Communion: What Is It and Why Is It Important?
For many people, one of the most stressful and strange moments in a church service happens when communion (also known as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist in some traditions) is taken. Part of the challenge comes because it is done in so many different ways, so even if you’ve grown up going to church, you may not know how it’ll be done this time around. Also, most people know what’s happening is important (and we don’t want to mess it up!) while not really knowing why it is important.
Communion Can Be Confusing
If you’ve ever wondered why Christ-followers eat a small piece of bread and drink a sip of juice or wine, you’re in good company. While the practice has a long and storied history, it can be confusing. In fact, when Jesus first talked about the concept, it initially disturbed people who misinterpreted what He meant. Here’s what Jesus said in John 6:
Even Jesus’ own followers were confused by these statements. It sounded like Jesus was advocating cannibalism. It's a strange thing to say, “Eat my flesh,” and “Drink my blood.” They didn’t have the full picture, at least not yet.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the rest of the world.”
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:51-53)
Communion Is a Symbolic and Festive Family Meal
A little while later, on the night before Jesus was executed at the cross, He celebrated Passover with His disciples, which is commonly referred to as the Last Supper. Passover was a sacred feast for the Jewish people, where they commemorated how God had saved them from death and delivered them from slavery in Egypt. But as they ate this meal, Jesus remarkably re-envisioned its meaning.
He [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)
After Jesus died and rose from the dead, His first followers realized what this was all about. It provides clarity for us, too. Jesus offered up His body and blood as a sacrifice on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins. And so, eating the bread and drinking the wine or juice is a highly symbolic reminder of what Jesus did for us. It reminds us that salvation and forgiveness are not things we earn; instead, we accept them as a gift from God.
The early church followed Jesus’ instructions. They celebrated communion, sometimes every day as we read in Acts 2:42-46. They made it a practice of taking it when they gathered around a table to eat and drink, using it as an opportunity to remember Jesus and thank God for what He’s done. In this way, communion is meant to be celebratory! It’s like a great family meal between people who are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Misconceptions About Communion
Taking communion isn’t what makes you a Christian. We are saved simply because of what Jesus did for us at the cross. The Bible makes it clear that it is by grace we are saved, through faith, and not by works so that none of us can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are called to believe, to trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of our sins (John 3:16; Romans 10:9).
Communion is not about performing a ritual in just the right way. It’s about remembering Jesus and celebrating what He did for us. Sometimes we can focus so much on the elements or the method that we miss out on focusing on Jesus. It’s not about the bread and the wine; it’s about the body and blood of Christ.
We don’t do communion out of obligation or fear. It’s something we should do out of love. But it is incredibly important. We’re commanded to do it by Jesus in order to remember Him. The fact that He tied this act of remembrance to a meal is significant. Physical food is a reminder that Jesus gives us all we need and the spiritual nourishment to sustain and grow us.