Why Do We Celebrate Communion?

When I was a kid my brothers and I used to sneak into the church kitchen after everyone else was gone and drink some of the communion juice out of the refrigerator. When we did that childish thing, we didn’t have a clue as to the great mystery that communion is, and I believe that we still don’t realize what a wonderful mystery happens as we celebrate communion…

Here's the story:

“…The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

The thing that Jesus repeats, and the most obvious thing about The Lord’s Supper, is that when we eat the bread and drink the juice, we are remembering Him. If there is one thing that we humans are good at, it is forgetting things. That is why the church has made a regular practice of communion. We need to remember on a regular basis who Jesus is and what He has done.

Another obvious part of communion, which is linked to remembering Jesus, is that we are proclaiming Christ’s death until he returns to earth. So we are doing something internal (remembering), and we are doing something external (proclaiming). We don’t want to hide the good news! We want to proclaim the good news that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again!

The part that is not so obvious, because it is a mystery, is the nature of communion.  We have already looked at our part in communion (remembering and proclaiming), but what is God’s part in communion? Notice what Jesus does not say at The Last Supper. He does not say, “This bread is a symbol. This is only a symbol, and nothing more than a symbol.” No. He simply says, “This is my body.” The church has argued for ages over what Jesus meant by this, but I believe the argument stems from the fact that we are trying to define a mystery. We usually get in trouble when we try to put a mystery in definitive terms. 

Most mysteries have two sides to them: Is God far above us or right here with us? Is faith about belief or works? Is God sovereign or do we have free will? The answer to all these questions is: both! But how can two things that seem to be opposite be true at the same time? That, my friends, is what a mystery is. 

Communion is a mystery. Is the bread a symbol? Yes. Is it his body? Yes. How? I don’t know. I am not arguing for the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (the bread literally becoming Jesus body as we eat it), because once again, that is trying to nail it down to definitively.  What I am suggesting is that we be open to mystery. Faith is being open to mystery! We don’t know exactly how God does salvation work through baptism, but we believe that he does. In a similar way, we don’t know exactly what God does in communion, but we believe that somehow, through faith, He continues to pour His life into us as we commune with Him physically, by eating the bread and drinking the juice, and as we commune with him spiritually, as we remember his death and his body that we are a part of, The Church. Comm (with)—Union. We are in union with Christ and His body, the Church. What a wonderful mystery!