“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)
Communion, a Christian rite or ordinance, involves the eating of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross. The bread is believed to symbolically represent Jesus’ body, while the wine is referred to as a symbol of his blood.
The Tradition Of Passover
Communion, also known as ‘the Lord’s supper’ or ‘the table of the Lord’ was instituted by Jesus Christ himself, the night before he was crucified. Gathered with his 12 closest disciples, he was celebrating with them the annual Jewish commemorative meal called ‘passover’, an event which was intended to remind the Jews of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, many years before. Part of the original passover events involved the killing of a sacrifical lamb, whose blood was then painted around the doors of each Jewish household. When the Angel of Death went throughout Egypt, killing the firstborn, he would see the blood and ‘pass over’ that house’, sparing all those who were inside.
Passover was a festive meal, celebrating Jewish freedom from bondage but it was also a powerful metaphor for a greater story of deliverance that God would one day enact on behalf of the world. It told the important and significant story about Jesus, long before his arrival, and the work that he would come to do of behalf of humanity – the story of redemption.
Jesus uses this commemorative passover meal, already 1,500 years old by this time and full of ancient symbology and meaning, to institute what he calls ‘a new covenant’. (Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, Hebrews 7:22). We know this new covenant by many different names today, such as ‘the breaking of bread’, ‘the table of the Lord’, ‘communion’, ‘the eucharist’, or ‘the Lord’s supper’.
Jesus, The Lamb Of God
John the Baptist first introduces Jesus as ‘the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Isaiah, a prophet in Old Testament writings, prophesied of one who would come to bear the sins of the world and that he would be ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’ (Isaiah 53:7). The final book in the Bible, Revelation, confirms that Jesus was indeed the lamb of God ‘slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8).
This theme of a lamb, whose sacrificial death brought about deliverance and freedom, was told again and again throughout the Old Testament, illustrating the deeper truth concerning the work of Jesus, who would come as the promised redeemer of humanity (Genesis 3:21, Genesis 22:8, 2 Chronicles 35:1, Ezra 6:19, Matthew 1:21, Acts 13:23).
Communion – A New Covenant
During the meal, Jesus takes the bread and shares it with his disciples, telling them that it is symbolic of his body, soon to be broken for them in death. He shares the cup of wine, telling them it is a symbol of his blood, poured out for the forgiveness of their sins. Not only that, he gently tells his disciples that he will only be with them a little longer, referencing, of course his impeding betrayal and crucifixion. He now gives them a ‘new commandment’, to live by once he is gone:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
It’s significant that Jesus connects the institution of communion – which speaks of his sacrifice and death, motivated by love – with the importance of his followers showing his love by loving one another.
“Do This In Remembrance Of Me.” (Luke 22:19)
Disciples of Jesus – Christians – have continued to celebrate this new covenant since that time, through the participation together of communion, the eating of bread and the drinking of wine ‘in remembrance of Jesus’. Through something as simple as bread and wine, Christians are reminded of God’s promise of deliverance and of their forgiveness and freedom gifted through Jesus’ sacrifice. It is a tangible witness to the transforming power of the Gospel in people’s lives and the faithfulness of an eternal God.
Sharing the meal of communion powerfully connects each member of the church to one another as they acknowledge their commonality in Jesus, who is the life force that unites the church. For this reason, we believe in the power and significance of the local community of believers and the necessity of believers to meet regularly together for the ‘breaking of bread’.