Holy Communion is a sacrament, or a holy ceremony, where both God’s word and visible matter are present together. In Lutheran Church, the two sacraments based on Christ’s commandments are baptism and communion (Augsburg Confession). During His last meal before His suffering and death, Jesus established communion and instructed His followers to partake of it (Mark 14:12–25; 1 Cor. 11:23–26).
The sacrament is a mystery whose meaning and influence are not fully amenable to reason. It is therefore more important to be obedient to Christ’s instruction and to partake of communion than to try to comprehend fully its purpose and meaning. We can, however, partly understand communion through faith and the Bible.
You proclaim the Lord’s death
In his letter to Corinthians Paul writes about communion as follows: ”For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26). In communion, we thus confess our faith in Christ, who atoned for the sins of mankind in His death.
Paul writes about the right way of partaking of communion: ”Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Cor. 11:29.)
Luther teaches us that ”the power and benefit of communion come to all those who believe what the words say and give unto us” (Large Catechism). Communion does not require strong faith, and the sacraments are not dependent on people’s own merit. Yet, God’s word reminds us of the holiness of communion and the correct way of celebrating it. In the communion prayer the congregation prays that the Father would send His Holy Spirit, so that they could partake of communion in faith and thereby receive strength to live in mutual love.
Connection with the body of Christ
The gospels tell us that Jesus had meals with different kinds of people. The act of sharing a meal had special significance in the Jewish culture at Jesus’ time. Since food was generally scarce, an invitation to share a meal was regarded as a major token of friendship, and the meal provided an important occasion to visit with friends. The most important description of a shared meal is the story of the last supper in the gospels. At the beginning of the festival of unleavened bread, Jesus and His disciples had gathered for Passover supper. At the end of this supper, Jesus established communion. (Mark 14:12–25; Luke 22:14–20; 1 Cor. 11:17–29; Acts 2:42, 46.)
At communion we feel connected primarily to Christ, who is present in the bread and wine. ”The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:16–17.) At the altar, we can also feel fellowship and love toward the other communicants and even believers who have passed away.
This is my body and my blood
The words of institution are the core of the communion prayer. They are words spoken by Jesus at His last supper, which have been recorded by the gospel writers. God’s word, the words of institution spoken before communion, make the ordinary bread and wine become the communion host and wine. When received during communion, the host and the wine are ”the true body of Christ in bread and wine” (Large Catechism). The bread and wine are therefore not only symbolically Jesus’ flesh and blood. However, they are not concretely Jesus’ flesh and blood, either. Just as Jesus was simultaneously human and the Son of God, so also the bread and wine taken at communion are simultaneously both ordinary bread and wine and Christ’s flesh and blood.
For the forgiveness of sins
At communion we are reminded of the salvation accomplished by Jesus. We are strengthened by the belief that the bread and wine are the flesh and blood of Jesus given and shed on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins.
Communion gives us strength and confidence in Christ. It gives us strength to believe confidently that our sins are forgiven and to settle mutual disputes. In that way, too, communion is a holy supper of grace that nurtures our faith.
Do this in remembrance of me
Jesus exhorted His followers to partake of communion in remembrance of Him. In the communion prayer we are reminded of God’s good works of salvation: creation, the prophecies of the future Messiah, and finally, Jesus who is Himself present in communion.
Communion is a holy supper of thanksgiving where we praise God together with ”angels and all the saints”. At communion we also feel a grateful expectation of the joy and bliss that we will experience in heaven one day. The words spoken by Jesus at the first communion remind us of our ultimate goal: ”I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matt. 26:29).
Text: Antti Koivisto
Source: Ajankohtaista 2013, Siunaus (Timely topics 2013, Blessing )
Translation: S.-L. L.
Julkaistu englanninkielisessä numerossa 16.11.2016
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