I have recently been asked by some of the team at Christ Church Manchester to do some thinking about communion. Whilst we have very similar views about communion across our sites, sometimes the outworking of this has been a bit different from one site to the next. In this process of working through exactly what our shared values and bandwidth for practice are, we are asking five questions that may be helpful to you as you too work through what you think of communion.
In this post we look at four responses to the first of these questions: WHY do we do communion?
Because Jesus Told Us To – On its own this would be reason enough. On the night before he died, Jesus gathered his disciples and shared the Last Supper with them. During the meal he symbolically interpreted the breaking of bread as representing the breaking of his body and the cup of wine as representing the new covenant in his blood. After giving them the bread, he instructed them to ‘do this in remembrance of me,’ and likewise after taking the cup of wine he instructed them to ‘do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ In the practice of the early believers it seems this was interpreted in a straightforward way and Acts 2 reports the early church being devoted to, among other things, ‘the breaking of bread,‘ which included breaking bread in their homes. From the Corinthians church, we can see that this also included sharing the Lord’s Supper as they gathered as a church.
It Is a Means of Grace – In John 6, Jesus describes himself as the ‘Bread of Life’ and says that it is those who feed on his flesh and drink his blood that will inherit eternal life. In one sense this is about the whole of the Christian life, drawing spiritual nourishment from Christ, but the way it is expressed in terms of bread and wine also clearly points to communion. Through the physical act of taking the bread and wine we are participating in more than just a memorial: we are being nourished spiritually. Taking communion is one way that God uses to spiritually nourish us with his presence.
It Is a Participation in the Body – In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul speaks of the breaking of bread as the participation in the body of Christ. In a world that tends to individualise many things, including worship, there is something profound in a symbol that regularly shows us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Communion is something that has been shared by believers all around the world for the last 2,000 years and it is a powerful symbol of our unity in the church.
It Centres the Cross – According to 1 Corinthians 11:26, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Done rightly, communion speaks of the cross, and as we do communion in our gatherings it ensures that there is a moment in the service in which we intentionally turn our focus to the cross. This is helpful both for Christians and non-Christians alike as the cross is the centrepiece of the gospel and the heart of the faith.
We do communion in obedience to the instruction of Jesus as a way of remembering and proclaiming his death, receiving the spiritual blessing that comes from that death, and expressing our participation in the global and historic body of Christ.