Communion, known traditionally as the Eucharist, is a traditional rite of remembrance from the Lord’s Supper, the last time of fellowship with His disciples before Christ embraced the suffering of His death. Many Christians practice this rite, and because Scripture gives no direction on how often to perform the rite, there are great differences from church to church, denomination to denomination.
These differences are acceptable as traditions, seen as different ways in which people celebrate the Eucharist. Other differences exist, but that is not the purpose of this writing. This writing is really about WHY we continue this tradition and the three main purposes for it. Let’s talk about them!
It is no surprise, (to me anyway) that the Apostle Paul’s recounting of the Lord’s Supper comes on the heels of the 1 Corinthians 11 narrative of head coverings, in which he [Paul] ends the discourse by saying, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” (1 Cor 11:16, ESV)
Some have construed this statement to be ‘we have no practice of being contentious‘, but that is not the meaning of Paul’s words as many commentators and scholars agree, and truly it would be a silly statement if it was his intent (who has a church practice of being contentious?) – but rather it is to say, in regards to the Head Covering argument that this was not a universal commandment for the Church of God, that is, the veil covering practiced in the Corinthian culture of the time.
The application to this conversation is that he then goes on to recount the Lord’s Supper, and in such a fashion as to say the way in which they had been following the tradition was dishonoring to the memory of Christ and to the three-fold purpose of it, which becomes highlighted in Paul’s writing below:
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.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. ~ 1 Corinthians 11:23-27, ESV
While there is no ‘commandment’ to the Church of God how often, on what day, and in what particular fashion Communion was to be done, Paul gave us a clear instruction that it could be twisted by man’s traditions and thereby be dishonoring to God.
So what was the three-fold purpose of Communion found in Jesus’ example and the writings of Paul?
“This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
In taking Holy Communion, in a way which is honoring to Christ, we remember the body that was bruised for our transgressions, the blood that was shed for our condemnation. We remember the sacrifice of Sinlessness that became our atonement.
As Paul wrote in Romans, “By the One Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) We have the freedom in Christ because of Christ and the Holy Communion is a way for believers to remember this and to continue walking in a manner worthy of that sacrifice.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Communion is as much a reminder of what was as what is to be! We look again to the return of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the Saints and the ushering in of peace, joy, and unity in Him.
It is on that day when we dwell evermore with the Lord, that the tradition of Eucharist will be done away with, no longer needing to remember the body that was broken, for we will glorify Him in our eternal bodies. We will have gained the fullness of our inheritance and be glad in it.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”
Communion is also a time of introspection. Are we honoring Christ in the practice? Have we turned it into a tradition for our own benefits as we see in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, eating, and drinking, while others go hungry, unable to commemorate Christ?
We must always practice this tradition in a way that is honoring to God and Christ, not to man, our own stature, or position or prosperity. If we do that, we drink to ourselves guilt concerning the well-being of the Body of Christ, His Bride, whom all saints are charged with caring for until His return.
In looking back, we remember the finished work of Calvary and rejoice in it, remaining sober and grateful for His sacrifice. And we look again to the glorious return of Christ when we gain our inheritance of eternal joy and communion with Him. And looking inward we inspect ourselves and how we are caring for our neighbor, being sure to put their needs above our own – for, after all, that was the act of the Cross!