.The church I grew up in celebrated communion every Sunday. An elder read a short passage about why we celebrate communion and prayed before trays were passed down each row. I wasn’t allowed to participate until I had been baptized but once I could partake, it was my favorite part of Sunday morning.
I didn’t think too much about what I was doing or why, but something about communion was special to me. The passage most often read by the elder was “On the night Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread…” Jesus finishes this section by saying, “As often as you do this, remember me.” So all I knew was that we took communion because Jesus did it with his disciples and we’re supposed to follow Jesus’ example.
At that time, I figured everyone had the same experience growing up, so when I got to college, I thought all of my Christian friends had the same understanding of communion. I quickly learned that none of my friends had the same experience I had. Many of them only celebrated communion once a month and one close friend’s home church only included communion in worship twice a year.
This absolutely baffled me, but it created space for me to start asking questions and digging deeper into this practice. Over time, I found that I still really loved communion and it was even better than I thought.
Beginning to understand communion
Celebrating communion is important because it connects us to the life of Christ. We do remember Jesus as we break bread and drink wine/juice. We also join in an ancient practice that Christ instituted and Christians have been practicing ever since. For me, this alone makes the choice to celebrate communion beautiful and rich.
When we celebrate as a congregation, or even a family or other small gathering, we recognize that we are in this together. The community of faith lifts each other up and acknowledges that Christ died for everyone. Our church’s practice of communion is a little different each time. My favorite way is when we get up out of our pews and gather in circles around the sanctuary. We pass the elements around the circle saying to each other, “the body of Christ broken for you” and “the blood of Christ poured out for you” (or some variation of that). But no matter what words are spoken, we are blessing each other and, in a way, committing to stand with each other.
I believe celebrating communion is not just about remembering, but also about looking forward. When we participate in the breaking and pouring of Christ’s body and blood, we are taking a part of Christ into ourselves. In a way, we are symbolizing becoming more of Christ and less of ourselves. We are declaring that we want to leave ourselves behind and walk away from the table as changed people; people on God’s mission.
Celebrating communion should help us grow closer to Jesus and be able to recognize him more and more. The rituals and ceremonies that the Israelites did all throughout the Old Testament had the same purpose. These rituals (or sacraments) were meant to dedicate their lives to God, help them grow closer to God and open their eyes to who God was. But then, when God came, in the flesh, the still did not recognize. The religious leaders were still condemning Jesus and could not see that God had come down right in front of them.
Church! Do not let this be true of us too! What if Jesus walked into your sanctuary, your workplace or your home? Would you know it was him? Would all the time spent at the table celebrating communion have brought you any closer to recognizing him?
When we celebrate communion, let us really reflect on what we’re doing. Let’s ask God to be nearer to us than ever before. Let’s not go through the motions just because.
Finally, I believe we celebrate communion because it helps establish faithful rhythms in our life. Jesus instructs us to remember him in communion but this should not be the only time we think about Jesus. In the act of remembering Christ’s life, example and sacrifice in communion, we prime ourselves to remember beyond that moment as well.
We don’t always do a great job of this in the church. We often make communion just about that moment or that worship service, when its impact can truly reach much further. Even though it isn’t talked about, that’s one reason why we do what we do when we gather for worship.
Everything we do on a Sunday morning is meant to cultivate a practice in our daily lives or to help us establish a faithful rhythm. Too often people attend church needing to be filled up in order to make it through the week. But the truth is, you can’t be filled enough to survive everything life throws at you during the week. Rather, if we engaged in “Sunday worship” activities throughout the week, we would not arrive at Sunday desperately parched.
Life outside of church
Of course, we don’t have to go through an entire worship service of religious activities every day. But maybe consider one practice at a time. Start by thinking what you connect to most on a Sunday morning or what values does your congregation express on Sunday?
If it’s time for prayer, find time each day to set aside just to sit with God. Maybe for you, it’s music. Find some Christian radio stations in your area or use Pandora or Spotify to have music you can worship with throughout the day. Perhaps your congregation makes a point to serve on Sundays. If you love reading and hearing the Bible passages, add time for yourself or your family to read and discuss the Bible together. You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar, just ask God to enlighten and guide your reading.
What rhythms could you establish and how can communion help you recognize Jesus more and more?