Holy Communion

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’”  (I Corinthians 11:23-25).

We are commanded by Jesus to take bread and a cup of wine or grape juice and remember Him.  What is it we are remembering?

1. Remember that Holy Communion is a celebration of victory.  

John the Apostle heard that victory celebration shouted across the corridors of heaven nearly 2000 years ago:

“Then the seventh angel sounded and there were loud voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever,’” (Revelation 11:15). 

When we celebrate Holy Communion, we are celebrating the Lord’s victory.

As Jesus died, He shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  In the language of the New Testament that is one word, “Tetelestai.”  That was the word stamped on documents and contracts of that day. It means finished, complete, accomplished.

Jesus knew He had perfectly fulfilled redemptive purpose as the Lamb for sinners slain, knew that He had made a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world, knew that His mission was complete.  “Tetelestai” is a shout of triumph.

When we take the bread and the cup, we celebrate the victory which Jesus won on the cross when He made an atoning sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:12), when He reconciled forgiven sinners to a holy God (2 Corinthians 5:18,19), when He disarmed the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:14,15).

In many communion liturgies we  say,
Christ has died, 
Christ is risen, 
Christ will come again. 

We are living in between the victory of Jesus in His first coming and the fulfillment of His triumph at His second coming. We are living between that shout of triumph, “Tetelestai” and the shout that will someday echo across heaven and earth, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever.”

Holy Communion is a celebration of victory.

We have inherited an understanding of communion which causes some to act in such a mournful, somber way, as if Jesus were saying, "I want you to remember all that I suffered because of your sin and I want you to feel really guilty about that.”  Then communion becomes an exercise in remorse, a wallowing in guilt.

We do remember and confess that it was our sin which Jesus took upon Himself on the cross and we reverence that unequaled outpouring of love.  But there is a difference between reverence and mournfulness.  We reverence the cross but does Jesus want us to mourn, to fall into morbid guilt and condemnation every time we celebrate?  Is that consistent with a triumphant Savior? 

Perhaps Jesus is saying to us, "When you take this bread and cup, remember that I have conquered the power of the enemy.  Do this in remembrance of my overthrow of the powers of darkness which once captivated you."

Let’s remember the context of each communion service.  Jesus was celebrating the Passover with His disciples (Matthew 26:20,26-30).  

Passover was a celebration of the victory of God over the oppressors of Israel and the deliverance of Israel from bondage.  Pharaoh, leading the most powerful empire on earth, had set himself in opposition to God's salvation purpose on earth and enslaved the covenant people.  God broke Pharaoh's power, broke the slave-maker and set the covenant people free.

Passover was a celebration.  The point Jesus was making was this, "Just as the blood of the lamb delivered Israel, just as the flesh of the lamb nourished them for the journey, now this is my body and my blood which represent my victory on your behalf and which, through the grace that I minister to you in this celebration, will nourish you on your journey out of the land of slavery and into the land of promise.”  

The service was punctuated by blessings and the giving of thanks. 

As we celebrate together, may we also hear the Lord saying, "Do this in remembrance of me.  What I have done is your point of departure and release from bondage.  Just as Israel celebrates deliverance from slavery and victory from her oppressors, so you come in celebration of the fact that in my cross I have won victory over your slave master, your adversary, the devil."

Several hours after celebrating the Passover meal, on the cross Jesus by His shed blood made a full and perfect atoning sacrifice, opening a way for our exodus from slavery to sin and death.

  

When the sacrifice was complete He shouted, "It is finished." 

The kingdom of our God and of His Christ has appeared.  The accuser is cast down and we are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb.  So give thanks in remembrance of our Redeemer.

2. Remember that Holy Communion is a proclamation of redemption.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).  

We are proclaiming the message of redemption every time we take the bread and cup, proclaiming that Jesus purchased life for us, redeemed us from slavery to sin and death.

a. The bread and the cup testify to the world of a Savior who gave His life that we might live.  The bread and cup offer Christ to a world which hungers and thirsts to know God.  The bread and cup do not contain or bestow grace but they proclaim the presence of a God who is faithful to minister grace to all who call upon Him.

b. The bread and the cup testify to holy and unholy angels of the wisdom and power of God, “So that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).

On the cross God disarmed powers and principalities and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:14,15).  Holy communion is a living testimony of that triumph.

c. The bread and the cup testify that redemption costs something and proclaim the price of our deliverance — the body and blood of the Lamb of God.  The means of our deliverance is the cross which is the release point for the power of God unto salvation. 

d. The bread and the cup testify of the name of the Person who is our Deliverer — Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.  "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

3. Remember that Holy Communion is our declaration of dependence on Christ our life. 

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:49-51).

