We are live in an unprecedented time in the history of the Church. Ordinarily, on Good Friday, tens of thousands of churches representing millions of people would be remembering the death of Jesus through the sacrament of Holy Communion. Now, in 2020, most of these churches will be empty.
Of course, we will still be celebrating what the death of Jesus meant for us by participating in worship, prayer & the Word through ChurchAtHome! But what about #CommunionAtHome? Is this something we can practice in our own homes, without the presence of clergy or without the gathering of other Christians?
In order to answer this question it will be helpful to refresh our understanding of the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The origin of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper as some call it (1 Corinthians 11:20) goes right back to Jesus. Each of the synoptic Gospels records the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night that he was betrayed (Matt. 26:26–30; Mark 14:22–26; Luke 22:19–20):
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 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.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”Matthew 26:26-30
The significance of the symbolism in this event is connected to the occasion of this meal, which was the Passover festival (Matthew 26:17). This important celebration commemorated the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, through the last of the ten plagues (Exodus 12).
It was on this last night in Egypt that the angel of death killed the firstborn male from every household (including livestock!), except for those in God’s covenant community, who identified themselves by painting the blood of an unblemished lamb on their doorposts. God commanded that on this last night a special meal be made to commemorate this event, a meal which included unleavened bread.
When Jesus then took bread and a cup on the night of the Passover, and connected it to his coming death, he redefined the elements of this sacred meal! He would become the passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7)!
What that means for us is that our ‘participation’ (1 Corinthians 10:16) in the ‘body’ (bread) and ‘blood’ (cup) of communion symbolically identifies us with those who have now finally, and fully, been saved from eternal death!
This leads us to an important principle that we hold to. We believe that Communion is for those who identify Jesus as their Saviour.
Just as the blood painted on the doorposts identified the Israelites as God’s covenant people, so our participation in drinking the cup (and eating the bread) identifies us as the ones who are members of God’s New Covenant (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20). That is: it is one of the ways that we symbolically identify ourselves as Christians!
Note: participating in Holy Communion does not make us Christians, it simply makes visible, or identifies, declares, demonstrates, that we already are Christians!
The apostle Paul would later say that those who partake in the body/bread of communion are those who ‘discern the body’, that is, those who already recognise Jesus as their sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11:29).
This is why Augustine called the sacraments ‘visible words’, meaning that the simple act of eating and drinking in the Communion meal is a declaration of our belief. The means of our salvation will always and only be by grace alone through faith alone!
This has direct implications for #CommunionAtHome.
If we were at Church we would emphasise and stress this point: Communion is for believers! Don’t take this lightly in the less formal environment of your homes!
It also means that parents need to be discerning of their children participating in communion. We have provided additional communication for parents on this, but the bottom-line is that anyone can participate, so long as they themselves would identify as Christians, and ‘discern the body’ of Jesus (symbolically) in the bread, and similarly his blood with the cup.
Since there is such significance to Holy Communion, which perhaps makes it better suited to celebrating at Church, why then are we inviting you to participate at home?
The answer again goes back to the occasion of Jesus’ last supper, the Passover. Here God commanded this to be a sacred feast to be kept “throughout your generations, as a statute forever” (Exodus 12:14). Again, Jesus adds to this in his re-interpretation of Passover (and the institution of Holy Communion) by saying we are to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).
This is one of the reasons God gave us this particular ordinance as an observance, simply as a reminder of what Christ has done. This is not so much because we are in danger of forgetting, but we are in danger of distancing ourselves from the central event of Jesus’ sacrifice to the point where it no longer functions as the controlling centre of our lives!
We don’t know how long lockdown will last, or how long we will be restricted from gathering. We take seriously Jesus’ instruction to ‘remember’, and realise that as believers we should never move far from refreshing ourselves with the truth of the sacrifice of Jesus!
There is a second reason why we believe it’s significant to participate in communion at this time.
After affirming Jesus’ command for us to remember his sacrifice through this meal Paul adds: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
This means that there is a ‘proclamation’ or ‘preaching’ element to communion: it communicates something! It communicates the gospel in ‘visible words’ to those around us.
For now that may only include members of our immediate household, some of whom may not yet be followers of Jesus. Don’t underestimate the ‘preaching’ effect that your participation in Communion may have!
And let’s not forget the effect that our combined proclamation under such extraordinary circumstances may have on a watching world. Perhaps more than ever the world needs to see people ‘participating’ in the hope of Jesus!
One more thing: sometimes we as Christians need this ‘preaching’ of the gospel more than anyone else! In these days of fear, doubt, uncertainty and the threat of hopelessness, we need to remind ourselves, ‘preach to ourselves’, the certainty of the victory of Jesus! The ordinance of Communion not only communicates to the world, but also to our own hearts, and provides much needed assurance.
How will this all work?
Since the elements and the procedure are normally all laid out for you at Church, what must you prepare in order to participate in CommunionAtHome?
Richard will explain more about how we will partake during the live communion event, for now all you need to do is get the elements ready. Some simple bread or crackers, along with any form of juice (preferably red!), is all you need.
We look forward to proclaiming the death of Jesus with you in this powerful way tomorrow!
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved”Acts 2:46-47
#Acts246 #LiftTheSail #ChurchAtHome #CommunionAtHome
Children & Communion
Our Children’s department has put together a great document on Children and Communion. Please read this to help you to disciple your children around the topic of Communion