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I’ll be honest. As soon as communion is announced in Church I want to desperately run away. Somehow I have always struggled with communion. I can remember the passing of dry white bread and the sharing of a big silver cup full of wine in deadly silence through the church pews when I was a child. For me, it was a sign of exclusivity and observing the other hundreds of people, sitting in silence, as I was secretly hoping they would loudly drop the cup on the cold floor tiles of the church.
Solemn, in a word.
However, for Jesus communion was important enough to introduce in His last moments of His life on earth at the Passover meal with the disciples, an important moment in Israel's calendar. (Luke 22:19) For Luther at the start of the Reformation is was a crucial point of debate, firstly with the Catholics and then in debate with Zwingli and others. The Catholic Mass is centered around the Eucharist (a different word for the same practise) and most of the Church worldwide would call it a sacrament, which Augustine defines as “visible signs of an invisible reality”. Church history is full of division about this while Scripture calls it to be an act of unity. Firstly with Christ (1 Cor. 11:27) and with others (v. 20-22). If there is anything I’ve learnt, it is that the enemy doesn’t bother dividing anything that is not powerful. Paul even says to the Church in Corinth that some have become ill or died because of inappropriate use of communion. Jikes! (1 Cor. 11:29-30)
If anything, I’m writing this article for myself, because clearly it is important, and recently I have started to discover the beauty of this sacrament. This is a massive subject and there is much more to say about it, but here are some things to remind ourselves of when celebrating communion.
Communion reminds of us the death of Christ
“When we tear the bread and pour the wine, we don’t do it to show God how serious we are about Him. We do it to be shocked afresh at how serious God is about us.”
Joshua Ryan Butler, The Pursuing God
Jesus said: “Do this in remembrance of me”. I recently did a bit of a study on gratitude and remembering God’s goodness and faithfulness. It was remarkable to me how often God reminded the Israelites to “remember”. God warns his people not to forget that He led them through the wilderness (Deut 8), that He delivered them from their enemies (Judg. 8:34), to look at their beginning (Isa. 51:1). Israel forgot His works (Ps. 106:13), that He is their Saviour (v. 21) and the abundance of His steadfast love (v.7). A whole generation forgets what the Lord had done for Israel after Joshua died (Judg. 2:6) and we can go on and on.
It is our job to remember! Interestingly Israel didn’t always forget God, but often they forgot His wondrous works. This often happens to me when I’m not feeling great. I don’t forget God, but I do forget His faithfulness and goodness. When Jesus is telling us to remember His body broken for us and the covenant of His blood, He is asking us to remember how good our Father is to us to sacrifice His own Son. This is not a time simply to be solemn, this is a time of awe and exuberant thanksgiving that this love conquered everything. As Joshua Ryan Butler says so well: “We do it to be shocked afresh at how serious God is about us”
Aside from celebrating communion, why don’t you make it a habit to thank God for five things in your day. You will be transformed by the renewing of your mind. It is not our circumstances that define us, but the faithfulness of God.
Communion reminds of our union in Christ
“Likewise, the Lord’s supper is a sign of our ongoing union with Christ. In taking the Lord’s Supper, we commune with the living Christ and his body (1 Cor 11:27). It is no accident that the observance of the Lord’s Supper (communion) is most often called communion. The Bible is saying that the Lord’s Supper doesn’t merely remind us of a gift, it is a gift. And that gift is nothing less than Christ himself. As Christ says, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). What the signs of bread and wine (or juice) represent, they also present - the real spiritual presence of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace whereby Christ feeds our faith, nourishes our souls, and gladdens our hearts. He strengthens our union with him beyond what we can comprehend.”
Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ
Wow, isn’t that beautiful. Communion doesn’t only remind us of what happened at the cross, it reminds us of our union with Christ. We live in a totally different world now because His body was broken and His blood was poured out for us. Sealed by the Holy Spirit, we are totally one with Him, seated in heavenly places. Heaven is where the Presence of God is, that’s what makes heaven heaven. We now dwell in that reality with every breath that we take. Our communion with Him is constant, not distant, but close and intimate. Just after this communion meal, Jesus prays this in the garden of Gethsemane in front of the disciples:
“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
Reminding us of Jesus’ mission, (comm)union with Him.
Communion reminds us of being the Body of Christ
In 1 Cor 11 where Paul instructs the Corinthian church, he clearly draws out the need to celebrate communion together and not forget each other. Communion is not a private matter, it was clearly instated for the Body of Christ (the Church) to enjoy and strengthen each other. The message is not only to not forget God, but also not to forget each other. As we aim to build family together it is good to remember that the Gospel is a corporate Gospel and when we feast on God’s goodness together, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26). Look at that John 17 passage again. This is Jesus’ dream: “That they may all be one”. Let’s not only celebrate God, but each other as well. When Scripture talks about “Christ in you”, a better translation comes from our Southern American friends, which is “Christ in y’all”. Union is in intrinsically corporate truth.
We are not taking communion to show Jesus we’ll be faithful to him; I’m celebrating the fact that Jesus is faithful to me. Jesus invites us to drink deeply from his life and to feast together upon His love, for it is He who makes us whole.”
Joshua Ryan Butler, The Pursuing God
There is power in communion. At King’s Arms we have a high expectation of encountering the living God through worship songs, as we declare His goodness. However, should we not at least be as expectant to encounter God in something that Jesus himself instructed us to do? The exact nature of the power of communion is highly debated, but I’ll leave you with the words of John Calvin, “Nothing remains but to break forth in wonder at this mystery… it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And to speak more plainly, I rather experience it than understand it.”