Warning: Don’t let the subject of this post scare you off. This is important stuff, more important than what kind of car or flat-screen TV you’re going to buy.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about communion or what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Supper” or “Eucharist,” I think I have some insight (God-given) which may be a blessing and benefit to you the next time you receive Holy Communion or if you are not a believer, or have wandered away, it might give you something to think about.
This week I was reading about Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now, this is an amazing story and there are a couple of insights I want to share with you which can transform our participation in communion or “The Lord’s Supper.” I’ll get back to this a few paragraphs from now, but first let me tell you what I see as a blind spot in some Protestant churches: They seem to have a LOW REGARD for communion as well as a lack of biblical understanding or insight into the importance and significance of communion.
My mother attends a Southern Baptist church where my wife and I are NOT welcome to receive communion because we are NOT baptized members of that church. Is this what Christ intended? I don’t think so.
Along these lines, a few years ago, I spoke on the phone with the pastor of a Missouri Lutheran Synod church in my town. This man is a sincere shepherd who teaches the Gospel to his congregation every week. It’s obvious that he knows and loves Jesus, but he told me that if I visited his church, I would NOT be allowed to receive communion because I needed to become a baptized member of his local church which also meant taking a series of classes on what it means to be Lutheran. Are you serious? At this point, I had been a baptized follower of Jesus Christ for over 45 yrs. and this young pastor was telling me that my faith in Christ wasn’t enough, or wasn’t recognized in his church. In this sense, both these churches that I’ve cited, have a low regard and fuzzy understanding of Holy Communion or The Lord’s Supper. The Apostle Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia, “sharing”, “fellowship”) in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). Paul intended that the unity of believers would be exhibited and solidified in the Lord’s Supper, and it is not to be taken lightly.
1 Cor. 11:18, Paul says that when we come together to receive communion, there should be NO divisions among us. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is meant to celebrate our oneness in Christ, not magnify or create divisions or differences. In fact, God intended that communion would be a sacrament which would bring a blessing of His grace to those in attendance.
Paul didn’t set up some special prerequisites for receiving Holy Communion other than the need to examine ourselves and to ensure that we are NOT receiving communion in an unworthy manner. But certainly, communion is for ALL believers as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 10.
“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17). Where is that oneness when we exclude brothers and sisters from receiving communion. Is this the “oneness” that Jesus prayed to His Father about in John 17:21 asking His Father that we may all be one, just as he and the Father are one, so that the world would believe that the Father had sent Jesus, His son.
Question: How is this prayer being answered when we exclude brothers and sisters from the communion table because they haven’t been baptized in “our” local church, or haven’t taken our series of classes which are the pre-requisite to receiving communion, etc. You get the picture. Is this really what Jesus intended or prayed for?
Here’s another example of where the Protestant church (in some cases) has a low regard for communion and has actually made it “ineffectual.” There are churches today where Holy Communion is a ritual with little meaning and often times the Pastors, and those serving and receiving communion are just going through the motion. For them, this is a symbolic act but there is no belief or understanding of Christ being present at the communion table.
One of the problems with the Reformation was that some Protestants went too far in distancing themselves from the Catholic doctrine of trans-substantiation (the belief that Christ is physically present in the bread and the wine.) Some Ana-Baptist churches along with other denominations went to the opposite extreme and said that baptism was just “symbolic”–just a remembrance. But even though Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of me,” in his final Passover meal with his disciples, he said, “Take eat, this is my body,” and He took the cup and said, “This is my blood of the New Covenant. Drink all of it” (Matthew 26:26-27)
At this point, I can appreciate the insight of John Calvin on the matter of Holy Communion. He believed that Christ was present in the elements of communion at the Lord’s Table. He wrote that this is a mystery which we should not seek to understand but accept on faith. I fully agree. I believe that the spiritual presence of Christ at the Communion table makes this a holy encounter between the disciple and His Lord and Savior. I believe that when we receive communion, we are encountering Christ anew and afresh, and it’s at the Lord’s Table where we can come and receive forgiveness, restoration, healing, deliverance, renewal, as well as salvation. We come to the Lord’s Table to meet with our Lord and He is present to fill us and satisfy our deepest need and longing.
Now, let me conclude my thoughts on the two disciples that the resurrected Christ encountered on the road to Emmaus. Here is the scripture from Luke 24. (Take the time to read it so you’ll better understand the point I’m about to make).
Luke 24:13-32 (NLT)
13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.
14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened.
15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.
16 But God kept them from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.
18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”
19 “What things?” Jesus asked. “The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.
20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him.
21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.
22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report.
23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive!
24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.
26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?”
27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on,
29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them.
30 As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them.
31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!
32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
Here are two insights that jump out at me from this passage:
1. As they walked along, Jesus held an impromptu Bible study with these two disciples and explained how the writings of Moses, the Prophets and all of the Old Testament spoke of him. In other words, the Old Testament is all about Jesus, if your eyes are opened and you have eyes to see Jesus on just about every page in the Old Testament. It was the Old Testament that brought Timothy to faith in Christ. When Paul tells Timothy that all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When Paul wrote these words, he was referring to the Old Testament because that’s all that was available at that time. We need Pastors and teachers who will include the Old Testament in their regular teaching and show their people that Jesus is all throughout the Old Testament. I have thought for a long time that one of the first books that ought to be taught exegetically (verse-by-verse) from the pulpit is Genesis, the book of beginnings, and the book about our father, Abraham, the father of those in the faith.
2. Jesus broke bread with the disciples and suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Here’s my take-away on this: I believe that as we come to the communion table in faith, we’ll meet Jesus. Our eyes can be opened to see Him more clearly in Scripture as well as what He is doing in and around us. Paul prayed for the Christians at Ephesus that God would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation (Eph. 1:17). I believe that this is something of what the two disciples experienced when they broke bread with Jesus. He opened their eyes and they recognized Him. I believe that we can have our spiritual eyesight opened to see and know Jesus and experience His presence as we receive Holy Communion.
I believe that Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist is a blessing of God’s grace given to the Church by the Lord whereby we celebrate our oneness, we proclaim His death until He comes, and we also experience His presence anew and afresh in our lives.
These are my thoughts. I welcome yours. What do think about communion? Do you agree or think I’m taking this “communion” thing a bit too far?