Jesus was speaking of our union with Him and the continued communion whereby we partake of His life, without which we have no true life.  Holy Communion is a portrayal of this reality.

Jesus said, “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit” (John 15:4,5).

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes”  (John 5:21).

“For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).

“Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

We need the nourishment of physical food but also spiritual food, the flow of life and truth from God. True life, abundant life, meaningful life, everlasting life, is found only in Jesus.

Through faith in Christ we were adopted into the household of God. Now, God as Head of the household and our Provider feeds us with spiritual food which sustains our life.  Christ is the only food for our soul.  

Jesus feeds us spiritually on His life through His Word, as we worship, as we pray, as we serve Him.  In Holy Communion, we are holding spiritual tokens of the Christ who nourishes us into eternity. The bread and cup represent the spiritual food by which Christ nourishes His people and in the bread and cup we are declaring that we are dependent on this life flow and calling on the Lord to release His life into our hungry spirit.

As we feed upon Christ by faith, we declare our dependence on Christ our Life and our heavenly Bread.

4. Remember that Holy Communion is a visible sign of the invisible union of believers with the Christ who said,  

"He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him” (John 6:56).  Jesus said that we are partaking of His life, living in Him as He lives in us. 

The bread and cup are visible signs of our spiritual union, our abiding in the flow of Christ's life.  Holy Communion does not create this union, that is the work of the Holy Spirit by faith.  But we proclaim this union in the bread and cup.

5. Remember that Holy Communion is a visible sign of the presence of Christ our High Priest in our midst: 

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16,17).  

We are sharing in the life of Jesus and the bread and cup symbolize that sharing.  The bread and cup represent Christ but through the action of the Holy Spirit, Christ is spiritually present in that which represents Him.

Holy Communion is more than a memorial, more than mere remembrance.  It is also a celebration of the Christ who is present among us as we celebrate.  

How is Christ present in Holy Communion?  How is He present in a service of worship or in the preaching of the Word?  How Christ is present is a sacred mystery but the center of this mystery is Christ Himself who continues His High Priestly work of offering the release of His life to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

6. Remember that Holy Communion is an exercise in discipleship and self examination.

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:27).  

An unworthy manner refers to a manner not in accordance with the worth or value of the sacrifice of Jesus.  We devalue the offering of His life when we reduce the celebration to mere ceremony, when we muddle through the ritual while tolerating the unrepented practice of sin in our hearts, in our relationships and in our church.

Churches fail to ascribe full worth to Holy Communion when they assume that it is not worthy of their time, when they hurry through the celebration as if it is an interruption in the more important business of customer and cash flow.  

In unworthy celebration, we separate ourselves from the flow of the life of Christ.

Ascribing full worth to Holy Communion involves the realization that this is the symbol of God's provision for every need in our life.  The blood of Christ paid for our sins, redeemed us from everlasting separation from God and also provides for healing, peace of mind, provision of resources, deliverance from the strategies and weapons and entanglements of the enemy.

“But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (I Corinthians 11:28).

Let us then examine ourselves.  The word examine means to test, discern.

It is one thing to surrender to Christ as Lord and Savior and to be a believer.  It is something more to be a disciple, one who is entering into the disciplines of learning from and being molded by a Master.  A believer is someone who believes in something.  A disciple is someone who is being disciplined by someone.  Jesus calls us to move on from being a believer to a disciple, a disciplined one.

Every day we need to invite the Lord to shine His truth into our hearts and examine us as His disciples, His learners (as if we were sitting at His feet).  He is not just releasing life into us but revealing the life that is in us.  Is it His life that forms us and motivates us?  Or is it the old Adam, with its corrupt, self-centered desires?  What is the energizing life-force within us — is it Christ or is it our self-enthronement?  Is it the values of the kingdom of God or the values of this corrupt and dying world?  

Holy Communion is a time of examination and review in the lives of the disciples, not for the purpose of condemnation but for the purpose of cleansing and growth and maturity into the fulness of the image of Christ.

We have been quoting from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  The problem at Corinth was sin and division in the church.  What does sin and division do?  It separates us from Christ and the flow of His life through His Body, the church.  Therefore we read,  

“For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (I Corinthians 11:29,30).

Paul was referring to the practice of eating together as a church ( they called that the love feast) and then following with Holy Communion.  But he says that they were not judging the body rightly.  What does he mean and which body is he referring to?

Remember that Paul wrote these words to a church which had forgotten that we "are Christ's body and individually members of it"  (I Corinthians 12:27).  Paul follows the statement in Chapter 11 about rightly discerning the body with the presentation in chapter 12 that the church is the Body of Christ. In chapter 13 he reveals how the body should live together — in self-sacrificing love. In chapter14 he further discusses the function of the body.  

Why such emphasis on the church as the body of Christ?

