Communion has been celebrated by virtually every branch of Christianity over the last 2000 years. Some call it the Eucharist, others the Lords Supper, and others Communion. It is a ceremony that both unites and divides Christians. It expresses our common faith in Jesus Christ; yet, at the same time, various aspects of the ceremony have caused enormous controversy; for example: when should it be celebrated, who should administer it, who should take part, what type of bread and wine or juice should be used and what happens to the bread and wine when it is blessed and then eaten? In the midst of the controversy, it is easy to get side tracked from the central message of the celebration—Jesus’ sacrificial death.
Communion is fundamentally all about Jesus.
Focusing on Jesus helps us avoid being distracted by side issues. Jesus instituted communion as a way for his disciples to remember his death and sacrifice. At its core, communion is a celebration, remembrance and proclamation of Christ’s death. It reminds us, and declares to those partaking, that Christ was with us, Christ died for us and Christ is now alive working in us. We read about the way Jesus described communion and the meaning he gave it in three of the gospels: Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; and Luke 22:19-20; and also in one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (2 Cor 11). For this study we will focus on the description of the Lord’s supper in Luke.
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”. (Luke 22:14-20)
From this passage we see the following:
Communion was initiated during the Jewish Passover celebration
And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)
The Passover meal was celebrated every year by the people of Israel to remember their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt (Exodus 12). In his last supper with his disciples, Jesus symbolically reinterprets many of the elements of this meal to convey a deeper understanding of the purpose of his death to his disciples. Just as God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, so Jesus’ sacrificial death brings us deliverance from the slavery of sin. An excellent resource that highlights other connections between Passover and the Lords supper can be found here.
Communion was a time of blessing and giving thanks
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.”(Luke 22:17)
During the traditional Passover a number of cups of wine are symbolically drunk together. The first is called the cup of blessing. At his last supper with his disciples, Jesus took this cup and gave thanks.
The word Eucharist means thanks-giving. This is why communion is called Eucharist in some Christian traditions. Communion reminds us of the blessing we have received in Christ and that is something for which we can give thanks!
Unleavened bread was broken representing Jesus body
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
In Exodus, the children of Israel are told to only eat unleavened bread during the time of Passover. All leaven had to be cleaned out of their house. Leaven represents sin (1 Cor 5:7). Jesus broke unleavened bread at Passover signifying the sacrifice of his sinless life on our behalf. Bread is a source of life and sustenance. Jesus described himself as the bread of life (John 6:48). Spiritually speaking when we believe in Jesus, we partake of his sinless life; and with Christ in us, we live forever.
A cup of wine was shared together representing Jesus blood
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20)
Traditionally in the Passover meal, the participants drank another cup of wine called the cup of redemption. It is a reminder of the blood of the unblemished lamb that was sacrificed by each family on the night the Israelites escaped from Egypt (Ex 12). If the blood of this lamb was painted on the doorposts of an Israelite home, the angel of death passed them by. The communion cup represents the blood of the Lamb of God—Jesus (John 1:29). His sacrifice takes away the sin of the world and preserves us from death and righteous judgment for our sin which we all deserve. It is a cup of redemption because the blood of Jesus paid the price for our salvation.
Communion is a symbol of the New Covenant
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”. (Luke 22:20)
Communion is best understood within biblical concept of covenant. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. It was usually solemnised with various seals and signs. Covenants were common in the ancient world and God used this cultural practice when he made binding promises and required serious commitments from his people. Some of the symbols of ancient covenants included:
- Animals being sacrificed
- Recitations of blessings and curses
- Covenant meals.
Using the symbols and pictures of Old Testament covenants, Jesus instituted a new covenant in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (Jeremiah 31:31-34). However, in contrast to the Old Testament covenant of works, this new covenant is unconditional and undeserved. It is a covenant of grace made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus’ actions at the last supper thus drew on important elements of biblical symbolism to convey divine truth. Image and symbolism is important in communicating truth. As human beings we have multiple senses. Our brains are wired to receive information through, sight, taste, touch and action along with hearing. Because of our multi-sensory perception we remember best when information is provided to us in multiple forms. Listening to a sermon is one way of remembering God’s word through our sense of hearing. In communion, however we are invited to participate in a symbolic drama that communicates truth through sight, sound, taste, touch and our own active participation. All our senses are involved in this divine drama that communicates eternal truth. This active participatory drama can have a powerful impact in people’s lives as they remember Christ’s sacrifice together.
This is my body broken for you
Article by Andrew Chisholm of Citylife Church
Citylife Church is a multi-site congregation across Melbourne with the mission is to raise up fervent followers of Jesus Christ who will reach out and impact communities, cities and nations for the kingdom of God. The original article was written as a life group study, which contains discussion questions and some common questions about communion. For further information please refer to original article here.
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