All Christian denominations, sects, and cults practice some form of this rite except the Quakers. That group does neither baptism nor communion. Some others slip into making the communion “elements,” i. e. bread and wine, idols.
An idol is: “An image or other material object that is addressed as a deity and/or worshiped as a deity.”
Idolatry is: “Worshipping an idol.”
It is interesting that not only does each denomination have its particular definition for communion, but most Christians also have differing opinions on this subject. So what is it?
Before exploring the rite in detail, perhaps we should review our own particular ideas about it as we have experienced communion and what affect that event had on our own faith walks.
Have you been worshipping an idol – a material thing – imagining it represents Jesus? If so, why?
By looking at the beginnings of this “sacrament” in context of the Jewish Community and religious practices in Jesus time and ministry, we can get a great idea of what it actually ment to him and his followers in first century “Before Calvary” Israel. In considering Jesus’ life and ministry, we must divide it into two eras of “Before Calvary” and “After Calvary.”
It is essential to remember that before Calvary Jesus and all Jews were under the Old Covenant – the Law, the Torah, and Jewish customs. So before Jesus’ Crucifixion, all things he did and said must be understood in the context of Old Testament Judaism.
That changed after Calvary when the New Covenant became applicable. Unless this distinction is made, nothing but confusion can result – thus the endless different opinions and theological statements about communion.
We should look at Communion as it is fully explained in the New Testament. We must know the nature and purpose of the “Last Supper.”
This requires us to reexamine “COMMUNION” aka the Lord’s Supper or the “Eucharist.” Regardless of what we have been taught about Jesus’ last supper, we really need to read what Jesus said about it. In addition, we must know what Passover is, and what Jesus and the Apostles were doing at the Last Supper.
Do you know?
A primary condition of understanding the Last Supper is to know Jesus taught that nothing we eat or drink will change our spirituality, either for worse or for better.
Jesus said, “What goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and then passes out” and does not change the heart. Nothing that is eaten enters the mind of a person. Food does not enter into the heart, it enters the stomach, is digested and excreted. (Mat.15:17 ff.) And, could you really honor Jesus by chewing and swallowing him as food for passage into your stomach?
So we cannot imagine that some bread or wine that has been prayed over by a human is turned into Jesus (bread made into God – man creating God instead of God creating man!) and swallowing “God” will make us holy when “God” enters into our digestive track. That is not the way we receive the Holy Spirit.
We receive the Holy Spirit by being “baptized” with it. (See “Baptism” in this Library.) We receive God’s Spirit by asking for that gift, and not by any invented and non-Scriptural rites and rituals.
Analogous to the idea of actually eating Jesus to get holy is the pagan magic belief that a person takes on the characteristics of what is eaten. Some believe eating lion steak makes one courageous, elephant meat makes one strong, whale oil enhances growth, and consuming oysters and powdered rhinoceros horn increases virility and fertility. Hocus pocus!
With this in mind, let us review this great event. The Last Supper was a Passover meal. What is Passover? It is a dedicated time with food rituals that commemorates (memorializes) an event sacred in and to the memory of Judaism.
Passover is a memorial meal of thanksgiving. The food items are symbols of the same food items and acts that happened at the actual Passover during Moses’ ministry – the Exodus from Egypt (c.1300 B. C.).
The wine symbolizes the blood put on the door posts. Unleavened bread replicates the unleavened bread taken by the Israelite escapees. The lamb is cooked and eaten in memorial of the Israelites last meal in Egypt before their escape. (Exodus chapter 12 esp. verses 22-28.)
What Jesus is saying at the last supper is: until now you have been celebrating and remembering the Passover from Egypt with these symbols of bread, wine and the Passover lamb.
In the future, you will be using the same symbols with changed meanings.
“This cup is the NEW COVENANT of my blood. Do this as often as you eat this bread and drink it in remembrance of me.” It is a memorial service and not a magical rite where a human pretends to turn a sliver of bread into God. (1 Cor. 11:25 - RSV)
Now we are remembering Jesus died (shed his blood and gave his body) for our NEW PASSOVER from the Law (Torah) to Grace – from inherited Sin to freedom from it. We are celebrating the giving of God’s NEW COVENANT – the sole purpose of Jesus’ life and death.
So this is not a “sacrament” automatically changing a person’s condition (or position) before God. It is a memorial to the NEW COVENANT brought and bought by the sacrifice Jesus made so a person can become a “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and be changed in nature from being under the Law to receiving God’s freely given grace.
It is the marker of the second greatest event in world history, second only to God’s first creation. This great event is the “New Creation” of the Kingdom of Heaven under God’s free and loving grace.
It is new meaning put on an old ritual. The ritual is still a thanksgiving and memorial meal. But something else seems to have been added! What is this addition?
It is the new meaning on the words, “ ‘Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance to me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:25, 26 - RSV)
The original Last Supper was at Passover, a once a year event. Under Judaism, the memorial communion would have been repeated annually, one time each year.
Paul instructs us do the memorial as often as you eat and drink. So the Christian tradition is, at each meal thanksgiving is given in memory of Jesus’ giving the New Covenant – liberty from the Law, the Torah, and the ending of our separation from God (The “Original Sin”). It is not a thanksgiving for material food, but for the eternal spiritual “food” of life.
OBJECTIONS: “I get a great spiritual experience every time I participate in this rite in my church.”
ANSWER: It is good you do but most do not. Few really understand why they are doing this in church. Your desire for God’s presence is the cause of your experience You cannot universalize your particular personal experience into an irrefutable experience that will be felt by all, and is to be required of all.
If you receive a beneficial spiritual experience during the communion service in your church it is simply because of Jesus’ promise of his omnipresence.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 – RSV) We receive blessings because of our desire for God and not for magical affects from what we eat or drink. We experience God’s blessings and presence in many different situations. So, we continually give thanks for Jesus’ gift of Salvation i.e. “pray without ceasing.”