What is Communion?

Joe Leach | January 2023

I have been so encouraged by the feedback we’ve had from starting the year teaching and preaching into what exactly is going on when we are celebrating communion together. It’s been great to hear of people feeling more released and able to celebrate communion in their own homes and in Life Groups with fellow believers; people saying they really understand and appreciate it for the first time; and even at least one person taking communion for the first time as an act and demonstration of putting their faith in Jesus!

What is communion? What is going on when we take of the bread and wine? Here’s a summary of what we have been teaching…

In Communion there is Remembrance

Communion is much more than just remembering things, but it’s not less than that. We are calling to mind all that Jesus has done for us in having his body broken and blood spilled so that we may escape judgment and know life in him.

In Communion there is an Encounter

Through physical items that we can see, touch, smell, and taste, we encounter and know the presence of Christ, through his Spirit. We are not just engaging in symbolism or memorialism but we are using all our senses to meet with God. This is profound and mysterious and we concur with John Calvin on this: “I rather experience it, than understand it.”

In Communion there is Communion with Christ

We generally refer to this meal as ‘communion’ because of this point. Through this meal, we celebrate that we are united with Christ. We participate in his body and blood and acknowledge that however we feel, we are alive in and through him.

In Communion there is Communion with One Another

Because we, all together, eat of one loaf and drink of one cup, we are united with one another as one body. Communion can be done in a way that brings disunity (see 1 Corinthians 11v17-22) but when done right, it brings, and emphasises our beautiful unity with one another.

These two things especially make it clear that celebrating communion is for Christian believers. If someone has not put their faith in Jesus and doesn’t want to be part of his church, then why would they want to celebrate those things as if they have and as if they do?

In Communion there is Thanksgiving

‘Thanksgiving’ is an interesting and in some ways ironic word. It’s ironic because it has the word ‘giving’ in it and the whole point behind it is that we acknowledge we haven’t given anything but have only received. We are not presenting a fresh offering to God when we celebrate communion. Rather, we are expressing that everything we have – most centrally, the gospel – has been given to us. ‘Thanks’ is the only thing we ‘give’.

In Communion there is Celebration

I think the most appropriate verb to use in connection with communion is ‘celebrate’. We celebrate communion. This is exciting and amazing news that we are remembering. Yes, there is a sombreness and reverence about communion but we should be free to smile, sing, rejoice, and enjoy the gospel.

In Communion there is Proclamation

The word ‘mass’ comes from the Latin word for ‘mission’. Communion is a mission event. We are telling the world that they are outside of the kingdom of God and that they should come and repent and believe in Jesus and find eternal life as a result.

In Communion there is Anticipation

The antipasti is the first course of an Italian meal that anticipates the main course. Communion is like an antipasti as we eat and drink and anticipate the future banquet we will have with Jesus when he comes again.

Incidentally, eating antipasti with fellow believers would be a brilliant way to celebrate communion together!

In Communion there is Self-examination

It is not that communion is only for the morally perfect who have not sinned that week. If it were, none of us would get anywhere near the table. Communion is for repentant believers. The Heidelberg Catechism expresses this excellently:

Question: “Who should come to the Lord’s table?”

Answer: “Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ.”

We will not be conscious of all of these things every time we come to celebrate communion but that is not to say that these are not happening.

I am excited for Grace Church to increase the regularity with which we celebrate communion together and am in faith that we will benefit and be blessed and encouraged as we do so.

“Communion is like an antipasti as we eat and drink and anticipate
the future banquet we will have with Jesus when he comes again.”