Because they were a divided, sinful church failing to discern the sacred truth that they were the body which Christ now inhabits on earth and they were failing to discern their own relationship in that body.  They met together for the love feast but some were gorging themselves with abundance of food while others had no food, some were drunk and some were sober.  Then, when they attempted to worship and teach the Word, they were in such disunity that it was difficult to carry on a service.  Meanwhile, others had separated from the church through immorality or rebellion or spiritual laziness.

They were not discerning that as members of Christ’s body, there is a flow of His life through the church that vitalizes the members.  Their sin and disunity disconnected them from the flow of Christ's life and so, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” 

Separated from the life of Christ by ongoing, unrepented sin, we grow weak and death begins to encroach on our life and our fellowship.  What kind of death?  The death of the possibilities of faith, the death of the plan and purpose of God in our life, a dying of anointing and power, a dying of gifts and resources.  And yes, it appears that some in the church at Corinth had become physically ill and other died before their time because of the judgment of God.

God surely does exercise cleansing and chastisement in our hearts and in His church — He does so because He loves us and because He loves His church and this must have been taking place in the Corinthian church.  But we do not want to take from this Scripture a picture of Christ standing before us and saying, "Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest, but if you get it wrong I'll kill you." 

Yes, Christ exercises judgement among His people and we need look no further than the lives of Ananias and Saphira, who were severely judge for lying to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:1-11).  But the Christ who knows perfectly our sin and failure has not taken our lives.  Rather, He calls us to His table to feed us on His life, to strengthen us in our weakness, to meet us in our need, to correct us in our sin.  He stands before us as if He is saying, 

"Come unto me and celebrate my victory on your behalf and receive the flow of my life.  But examine yourself and let my life come to bear on those points where you need growth, maturity, forgiveness, cleansing, deliverance.  Where there is smallness, let my life stretch you.  Where there is unforgiveness, let my life release grace in you toward others.  Where there is lovelessness, let my love release a largeness of heart.  Where there is sin, let my life work repentance and holiness in you.  And if you will rightly discern that this church is my body, if you will discern your place in the body and discern those things that have lodged in your spirit that restrict the flow of my life into your life, then I will feed you and restore those things that are sick and resurrect those things that have died.”  

To this day there are many in the church who fail to discern the body of Christ.  They have failed to discern their place in the body and their need to live in the flow of life that comes from union with Christ and with Christ's people.  Having separated themselves from the flow of life in Christ through rebellion, disunity, unconfessed sin or through the neglect of spiritual disciplines such as Holy Communion, they have become sick in faith and some of the possibilities of faith have died before their time.

So we examine ourselves, confessing our sin and admitting our need for the flow of life from Christ to ourselves. We rise from self examination in confidence that whatever we lack, whatever the Lord showed us that we need, wherever it is that we need to grow, there is full provision for this and we ascribe full worth to the provision and to the Provider.  

We partake of the bread and cup and if we need forgiveness, there is provision.  If we need to be restored in some area of the soul, if we need to forgive, to be strengthened in our discipline — whatever we need — the provision is present in Christ our life who is present not only as our Bread but as our High Priest who ministers the Bread of Himself.

7. Holy Communion anticipates a greater feast someday — the marriage supper of the Lamb.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).

Every service of Holy Communion is a proclamation that Jesus Christ is faithful to fulfill every promise He has made.  He will conclude history. He will return for His redeemed church. He will establish His kingdom on earth.

"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Jesus Christ is coming again —we proclaim this great truth in the bread and cup. But it is more than Christ’s return that we anticipate. It is the glorious celebration of the consummation of union between Christ and His church — the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride:

“Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready’” (Revelation 19:6,7).

“Then he said to me, Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Revelation 19:9).

What a feast that will be.  It is not merely the banquet that excites our imagination but the One we will see face to face, in whose presence we will abide forever.

As we take the bread and cup in our hands, we are declaring the certainty of that feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Our future with Christ is promised and anticipated in this bread and wine.

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again. 

In those few words we declare the saving death of Jesus, His resurrection presence among us and His promise to return someday.  This is the joyful feast which the early church celebrated and with those early celebrants we cry, "Come Lord Jesus." 

The Joyful Feast

The Joyful Feast

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer …  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:42,46).

In Acts chapter two we have the earliest portrayal of what the New Testament church was like.  The church was continually devoted to teaching, fellowship, prayer and “the breaking of bread,” which is a reference to Holy Communion (also called the Lord’s Supper and Holy Eucharist).

We read further that the disciples were “breaking bread from house to house (and) were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  The church shared common meals — these were called love feasts and were occasions of great joy. They followed the meal with the Lord’s Supper.  

