I brought a new friend to church with me recently. She’d never been before and when the communion tray was passed, she leaned over to me and whispered, "What is it?"
I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly.
For someone like me who has grown up in the church, communion can seem ordinary because it’s so common. I know it matters, and I know Jesus took it, but why? What’s the point of that little cup of juice and tiny cracker? What should I have said to my friend who has never seen the communion tray before?
Let’s dig into God’s Word together to find out.
An Object Lesson To Jog Your Memory
Jesus observed communion the night He was betrayed.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom" (Matt. 26:26–29).
Imagine that you were in that upper room with Jesus. You’re sitting around the table with Him and your group of closest friends, and all of a sudden Jesus passes around a loaf of bread. You tear off a bite and start chewing, and Jesus says:
"Go on! Eat up. This is My body.”
What is He talking about? Sounds kinda creepy.
Jesus passes a cup around. You take a swig, and He says:
"That’s My blood. I’m going to pour it out for you.”
Communion is an expression of your faith in a God who saves you by grace.
Broken bodies and spilled blood don’t sound like great appetizers. And Jesus is sitting at the table in the flesh as He’s talking. Clearly, He and His disciples aren’t eating His physical body or drinking His physical blood.
But Jesus knew what was coming. He was giving His disciples and all of the disciples who would come after (that includes us!) a tool to remember some very important stuff. My guess is He knew all about our tendency to get amnesia about the good news of the gospel and forget about the sacrifice He made for us on the cross.
Just like baptism doesn’t save you, neither does communion. It is an expression of your faith in a God who saves you by grace. Think of communion as an object lesson given to us by Jesus, the teacher. The cup and the bread are physical objects that symbolize deep, spiritual truths. The bread is a symbol of Jesus’ body, broken for us on the cross. The cup is a symbol of Jesus’ shed blood, poured out for us.
What to Do When the Tray is Passed
Jesus says for us to remember Him when we take the Lord’s Supper. We are to use communion to jog our memory about His death on the cross for our sins. When we take communion, we should take time to remember Him, and thank Him, for what He has done for us.
But Paul says before we get to the thank yous, we need a heart check.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor. 11:27–29).
Paul says that before you take communion you need to examine yourself. But what’s this "unworthy manner" business?
Worthy Ways for Unworthy People
Let’s get something straight. None of us are worthy of taking communion. It is, after all, a symbol of Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. None of us deserved that! We could never, ever earn it. It was a gift given to us because we are so loved, not because we are so worthy.
You don’t have to be perfect to take communion. It’s not only for those who come to church scrubbed clean (because none of us do).
But we still need to take communion in a worthy manner. When Paul wrote those words, the people in the church of Corinth were trying to use communion as a meal. Can you imagine trying to get filled up on tiny crackers and miniature cups of juice for lunch? It seems silly!
But just like the Christians in Corinth were using communion to fill their bellies, we can use it for the wrong reasons.
- We can do it because we think it takes away our sin. Remember, it doesn’t. It’s just a symbol of the fact that only Jesus can do that.
- We can do it to fit in. Everyone else in church seems to be partaking.
- We can do it as a ritual; it’s just something we do.
Paul is saying, "Check yourself." Make sure that when you take communion, you are doing it for the right reasons.
Shout It From the Rooftops
Do you remember last week when I told you that baptism was a way to show the world what God has done for you? Communion is like that, too. When you take communion, you’re showing others what Christ did for you.
Paul said it this way: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).
Every time you eat that little cracker and drink that little cup of juice with a heart turned toward Jesus, you are telling the world, "He died for me! He is coming back for me soon!"
That’s a message I want to share with others. How about you? Do you take communion at your church?
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