you bring. If all you can afford is a small side, that’s all you’re going to be able to take part of. If you can’t afford to bring anything, well, then you’re pretty much out of luck. Paul makes it pretty clear that any division like this isn’t of Christ at all. We need to be united and share in this together. I realize the example given here concerns classes (and isn’t something that necessarily affects our body) but it covers any sort of division, whether it be hardness in my heart towards a group of people, an unwillingness of some of us to accept leadership, the formation of cliches that lock people out or deciding to eat together but then going our own ways (like at solemn assembly). I’m not saying that any of this exists but we do need to be mindful of division however it might exist as we come as one to the table of Christ.
And with that we have a brief glimpse into what communion is, why we do it, and what our hearts need to look like as we approach the table of Christ.