Holy Communion was part of a joyful meal celebrated in remembrance of Christ’s recent ministry among them, in celebration of His presence with them and in joyful expectation of His return. This tradition may have derived from nothing more than the memory of Christ's disciples eating every day with their Lord.  The "breaking of bread" referred to in Acts 2:46 may have been simply the continuation of the fellowship which Jesus had enjoyed with His disciples. 

How often we read of Jesus eating with people.  It was such a common occurrence that we forget He was the Creator of the universe, by Whom, through Whom and for Whom all things were created, Who upholds all things by the word of His power, in Whom all things consist, in Whom was life and that life was the light of men — that God was having lunch with people.

It’s noteworthy that many of the resurrection appearances have to do with eating.

In Luke 24 we read how, on that first Easter, the risen Jesus walked with two men on their way from Jerusalem to their home in the village of Emmaus.  They did not recognize Him until He sat down to the evening meal with them and broke the bread (Luke 24:28-31).

In Mark 16:14 we read that the risen Christ appeared to the disciples while they were “reclining at the table.”  They were unable to believe that Jesus was really alive so He asked for something to eat and, “They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and He took it and ate it before them” (Luke 24:41-43).

In the Gospel of John we read of Jesus preparing breakfast for His disciples after they had fished all night. “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and the fish likewise” (John 21:13).

This should not be surprising.  How often Jesus referred to His desire to fellowship with us, to abide with us, to feed us for all of our life, for all generations.  The church at Laodicea had shut Jesus out of their fellowship and to this church the Lord said, 

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

This is the Lord’s word not only to the church but to every individual who has excluded Him: “Open the door and I will come in and eat with you.”

He referred to Himself as the bread of life and invites us to feed upon the outpouring of His life as we live in communion with Him. Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, is a symbol of the life of the believer with Jesus.  He abides with us as we abide with Him, at all times and in all places, feeding us on His life. 

Peter's testimony while preaching to Cornelius and his household was that they “ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead” (Acts 10:41).  Peter spoke of the resurrection appearances of Jesus in terms of eating with Him.

So it is not surprising that the church which Jesus formed ate together and formed that meal around these common symbols of His redeeming work — the bread and cup.

In the opening of the book of Acts we read of Jesus “gathering them together” (1:4, them refers to the  disciples). However, some commentators suggest an alternate translation which is found in some ancient manuscripts.  The word assemble or gather is the word sunalizo, derived from sun (denoting union) and halizo (to accumulate or convene). 

Some scholars suggest that halizo is derived from hals or halas, both of which mean salt.  In this case, we would not translate “gathering them together.”  We would translate “eating salt” or “eating salt with them,” which is a way of saying that Jesus was with His disciples, dwelling among them and eating with them.

After Jesus returned to heaven, the church was so convinced of the historical reality of the Resurrected Christ and His presence among them that they associated His presence with eating.  They ate together and, following the meal, celebrated His death and resurrection in the bread and cup.  Every time they ate bread they were reminded of the fact of Christ's saving death and resurrection presence.  

There is an echo of this in our giving of thanks before a meal, not only for the food but in worshipful recognition of the Risen Lord who is present among us and who goes with us when the meal is complete.

Why did Jesus associate eating, especially bread, with Resurrection?  Because people eat every day.  Therefore, we are reminded on a daily basis of His life among us.  We are remembering and experiencing the risen Christ at every meal.

The early Christians took their meals with great joy for they were not only remembering the risen Christ and the reality of His resurrection, not only celebrating His real presence among them but also expecting His return. Holy Communion was a celebration of Jesus’ promise to return and gather His church into the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

What a wondrous event that will be — the church as the bride of Christ, perfected in holiness, presented in glory to our glorious Lord, celebrating the consummation of spiritual union with Him in a banquet so marvelous as to surpass our imagination.

Yet even now we take the bread and cup, greeting the Christ who is present among us. He graciously comes and participates in the meal. He is the risen Christ remembered, the living Christ experienced and the coming Christ expected.

“Be known to us in breaking bread but do not then depart
Savior abide with and spread thy table in our heart.
There share with us in love divine thy body and thy blood
that living bread, that heavenly wine be our immortal food”
(James Montgomery, 1771-1854)


“O the depth of love divine, the unfathomable grace
who shall say how bread and wine God into man conveys?
How bread his flesh imparts, how the wine transmits His blood,
fills his faithful people’s hearts with all the life of God?

Let the wisest mortal show how we the grace receive,
feeble elements bestow a power not theirs to give.
How can heavenly spirits rise by earthly matter fed
drink herewith divine supplies and eat immortal bread?

Sure and real is the grace, the manner be unknown,
only meet us in thy ways and perfect us in one.
Let us taste the heavenly powers, Lord we ask for nothing more;
thine to bless, ‘tis only ours to wonder and adore.
(Charles Wesley, 1707-1788)