“My experience of communion has been completely transformed.”
I said this (or something pretty similar) to Sam Evans the other day, after we’d shared communion with a group of Gateway friends. And it really has. The last few times I’ve taken communion, it’s had a really powerful impact on me. I’ve met with God in a deeper way. He’s graciously allowed me to experience more of Him as I’ve shared bread and wine around the table with my brothers and sisters. As a church, we’ve been taking a fresh look at communion recently, trying to ensure we give plenty of space and time to celebrate it meaningfully. It’s such a rich meal that holds so much meaning and power; we could go on exploring it forever. Here are a few specific things that have really hit me. It’s not an exhaustive list; I hope, as you explore communion yourself, you’ll be massively blessed and encouraged too.
It’s a physical thing. Making a deliberate effort to look at the bread being broken and the wine being poured out has brought home to me the physicality of what happened at the cross. Jesus body really was broken. His blood really was poured out. The physical punishment was horrific; the pain impossible to bear. I’m sure that Jesus gave us a physical act to remember Him by very deliberately. It’s important we remember what the cross means on a spiritual level – how Jesus fought for and won our salvation and achieved a resounding victory over death, sin and darkness – but it’s also important we remember that He did this through a physical act. One of the greatest wonders of Christianity is that almighty, infinite, everlasting God became a person and subjected Himself to everything ordinary people go through. The cross is the ultimate expression of this.
It’s a family thing. For one reason or another, most of my previous experience of communion has been individual. Whether because of my church background or simply my own self-centredness, I’ve usually approached it as a time for me to do business with God and personally thank Him for the cross. This isn’t a wrong use of communion, but it definitely misses a huge aspect of it. Jesus shared the first communion with His friends. He didn’t ask them to bow their heads and contemplate their sinfulness. He looked them in the eye and expressed His love for them – even though they were all about to walk out on Him! In communion, despite our differences and brokenness, we gather around one table in unity and focus on Him – the One who unifies us – not on ourselves. In many ways, this is what makes us church. Not only local church, but a church of millions around the world too. Communion reminds us that, despite differences of experience, culture, geography, race, wealth and even theology, we are brothers and sisters with everyone around the world who celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It’s a prophetic thing. In communion, we often look back. And this is good! Jesus taught us to “do this in remembrance of me.” But again, that isn’t the whole picture. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Communion is also about looking forward to that wonderful day when Jesus returns and brings in a new reality – new heavens and a new earth. Revelation 19 describes that day as being like a wedding feast and speaks of the perfect unity that will exist between Jesus and His people when He returns – a union that every earthly marriage points towards.
It’s a joyful thing. This might be the biggest one for me at the moment. Probably because God has helped me to see the other things on this list in a new light, my overwhelming response has been: “Thank You!” In the past, I think I’ve been far too sombre and sad! It’s not that I think we shouldn’t take the death of Jesus seriously and recognise what He went through on our behalf (see the first point), but I think in the past I’ve stayed in that place a little too long and almost acted like the resurrection didn’t happen. Jesus rose, so we should celebrate! The last couple of times we’ve shared communion on a Sunday at Gateway, we’ve continued to stand around the table to worship together afterwards and this has been a brilliant way of bringing in this sense of celebration. Songs such as “O Praise the Name” and “Worthy is the Lamb” help us to be thankful and celebrate, as well as remembering what Jesus went through at the cross. When he was preaching on communion recently, Sam described the sense of celebration at communion as being similar to what we might feel at a wedding. Everyone there knows it’s a serious event with deep meaning and consequences that will last a lifetime, yet we still feel free to celebrate enthusiastically with the happy couple. I think this is a really helpful illustration of how we’re encouraged to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection too.
There’s so much to communion that it’s probably impossible to keep all the aspects of it in mind each time we do it. Maybe this is a good case for doing it more often! Whatever your experience of communion at the moment, I hope and pray you’re not missing out on its richness. Every time we share bread and wine together, it’s a holy moment and a wonderful opportunity to connect again with the beauty, wonder and majesty of our Saviour God. Enjoy the feast!