Is it really supper?!
In this final week of the Rhetoric series, we focus on another word that you’d rarely hear in conversation outside a church setting … Communion. There’s a few other names it goes by, like, Lord’s Supper, Eucharist and The Breaking of Bread. For those who might have wondered how a person who plays the ukulele ended up on that list, that person is actually a ukurist (which is not really a word, but more like a really bad attempt at a joke). The most biblically correct of those terms is the Lord’s Supper, but Communion is really not a supper. Actually, in the history of the ancient church, the practice of communion looked a lot like supper at one point, but that’s what happens many times when man “translates” what God tells us to do.
Communion was born from something Jesus did, at then commanded his disciples continue doing, during the last meal He shared with them before He died on the cross. Towards the close of their time together, Jesus stood up and took a loaf of bread and tore it into pieces that He shared with the disciples. As the pieces were passed around, Jesus said, “Take it, for this is my body.” (Mark 14:22b NLT) Jesus then took a cup of wine, thanked God for it, and passed it around for all to drink from, saying, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many.” (Mark 14:24 NLT) In doing these things, Jesus established a new “covenant” or contract with those who believed in Him that replaced the old one. The old one was a system established by God with the nation of Israel in the days of Moses. The old covenant was a system based on obedience to the Ten Commandments and the practice of animal sacrifice (the blood of a lamb) as a payment for breaking a command(s). In this intimate scene with His disciples, Jesus replaced the old covenant with a new one; a new one where He is the lamb whose blood was offered as the payment for their (and our) sin.
The church has language of its own. This is the premise we’ve explored in this Rhetoric series. The church also has a way of being when we get together to worship. Some things are common, no matter what “type” of church you visit, but many things are not. The great majority of those things are what we would consider “traditions;” things man created as conditions or ornaments of worship. God never specifically said that we should sing when we get together, but I’ve never been in a church or expect you’d find a church where singing wasn’t a part of their time together. In some churches the pastor wears a formal garment, and most churches I’ve ever been to have a cross displayed in a prominent or noticeable place — but all of those things are traditions. Traditions can be good, but they can also take on a life of their own and turn into something which is not rooted in the truth of scripture and becomes a needless “rule” or practice that doesn’t have anything to do with following Jesus or worshiping God.
That happened to the church in Corinth in their practice of Communion. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to them, a specific section of which was a correction of what he saw as an abuse of the practice of the Lord’s Supper (Communion). They had turned the Lord’s Supper into a family supper. There was bread and wine, but it had stopped being an occasion to remember what Jesus had done for them. Listen to Paul’s words from his letter to the Corinthians…
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NIV)
With these words, Paul is reminding the Corinthian church of what Jesus actually said and what the practice of Communion really is. The Lord’s Supper is not just an occasion to break bread with other Christians; it is not an opportunity to satisfy someone’s physical need of hunger. Those are both good and right things, but they ARE NOT what Jesus said or what He means for Communion to be. Let me be clear as Paul was clear … Communion is an essential practice instituted by Jesus himself to remember what He did for us until He comes back for us.
How it’s done
So, maybe you’ve been to church before or maybe you’ve been in church all your life; maybe you’ve observed Communion before, or maybe you’ve participated, and maybe you’re still not really sure how it’s supposed to work. I mean, you get the whole eat the cracker and drink the grape juice thing, but when you look around, sometimes you see people bowing their heads, sometimes you see them closing their eyes. Is this what you’re supposed to do, and what are people doing while their heads are bowed and/or eyes are closed? Paul continues in verse 28…
Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.
It’s really simple, but it’s really important. Communion is for people who believe in Jesus and before they consume what Jesus says are elements of His body and His blood, it is important to take some time to examine your heart and life; take time to evaluate and confirm with the eating and drinking that your heart, mind and life are genuine in your belief and your faith. This is not a casual thing, and this time of reflection and examination is important.
What’s the big deal?
So, why is this so important? What is so serious about a cracker and a tiny cup of juice?
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 11:27, 29-30 (NIV)
Yeah, it’s that important. Taking part in Communion, eating the cracker and drinking the juice, it means something. That “unworthy” manner that’s mentioned in the first verse … that’s taking part in Communion if you’re not a genuine and true believer in Jesus. The ramifications for taking part insincerely or lightly? … You sin against the very body and blood of Jesus. Yeah, it’s that important. Paul goes on to say some pretty heavy things about the judgment that comes as a result of being insincere in Communion. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (and in case you’re wondering, that “fallen asleep” thing is mentioned many times in the Bible and every time it is, it means “death”)
It’s a beautiful thing
So now that some of you are totally-never-ever going to even touch the Communion tray ever again in your lives … it’s important to bring this back to the beauty and wonder in this essential thing we call Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Jesus endured more pain and grief than we could ever fathom, and He did it willingly to rescue us! It is a beautiful thing to get quiet for a few minutes with each other and within ourselves to remember what He did for us. In doing it, we are obeying His direct and real words to proclaim His death until He comes.
Communion is not about church tradition. It is not about individual serving size cups or a shared cup. It is not about bowing your head or closing your eyes. It is all about Jesus. It is all about remembering. It is all about the sincerity and genuineness of our belief and faith. It is all about proclaiming His death until He comes again.
If you don’t believe, we would love for you to come and see what this is all about. If you don’t believe, we would love the opportunity to show you the love of Jesus in who we are and what we do. And if/when you believe, we would love to share His body and His blood alongside you and proclaim to the world that Jesus died for us, and He died for them too!