Communion is a beautiful word, although it have several meanings within Christianity. Here I am speaking about what is also called the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, and other names. It is a very important rite of the Christian church, generally considered to be a re-enactment of "the Last Supper," the final meal that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. Less widely known is the potential spiritual significance it can have on us.
Names and Their Origin
Eucharist, from Greek εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), means "thanksgiving". The verb εὐχαριστῶ, the usual word for "to thank" in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament, is found in the major texts concerning the Lord's Supper, including the earliest:
"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, 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." (1 Corinthians 11:23-24)
The Lord's Supper (Κυριακὸν δεῖπνον) comes from 1 Corinthians 11:20-21:
"When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk."
Communion is a translation; other translations are "participation", "sharing", "fellowship"of the Greek κοινωνία (koinōnía) in 1 Corinthians 10:16. The King James Version says:
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16).
This re-enactment of "the Last Supper" is performed because Jesus commanded us to re-enact it when he said at "the Last Supper,"do this in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:24). As you can see, there are several verses which talk about this, so it is not merely a tradition but a very Biblical practive, rich in purpose and symbolism.
One of the purposes of communion is clearly to promote unity and fellowship (community). It is sharing a meal with other believers which was intended to be a bonding experience (1 Corinthians 11:20-21, 33). This is believed to have started in the Old Testament with the meals and in the New Testament, Jude 12 and 2 Peter 2:13 refer to "love feasts" where they ate together. Add to that, in communion, they are remembering some of the final words and the death Christ. They are remembering the purpose of the body and blood in the death of Christ.
Another purpose of communion is to provide a time of self-examination. This is explained in 1 Cor 11:27-31:
27"Therefore, 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. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment."
Communion is also a tradition that "proclaims the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). Because Christ's death on the cross is central to Christianity and our relationship to God, it is very important that we recognize and proclaim it. Without Christ's death on the cross, we cannot have fellowship with God, for He is perfect and we are full of sin. It was Christ's death and perfect sacrifice that allows us to have relationship with God through the sacrifice for our sins. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation. God always required a sacrifice because sin is so serious. Sin costs us life and communion helps us to recognize that as we receive from the "Bread of Life" (John 6:32-33, 35, 48-51). Jesus later said:
53"Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever" (John 6:53-58).
Finally, I would add that I believe, along with many others, that there is something spiritual that happens when we receive communion. When we read what Christ said above, this is clear. I don't believe A christian has to have communion to go to heaven (the thief on the cross sure didn't) but I believe that it brings us into greater unity with God and alters us spiritually, and even possibly physically (e.g. our DNA).
As you can see, communion is a very serious and important rite of the Church. It is much more than simply sharing a meal with another Christian, it is participating in something Jesus commanded us to do, it unites us with Christ, it's something that caused people to get sick and die when it was "without recognizing the body of the Lord," and Paul said it "proclaims the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).
© Todd Tyszka
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