When I speak with people about Communion, also known as The Lord's Supper, I often find confusion among God's people. If we are honest, we could all admit that Communion can be a bit disorienting when we are new to the faith or uncertain about its purpose. Maybe you have been around churches for a long time and have grown familiar with Communion. Perhaps you are newer to church and the Christian faith and have found yourself asking one or more of these questions recently.
What is Communion?
Why do churches do it regularly?
Who should participate?
How should we participate?
Remembering Jesus' death by participating in The Lord's Supper is a command from our Lord Jesus and, therefore, an ordinance for the Church. Jesus' Church has observed this ordinance since its foundation! Remembering Jesus' death increases our faith and encourages our souls. Therefore, I have written below on the theology of The Lord's Supper and given practical tips for how you can participate in a way that honors God.
So, what is Communion? Is it that weird moment in the worship service when someone stands up and invites us to eat some not-so-tasty bread that they say represents the body of Jesus, and then instructs us to drink some warm grape juice that reminds us of Jesus' blood? Yup, this is that moment!
We call this eating of the bread and drinking of the juice Communion. This eating of bread and drinking of juice is a powerful moment in our church family because of what it represents. It is highly symbolic of the faith that we believe and proclaim.
All four of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) record what we call the Lord's Supper. See these chapters for more details (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 13-17. John doesn't report the eating and drinking, but the evening and the conversation.
17 The term Lord's Supper is first seen in Paul's writing to the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:20-24). Paul most likely calls it the Lord's Supper because it was already being referred to in this way by the community of Christ-followers. The Lord Jesus instituted the Supper, and its purpose is to remember His death. I highly recommend you read what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. See the passage below:
But in the following instructions, I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,[e] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me." [g] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[h] 31 But if we judged[i] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[j] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers,[k] when you come together to eat, wait for[l] one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. 1Corinthians 11:17-33 (ESV)
During the Lord's Supper, Jesus broke bread, passed it out to His followers, and declared that it represented His body that would soon break for His disciples. He then poured out wine and passed it out to His followers, saying that the wine represents His blood that was about to be poured out for the forgiveness of many. Jesus then invited those who were with Him to eat the bread and drink the wine. Jesus also commanded that his followers continue this practice until His return.
This practice of eating bread and drinking wine or juice is an opportunity to obey Jesus and remember what He has accomplished for us through His death. Participating in The Lord's Supper symbolizes that we have received by faith the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. Jesus died on the cross in our place and for our sins. The gospel can be summed up in 4 words—Jesus in our place.
As best we can tell, the church throughout history has obeyed Jesus' command to take communion together. However, it has not always happened without error. We must be aware of three specific errors before we lead people to observe the ordinance of Communion.
Unregenerate participation - Communion (The Lord's Supper) is for God's people. It is not an act for unbelievers. In history past, churches that have allowed people to participate in Communion without believing the gospel have exchanged the ordinance of remembering for a meaningless religious task. This does not mean that unbelievers must not be present. Contrarily, the act of remembering is to be public. In 1 Corinthians 11:26, Paul says, As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, there is a proclamation of the gospel that takes place when we take communion. However, it is always reserved for those who have received the gospel by grace through faith. We want to talk to you if you have not yet received forgiveness from God for your sins by placing your faith in Jesus Christ. We would love to help you know the love that God has for you.
Compromising the gospel - Throughout church history, there has been a push away from the gospel of grace in every generation. This push away from the gospel often looks like religious actions that must be taken in order to gain or earn more grace from God. Several so-called Christian groups believe that the act of taking communion is a means of earning grace. In other words, they believe that the death of Jesus on the cross was not enough to put them in right standing with God. Therefore, they participate in communion to gain favor or grace from God. Any work of our own to earn anything from God, apart from faith in who Jesus is and what He has done, should be dismissed out of hand as contrary to the gospel.
Irreverence - Paul speaks of the irreverence that was taking place in the Corinthian church. Many were not treating The Lord's Supper seriously. They were coming together for their own selfish gain and were not considering God or one another. Paul says that many of them have fallen asleep (died) because of the way they mocked the Lord's Supper. The point here is that we should not take the Lord's Supper lightly. We must approach it with proper respect. We must examine ourselves before participating in making sure we are believing the gospel and participating with reverence. We should move both joyfully and sincerely toward the Lord's Supper as we realize that everyone who belongs to Jesus is invited to participate.
Practical Tips For Participating In The Lord's Supper:
Remember the gospel - I love to read 1 Corinthians 11:23-36 or Matthew 26:26-29 when I lead a congregation or my family to remember through Communion. Reading these passages helps us to remember. As you prepare your heart for Communion, consider reading one of these passages daily between now and Sunday.
Examine your heart - Examine your heart. Make sure that you are in the faith. Do you believe the gospel? How are you approaching this moment?
Consider Others - Communion is deeply personal, but it is also communal. We are made children of God by faith in the person and work of Christ. In Christ, we are brothers and sisters in the family of God. Therefore, we are not participating in Communion rightly if we only consider what God has done for us individually and fail to realize the new family he has created. The Corinthian church was rebuked by Paul and disciplined by God for their individualistic mindsets and lifestyles. The Corinthians saw to their own needs while neglecting the needs of their brothers and sisters. There will be many people in our congregation on Sunday—some will not know or understand what we are doing. I want to encourage you to take a few seconds and look around the Worship Center on Sunday and see if you can serve someone else. Maybe God will allow you to speak with someone about the gospel—we have lost people in our congregation every week. Perhaps you can lead them to Jesus and then help them participate in their first-ever Communion! On Sunday, you will experience the beauty of joining with other redeemed sinners as we remember the grace of God together one more time!
We look forward to remembering the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with each one of you who has received Him by faith! I invite you to prepare your heart this week for participating in Communion with our church family on Sunday.
Grace and Peace to you,