What is Communion?
For someone growing up in the general evangelical, baptist-ish, non-denominational, background, the Lord’s Supper (or The Lord’s Table, or Communion), is a part of church that probably doesn’t mean all that much. Most Christians with that background (such as myself) would define Communion as, “a way to remember what Jesus did on the cross.”
The definition isn’t wrong, but I think we can go deeper. With communion we can fall into the trap of going through the motions of a religious activity while losing sight of its spiritual value. Like all things in the Christian life, we want to move deeper from exterior activity to interior transformation. If we fail to move deeper, we will miss out on the riches of a God-ordained means of grace that was given, like prayer and preaching, for our joy and benefit.
Communion really does mean something
We see the importance of The Lord’s Supper leaping off the pages of the New Testament. In Acts 2, we see that the early church “devoted themselves” to the breaking of bread (it’s mentioned alongside prayers, apostle’s teaching, etc.). The apostles and the first generation of Christians valued the Lord’s Supper highly. As with many things, we would be wise to heed the example of the people that walked alongside Christ for the years of His earthly ministry. Among the items of the list of early church “devotions,” Communion is the only practice that we often relegate to a few times a year or once a quarter. Thank goodness we don’t do the same with singing, reading scripture, preaching, or prayer.
When Jesus instituted The Lord’s Supper He said it was His body, His blood, and the institution of the new covenant (Luke 22:14-23). The importance of this is reinforced in passages such as 1 Corinthians 11 in the painstaking instructions that Paul gives. The New Testament clearly evidences that God takes Communion seriously—by example, Jesus’s own institution, and by the inclusion of inspired instructions from the Apostles—and we should take it seriously as well.
Feasting at the table
For most of us, we ought raise our appreciation of Communion to match the value God places on it. This doesn’t mean we view communion as a magical meal where we mystically become more holy merely by eating some bread. The Lord’s Supper is not a magic trick, it is an act of worship (as with all other acts of worship) meant to be done in faith, not merely done in exterior ritual.
When Communion is done in faith we see it as an avenue to be drawn to deeper communion with our Savior. The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 has an excellent passage on it:
The supper of the Lord was instituted by him the same night he was betrayed. It is to be observed in his churches to the end of the age as a perpetual remembrance and display of the sacrifice of himself in his death. It is given for the confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits of Christ’s death, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, and their further engagement in and to all the duties they owe him. The supper is to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Christ and each other.
LBCF, Chapter 30, Modern English (emphasis mine)
Communion is given as an act of worship for our benefit. It is given to confirm and encourage our faith, spiritual growth, and engagement of obedience to His mission. The very name ‘Communion’ is meant to bring to mind how Christ’s sacrifice brought us into intimate community with Himself and fellow Christians. We can begin to appreciate communion in this way (reflected by the 1689 confession) when we see how the Lord’s Supper creates space for three important acts of worship to take place. This is how we ought approach the Lord’s Table.
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
— 1 Cor. 11:28-29 ESV
The next time you take Communion, stop and pray that God would open your eyes to sin in your life. Honestly and seriously take your sin to God. See the table as a physical demonstration of the cost of your sin for which your Savior graciously suffered. Ask for forgiveness and the grace to live obediently in this moment before partaking.
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 Cor. 11:23-24 ESV
The Lord’s Supper is a time for thanksgiving. After remembering the sin debt we owed, we remember that the sin debt was paid. This grateful remembrance transforms our hearts to be ready to rejoice in the grace of God. The supper is a physical reminder of the willingness of God to graciously cover our sin. The table is a tangible way to give thanks that the Father would send the Son, and that Jesus would die in our place. We have a chance to give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith and seal us until God brings us home.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
— 1 Cor. 11:26 ESV
Communion is a God-ordained object lesson. The Lord’s Supper is a time of proclamation. The Lord’s Table is a sermon—a visible preaching of the good news. It is preaching where the whole congregation steps into the pulpit to speak. Communion is a message to ourselves, to one another, and to the world.
Let’s not relegate an act of God’s worship to twice a year or to lower importance in our minds or schedules. Let’s take the blessing of Communion for what it is: a visible act of worship to call us to repentance, thanksgiving, and proclamation.
When you go to the table, think like this:
Just as this bread and wine sustains my physical body, remind my soul that you, Lord, sustain my spirit.
Just as the bread is broken, may I remember that I broke your law, but Jesus broke His body for me, though the law he never broke.
May the wine remind me of the blood spilled, that I deserved to spill, but never will, because he has spilled all of his for me.
Remind me that my sin had a cost, that this cost was paid, and that I need to tell others this good news.
(Loosely adapted from a prayer in the valley of vision).
The London Baptist Confession of Faith in Modern English from Founders Ministries
The Lord’s Supper as a means of Grace by Richard Barcellos
The Lord’s Supper: For Sinners by Joe Thorn
The Lord’s Supper (book) by Tom Schreiner and Matthew Crawford
Valley of Vision from Banner of Truth