In my last post, I addressed the direct Biblical evidence for weekly Communion as a proper practice of the Church. In this one I want to pick up where I left off and examine the actual theological rationale for having the Supper every week.
Reasons from Theology
So, if we take it that Scripture indicates weekly Communion, and indeed Communion as a central piece of church gathering, then why? What is the reason for coming together weekly to take the Lord’s Supper? What makes the Supper so important?
The Presence of Christ
There are essentially three major theological themes which give Communion its significance. The first is the most discussed in Christian history, and the most central. Basically, the first is that Jesus is there in the Supper in a way He is not always present. When we take the bread and the wine, we—in some way or another—experience Christ’s body and blood given for us. The Church has always believed this, that in the Supper Jesus is present. Now, there has been disagreement about what this means. The Orthodox Church holds a rather ambiguous and mystical belief that the bread and wine become Jesus’ actual body and blood. The Catholic Church teaches with transubstantiation that the bread and wine transform in reality, but not in appearance (to oversimplify), into Christ’s full body and blood, including His divine presence and power. The Lutheran Church simply teaches that they are the body and blood, and that Christ’s body and blood are “in, with, and under” the bread and wine, without detailing how this works. Reformed Churches vary in their beliefs, but John Calvin believed that in the Supper we ascend through the Spirit by faith to Christ’s heavenly presence and are spiritually nourished by His body and blood. Most Baptists believe that Jesus is simply present insomuch as we remember Him in the symbolic action.
However we slice and dice it, the truth remains that Jesus is there in Communion in a way that He is not always there1. So to take the Lord’s Supper frequently, indeed weekly as the Church, is to accept an invitation into the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we love Him, is this not what we wish to do?
Heaven Here and Now
The second major theological dimension to the Supper is its role in eschatology. The end times, the final climax, the coming kingdom—all of this from the future comes into the present through Communion today. There are multiple dimensions to even this. On the one hand, this tails off of Jesus’ presence. Right now Jesus is ascended and absent from the world in a real way. In Communion, He is present, anticipating the day when He actually will physically return to earth. This entails not only an anticipation of the return of Jesus Himself, but also the benefits which His return includes.
What benefits do I mean? There are many. There is the benefit of eternal joy and celebration. The use of wine for Christ’s redeeming blood points to this, for God has given wine to make men glad2. When we eat and drink, a basic act of celebration, we rejoice that Christ is coming back, and indeed His coming and kingdom is already present in the Church because of the sacrifice He made.
In fact, what is really happening here is the pre-enactment (rather than reenactment) of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb3, the time when all the redeemed will rejoice and celebrate the return of the Bridegroom for His bride. And if this is the meaning of eating and drinking together as the body of Christ, eagerly awaiting His coming, then we do well to do it often, that we may be sustained in hope and always reminded of our mission and purpose in light of His imminent return.
One Body, One Body
The final major aspect of Communion is the unity of the Church. As we all find ourselves nourished by the one body of Jesus Christ given for us, we are all bound together as His one body in the world. The simplest place to go for this theme is 1 Corinthians 10:14-21. In these verses Paul rebukes some of the Corinthians for participating in feasts to idols, and he does so in contrast with the Lord’s Supper. What he says is revealing:
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I am speaking as to wise people. Judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread. Look at the people of Israel. Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in what is offered on the altar? What am I saying then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I do say that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to participate with demons! You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons.
Here Paul teaches clearly that the one bread and one cup we share, sharing in the same body and blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ, bind us together as a single body. It is not called “Communion” for nothing. In Communion we both commune with God through Jesus Christ, and we commune with each other through Jesus Christ. We are made into one body through one Supper.
This is, in fact, is half of the sacramental unity of the Church. All of us who perform baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one Church, bound together by union with Christ. When we participate in these acts, all divisions crumble. Nothing makes one baptized man better than another, nor does anyone do anything more than simply receive God’s gift in Communion. They are greatly equalizers and unifiers. When we share a meal, the Lord’s meal, we become the community of Christ. Is it not usually the case that eating with someone draws you closer to them? Indeed it is, and even more so when what you eat and drink is provided by God to enjoy His Son through His Spirit.
Of course, is Communion is at all about unity, we must do it every time we meet together, for that unity is the basic foundation of meeting together at all. Can two walk together unless they be agreed? By no means! When we gather, then, we must gather in not only the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, and prayer, but also in the breaking of bread. Only in this way will we be fitted together as a whole body, of whom Christ is the head.
This has already gone on way longer than I intended. Hopefully I’ve made my point. I believe weekly Communion is Biblical and essential to healthy church life. I hope at least someone is persuaded of this as well. I’ll end with this early Christian prayer:
We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be the glory forever.
We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be the glory forever.
Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. To you is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.
- For more on this, see 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, and 11:24-25. Consider also John 6, which has historically been understood in relation to Communion. Finally, for further reading I might recommend just Googling, because there is much rich material on this subject. ↩
- Ps. 104:14-15, cf. Prov. 31:6; Eccl. 9:7, 10:9; Jer. 31:12 ↩
- Rev. 19:6-9 ↩