What Is Communion? • Alpine Chapel

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus had more than his imminent suffering on the cross in mind. Celebrating the Passover with his disciples, Jesus looked ahead, speaking openly of his return. “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 22 tells us, “When the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.”

[In first century Palestine, participants reclined on cushions and couches around a short table with bread, wine and, in the case of Passover, with bitter herbs and the meat of a lamb sacrificed at the alter. However, on this Passover, Jesus himself would become the final sacrificial lamb after which no more sin offerings would ever be needed.]

According to Mark, “as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.'”

Matthew was there. Of that solemn moment, he writes: “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.'”

In one of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul describes it as a special moment set apart by the Jesus to be reenacted by his future followers. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Because of what Jesus had in mind with this special rite, the Scriptures resist calling it a name. While the words eucharist and communion and the phrase the Lord’s Supper are all found in Paul’s explanation, the apostle simply left it at that, attaching no title to the experience of commemorating Jesus’ death. Paul did, however explain it not as a transformation of common elements into things sacred but as an experience ordained by Jesus so that we should refocus our collective hearts on his atoning sacrifice and the anticipation of Jesus’ return. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

And with that, Paul reveals the very purpose of the ordinance: unity and remembrance. Unity, signified by the Greek word koinōnia, which means “participation in fellowship,” and remembrance, attested by the word anamnēsin, which means “a deliberate, conscious recollection.”

And so let us solemnly unite in conscious recollection, gratefully proclaiming Jesus’ sacrificial death until he returns.

“Surely I am coming soon,” Jesus said. To which we reply, “Marana-tha!” (Come, Lord Jesus!)