What is communion and how does it impact my faith? For me, Communion is the sacramental participation in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, a visible and real “joining together” with our Lord that, among other things, is a foreshadowing of our eventual union with Him in the new Heaven and new Earth. I think a good explication of this are the three English terms that are often used to describe this Christian meal: Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist.
The term “Communion” reminds us that through this meal we are in relationship, not only with God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but also with our fellow Christians. And not only the fellow Christians with whom we commune at our individual churches or within our specific denomination, but Christians of all times and places. This is where I often have concerns with “Closed Communion”, where churches only allow members to participate—this is one of the saddest examples of the Church not being united.† Through Communion we unite, not only symbolically, but in some deeper sense as well, with the Invisible Church.
Likewise, the “Lord’s Supper” indicates important aspects of the how we should understand this meal. First, we should remember that the Lord Jesus Himself established and commanded the breaking of bread on the night of His betrayal. That is, Communion is not some ritualistic “corruption” of Christianity that the “papists” or “heretics” inappropriately made a central part of the Christian faith. Rather, the Lord’s Supper was given by our Lord to His people as a means of grace, forgiveness of sins, and remembrance of his sacrifice. Second, speaking of the Lord’s Supper should remind us about what the Lord said at the institution of this supper, namely, “Take; this is my body” and “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14.22, 24). While different traditions debate the precise meaning of “is” here, there is something to be said for a childlike faith that takes Jesus at His word rather than trying to play un-contextualized semantic games to make these words sound less paradigm-altering than they are. Additionally, I find unconvincing arguments concerning “symbolic” representation within the first century context, where this concept presupposed something real and beyond the immediately visible of which a symbol meaningfully partook, not as the ontologically empty, abstract “reminisces” that symbols are often understood as today.
A third term applied to this sacrament is “Eucharist”, which is derived from the Greek εὐχαριστία and means “thanksgiving”, an indication of Christian thankfulness for Christ’s once and for all, time-transcending sacrifice on the cross. Our participation in the Eucharistic meal demonstrates our continual thankfulness for Christ’s grace, and serves as a reminder of our need to love and make sacrifices for others (1 John 4.19). The historic use of this term should also cause us to consider the Church’s historic stance upon the Eucharist, which has been spoken of from the earliest days as the “medicine of immortality”1 and the body and blood of Jesus for the power of those who follow Him.2
Hopefully my digressions into each of these three terms have indicated the manner in which I hope communion impacts my faith, as a communal meal that encourages us to unite with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as a reminder of the historic reality of Christ and all that pronouncement means, and as a means of grace participating in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the Anointed. To conclude my thoughts on Communion and its importance, I affirm the words of Irenaeus of Lyons from Against Heresies 5.2.2:
“If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.”
†I realize there are sometimes legitimate reasons for withholding communion, but this practice ought to be applied on a “one on one” basis rather than a “pronouncement” effectively anathematizing all of Christendom which is outside the walls of your church.
1 Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians 20.2.
2 Justin Martyr, First Apology 66-7.