Though we cite scripture when we take communion, we don’t do it in a biblical way
Most Christian churches have integrated some form of communion into their worship practices. Though they do this in different ways and with varied frequencies, the central process is similar. As a basis for their practice of communion—also called The Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist—they cite biblical explanations of when Jesus instituted this practice.
Three of the four biographies of Jesus give us details about the first communion. These appear in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-20. Paul also recaps this in his first letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. These passages are often part of our modern practice of communion, either formally as part of a liturgy or informally in explaining the practice or as the elements are in your introduced.
Because we invoke scripture when we take communion, we assume we’re doing it in a biblical way. Unfortunately we aren’t. Though we crouch the experience in scripture, we have veered far from what it should be, from what Jesus expected us to encounter.
To understand communion we need to look at the occasion when Jesus introduced this to his disciples. It happens as they celebrate the Passover meal. Exploring this situation lets us know the meaning behind communion and informs us how we can rightly experience it today.
The Context of Communion: First we must note that both Passover and the setting when Jesus introduced communion happened during a meal. When is the last time you took communion as part of a meal? I suspect your answer is seldom or never. And that’s the point. By separating the sacrament of communion from a meal diminishes its true meaning and turns a celebration into a ritual.
If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to make it part of a meal, not as a separate ceremony.
The Setting of Communion: Next consider the setting of where Passover and the first communion were celebrated. Passover occurred in the family home, with friends gathered and possibly some neighbors invited over. It didn’t happen at a religious service or during some large gathering. Instead it was in a private setting, an intimate gathering with people close to you.
Jesus followed this when he celebrated his final Passover meal with his disciples. They met in the upper room of a home, and Jesus surrounded himself with his closest friends here on Earth. They shared a meal and during that meal he introduced the symbol of the bread to represent his body and the wine to represent his spilt blood.
If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it in our homes with our family and friends, not in church.
The Frequency of Communion: Some Churches take communion every week, others once a month, and some quarterly. A few churches do communion at random times without any prescribed schedule. So how often should we take communion? The answer will surprise you. It’s not weekly, monthly, quarterly, or randomly. There are two possible answers, which we can glean from the four accounts in the Bible about the first communion.
In these accounts Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19), and Paul adds the phrase, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26, NKJV). Well how often is that?
If you want to disassociate the phrase “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” from the annual practice of Passover, then the only interpretation indicates every time you have a meal. That means we should practice communion each time we sit down to eat. That’s three times a day. And if we practice communion that often, we run the risk of it becoming a meaningless ritual much like the obligatory prayers we say before we eat.
However, since the setting was Passover and Passover is an annual event, it’s likely that Jesus intended for us to celebrate communion once a year, an annual holiday like Christmas or Easter.
If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it once a year as an annual celebration, not more often.
This gives us three principles to follow if we are to rightly celebrate communion: It is part of a meal, enjoyed in the intimate setting of our homes surrounded by family and friends, and done as an annual event. Noticed that a church building and a church service are nowhere in this understanding. Instead of celebrating communion at church, church should teach us how to celebrate this with our family in our homes.
When we do this, we will reclaim the celebration of communion as it was originally intended, how Jesus practiced it, and as the Bible describes it.