Friday, April 17, 2015
Communion for the Believer: Past, Present and Future
As we saw last week, God’s Triune nature, reflected in triplets of Scripture, is echoed in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-21; Luke 22:7-30). For Jesus, His apostles, and born-again believers, this sacrament remembers the past, celebrates the present, and expresses our sure hope for the future.
Thanks to Christ’s completed work on the cross, all of us who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) have eternal life with Him. We are saved by His grace through our faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). So taking part in communion, like being baptized or joining a church, can’t save us.
Why, then do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Because He commanded us to -- to remember His sacrifice, to fellowship with Him and one another, and to look forward to His Second Coming. Paul summarizes how Christ told us to do this (1 Corinthians 11 17-34): in a spirit of truth (v. 17-19), sharing (v. 20-22), and self-examination (v. 27-32). He warned the church to address division (v. 18), heresy (v. 19), and revelry (v. 21-22) before they could take part in this sacrament, so that they would not receive the judgments of weakness, sickness or even death (v. 29-32).
Paul heard directly from Jesus about the Lord’s Supper and its significance (v. 23-26), because he was not present at that meal; he told it to the church at Corinth; and thanks to his first letter to Corinth being preserved in the New Testament, he also shared it with all believers thereafter. Jesus took the elements, gave thanks to the Father, and distributed the elements to the disciples.
When observing communion, we should follow Christ’s command to the disciples to take the bread, eat it, and remember that it symbolizes His body, broken for us to pay all our sin debt (v. 23-24). Similarly, He told His followers to drink from the cup, to remember each time they drank that it symbolizes the new promise of His blood washing away our sins (Matthew 26:28; Romans 3:25), and to look forward to His second coming (v. 25-26).
Communion therefore involves remembering Christ’s past, completed sacrifice for us (John 19:30; Hebrews 7:21-28); celebrating our present salvation through that sacrifice (1 Corinthians 15:1-4); and anticipating that glorious moment when we will break bread with Him in Heaven (Revelation 19:9). The three essential elements of the communion sacrament are not only the bread and the fruit of the vine, but also a cup to contain, distribute, and share the grape juice.
The cup may symbolize the cup of Jesus’ suffering, which He drank to the dregs to redeem us; our body as the earthly vessel filled at the moment of salvation by His Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22); and the sharing by all members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) in His blood, shed for our sins to redeem and cleanse us.
Jesus commanded all of His disciples to drink from the communion chalice with Him, acknowledging that they would drink the cup of suffering for His sake, including the baptism of martyrdom for some, but that it was up to His Father to assign specific positions of responsibility in his Kingdom (Matthew 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-39). Similarly, all born-again believers will suffer for Christ’s sake (1 Peter 4:12-19); some will be martyred; and some will receive heavenly leadership positions based on earthly service (1 Corinthians 3:10-14).
The sacrament of communion looks back to Jesus’ perfect, completed sacrifice, His broken body, and His shed blood (1 Corinthians 11: 23-25). Communion also celebrates our ongoing, present relationship with Christ. Each time we partake of the bread and fruit of the vine, whether in a church service or at our own table, we have fellowship with Him, we affirm the new covenant, and we become more like Him by assimilating His Word (John 6: 51-58).
Jesus told His followers to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, not in a literal sense as the Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, where the wafer literally becomes His body. If that were the case, everyone who took part in communion would be guilty of crucifying Christ all over again. Thank God that when Jesus said “It is finished,” (John 19:30) it truly was! His perfect, priceless, agonizing sacrifice paid the debt in full for all our sins (John 1:29), past, present and future.
Many of Christ’s followers could not accept this saying and abandoned Him because of it. Jesus of course was not speaking of cannibalism or any other literal interpretation, but of the need for His followers to desire Him more than our daily food (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4); to become assimilated with Him (Romans 12:5; Galatians 3:28) by ingesting His Word as our daily bread; and to be nourished completely by Him, physically, spiritually, and eternally (John 15:5).
As born-again believers participate in a communion service or even as we break bread at our table, we commemorate what Christ did for us and thank Him that we presently are a new creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:1). But we also anticipate with glorious hope (1 Peter 1:3) His Second Coming, when we shall experience the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), when He shall again drink the fruit of the vine with His followers (1 Corinthians 11: 26).
To partake Biblically in communion, our participation should involve not only the sacrament itself, but also the self-examination before and the worship following, which symbolizes our fellowship with Christ and His church as we hold hands in a circle, give thanks in prayer (Matthew 17:27), and praise Him in song (Matthew 17:30; Mark 14:26).
As we share in communion, may we remember how He saved us, thank Him for our abundant life with Him now (John 10:10), and look forward to eternal life with Him (John 3:16) in Heaven!
© 2015 Laurie Collett