What is communion? I once invited a friend to a church service where communion was performed. My friend watched as pieces of bread and little cups of grape juice were passed out to members of the congregation and the passage in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. After the service concluded, my friend confided to me that he was a little unnerved by the communion service. “Jesus was calling on His disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood? That sounds like cannibalism. So what is communion all about?” my friend asked.
The dictionary definition of communion is fellowship or an act of sharing something together. What we call communion is also known as the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper. It was the last meal Jesus had with His disciples. This meal is very important because it sealed God’s new covenant with His people.
Before we can talk more about the Lord’s Supper and God’s new covenant, we first need to understand the Old Testament feast that the Lord’s Supper is based upon and what was the old covenant.
Let’s turn to Exodus 12:1-27.
The Passover was a yearly Old Testament feast that commemorated God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh would not release the Israelites, so God sent ten plagues as judgment upon him and Egypt. In the final plague, God killed all the first-born in Egypt, but gave instructions to His people on how they can escape this terrible destruction – a lamb was to be sacrificed In each household to take the place of the first-born. During the Passover, people would also eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread to remind them the bitterness of their bondage and how they left Egypt in haste.
Let’s turn to Exodus 6:6-7.
In Jewish tradition, four cups of wine were drunk during the Passover to remind everyone of the passage Exodus 6:6-7:
- The cup of sanctification – “…I will bring you…”
- The cup of plagues – “…I will free you…”
- The cup of redemption – “…I will redeem you…”
- The cup of praise – “…I will take you…”
Psalms 113 and 114 would be sung in between the drinking of the first and second cups. The Passover meal of bread dipped into bitters herbs was eaten between the drinking of the second and third cups. Psalms 115-118 were sung after the drinking of the third cup. After that, the fourth cup would be drunk and Passover would end.
Let’s turn to Exodus 24:3-11.
This passage gives us the details of the old covenant between God and His people, which was ratified with a covenant meal.
Now, what was the flaw in the old covenant? Let’s read Exodus 24:3 again and then turn to Galatians 3:21 and Hebrews 8:6-8.
According to these verses, was there anything wrong with God’s part of the covenant? No, not at all! The flaw in the old covenant was the people’s inability to keep their part of the covenant, despite their promises that they would do so. So, how did the new covenant improve upon the old covenant? Let’s turn to Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The new covenant was superior to the old covenant in that through the power of the Holy Spirit, God was going to put His laws into the hearts and minds of His people. What we cannot do on our own ability and power, God was going to accomplish for us by changing our hearts!
Now that we have sufficient background information, let’s turn to Matthew 26:26-30 and Luke 22:19-20.
Jesus took the Passover and imbued it with even deeper meaning.
Let’s turn to John 1:29.
The lamb that was sacrificed for the Passover meal was symbolic of Jesus, who died to save us from our sins.
Let’s turn to Romans 3:25 and Romans 5:9.
Remember from Exodus chapter 12 that the blood of the lamb was applied to the door frame and the angel of death passed over that house, sparing all those inside from the final plague. In the same way, Jesus shed His blood to save His people. We need to be covered by the blood of Jesus to have our sins taken away from us.
Let’s turn to John 6:33-35 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.
The bread symbolized the body of Jesus, which was broken for us. Just as the Passover was to be kept as a memorial by the Jews, Jesus tells us to keep communion in remembrance of Him and what He did for us at the cross.
Let’s turn to Hebrews 9:15-18 and Galatians 3:15.
Just as the old covenant was sealed with a sacrifice and a meal, Jesus sealed the new covenant with a meal and His death at Calvary.
Let’s turn to Matthew 26:29-30 again.
Friend, did you notice that Jesus did not drink the fourth cup of the Passover? Jesus is waiting for the day He can drink this final cup with His people after His second coming (Revelation 19:9)!
Friend, communion is a time of thanksgiving and remembrance for Jesus’ sacrifice and death for us at the cross. Communion is a time where we gather together and anticipate the soon return of our Lord and Savior. Communion is a time we recommit ourselves to share the Gospel message! Will you eat of Jesus’ body and drink of His blood?