Monday, February 20, 2006

What does Communion mean?

It is known by many names: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament. But what it is? What does it mean? And why do we do it?

First, let me explain what it is not. Communion is not magic. There are many “Christians” who attend “church” so that they can receive Communion because they think that it will “get them to heaven.” But Communion is not some magic elixir that instantly makes us “good to go” for another week. There is more to caring for a car than getting the oil changed every 3,000 miles.

Communion is not a sacrifice. Sometimes this language is even used by the one performing the sacrament. But the Bible is quite clear that Jesus made a single sacrifice, once for all, for the sins of the world—past, present and future.

At the other extreme, Communion is not just a symbolic act. There is something important and real that takes place in Communion. The church has argued about what that is and how it works. And I’m not sure that I even understand exactly what’s going on. I do know that many of the explanations given are inadequate.

Why do we celebrate Communion? Well, first because Jesus told us too. The early Christians celebrated Communion every morning. It was a central part of their worship. This is because Communion is primarily a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

When we celebrate Communion we are looking back to Jesus’ resurrection when the kingdom of God broke loose in the world. In this single event, the kingdom of this world became the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Jesus defeated sin, Satan and death.

But we also look ahead when we celebrate Communion. We look ahead to the day when the new heaven and the new earth will be unveiled, “when the times will have reached their fulfillment,” “when all things in heaven and on earth [will be brought] together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

Some Christians focus too much on the past and turn Communion into a morbid reliving of the death and suffering of Jesus. Some Christians focus too much on the future sitting back and dreaming of the day when God will come and fix everything.

But the resurrection of Jesus is not just about the past and the future. It is also about the present.

Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:18–21).

We have a hope and an inheritance to look forward to. But, more importantly, there is power available to us right now. This is the same power that was at work in Jesus’ resurrection.

Paul tells the Corinthians that our hope is rooted in the resurrection of the dead. But in the meantime we don’t just wait around for our transportation to heaven. Rather, we have work to do. “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Communion is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and a reminder that this resurrection power is to animate our lives as we do the work of the kingdom.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Bill Marston said...

Dear Pastor Rod,

I am curious to hear you elaborate on what you believe happens during communion? I understand your comments that it is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ, but what else is it, and what happens that is not "magic" but is more than a symbolic celebration?

Pastor Rod said...

That is a good question. Here’s a little more complete answer, though you may not find it satisfying.

Paul writes, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

This is clearly more than a symbolic act to Paul. But he does not say how Communion is a participation in the blood and body of Christ. Several centuries later, theologians started the transubstantiation debate by trying to interpret this statement in terms of the Enlightenment culture.

According to N. T. Wright: John Calvin and Eastern Orthodox theology say that the real action is taking place in heaven. Instead of us bringing that magically down to earth, we are caught up to heaven. He says, “[Baptism and the eucharist] are precisely among those moments when both past and future, heaven and earth, are brought together in one dramatic action.”

John Wesley saw Communion as a means of grace. It was an instrument through which God made his grace available to his people and to those who wanted to join his people. Again, Wright calls it “the physical embodiment of the doctrine of justification.”

So that’s it. In Communion we participate in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But I have no clear idea of exactly how that happens. (I do believe that transubstantiation is an answer to the wrong question.)

I warned you that the answer might leave you with even more questions than answers.

Pastor Rod

Anonymous said...

Receiving communion with the fellowship at WCC has been an experience of love and acceptance for me. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you for that. We are certainly becoming the church God created us to be. MTF

Anonymous said...

Pastor: When you mentioned the quote, "The world drinks to forget, but Christians drink to remember," it touched me deeply today. I almost instantly translated it to, "Once I drank to forget, now I drink to remember!" Thanks for helping us remember the reason by which we can become part of the Kingdom and face every tomorrow. MTF

Cassandra said...

Heyah, Pastor Rod.

Look, I am not a member of any religon and i don't really want to be neather but i enjoy knowing about how others worship and why.
I have R.E. howmewokr where i need to write about a communion, we havn't really learnt much about it in class so please can you help me by answering some quesions?

Q1. When you do celebrate communion what do you do at the servise? (please can you answer step by step im only 13 and i had trouble understanding what you wrote on the website which is why im writing.)

Q2. Do all differant religons celebrate communion the same?

Q3. When do you celebrate it? Is it the same as other religons?

Thank You
Please Reply ASAP