One of the most important aspects of the Christian Faith is found in the Lord’s Supper (Communion). Regardless of what ones Christian tribe calls this meal, it is an important benchmark to the Christian faith. If there is anything strange to non-Christians, this would likely be what they would point to. Even many Christians struggle to understand some of the nuances of this common meal. Let’s look at three descriptors of what this meal is.
1. It is a “memory stone.”
In the book of Joshua, after Israel passed over the Jordan river, Joshua called for a man from each tribe to take stones out of the river and stack them together on the banks (Joshua 4:1-24). Why did he make this strange request? Joshua was creating a memorial so that those who lived on that day could use it in order to share with their children and grandchildren what God has done for them. It was a memory stone that would begin discussions. This is similar to the Lord’s Supper.
Matthew 26:17-29 recounts Jesus giving a new meaning to the commonly celebrated Passover Meal. Here, Jesus takes the meaning and expands it to become a new memory stone. This memory stone would be of His own broken body and shed blood. This memory stone was created in order to act as something to help followers of Christ recall what He would do for them.
Communion is a memory stone. It is an experience that points us to the crucifixion of Christ so that we might receive forgiveness and His Spirit.
2. It is a participation in the sacrifice of Christ.
Christians often consider the broken and bloody body of Christ while taking of communion, but we often forget that it is also a participation in His sacrifice when we take of it. For various reasons, different denominations struggle with this aspect of communion. In the Churches of Christ, we often shy away from this because it sounds Catholic, but we forget it is a scriptural concept. Let’s look briefly at one of those scriptures.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 reminds the Corinthian church that when they take of communion, they are taking part in the sacrifice that is remembered. While the wine and bread do not literally become blood and flesh, they are symbolic and facilitate our mutual participation in sacrifice. It is in this participation that we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice but we, ourselves, are hanging our body and blood next to Christ, making ourselves a living sacrifice as well (Romans 12:1-2). As often as we take of communion, we are renewing our sacrifice we initiated at baptism–giving up our life, desires, and ambitions for those of Christ.
3. It is a communal event.
From the institution by Christ to the early church, one thing is always clear about communion, it is a community event. It is not to be done alone, but in the community of Christians. Whether it is a small gathering or large, the Lord’s Supper fulfills its meaning and purpose when it is communal.
Paul scolds the Corinthian congregation in 1 Corinthians 11:17-29 because they were not being mindful of fellow believers, rather, they had perverted the Communion sacrifice in self-seeking motives.