There’s something special about sharing a meal with others. Gathering around a table to eat and drink can be a powerful way to connect with people. On the last night before Jesus’ death, He shared a meal with His closest friends. During the meal, Jesus made some astounding claims. His words formed the foundation of what we know today as communion. So, what is communion? Let’s explore its origin and meaning together.
The Basics of Communion
Communion goes by different names. Some call it the Eucharist, others call it the Lord’s Supper, and some call it Holy Communion. While every faith tradition has distinct ways of practicing communion, they all share some common qualities.
At its most basic level, communion involves eating and drinking while reflecting on Jesus’ life, teachings, and sacrifice.
Each Christian church will have unique ways of receiving communion, but almost all will involve some kind of food and drink. Most often, the food is some sort of unleavened bread, and the drink is wine, grape juice, or water.
So, why food? And what’s significant about bread and wine?
Where Does Communion Come From?
On the last night before Jesus’ arrest and execution, as He gathered His friends for that final meal, He made two statements that form the foundation of communion.
The Significance of Bread in the Lord’s Supper
[Jesus] took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19 NLT
Jesus began the meal in the traditional way, with the host blessing the bread and passing it around the table. But His next words were extraordinary. He explained that the bread represented His body, and that they should remember Him as they ate.
So when we eat the bread, we’re encouraged to remember Jesus. How He lived, how He loved, and His sacrifice for us all. The bread is a physical reminder of Jesus’ identity and helps us reflect on how our life can better imitate His way of life.
The Significance of Wine in the Lord’s Supper
After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. Luke 22:20 NLT
After eating dinner, Jesus took a cup of wine and made an equally unusual statement. But what does it mean? Well, the word “covenant” appears regularly in the Bible.
A covenant is a kind of agreement or contract made between two parties. In the ancient world, you’d need to sacrifice an animal for a covenant to be valid. The sacrifice was a reminder of the significance of the agreement.
In God’s new covenant, Jesus would be the sacrifice confirming a new agreement between God and humanity. This new covenant allows us to find grace through Jesus’ death on the cross.
So when we drink from the cup, we reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice for us and the pain He endured so that we can find eternal life.
Why Do We Celebrate Communion Today?
Early Christians immediately saw the value of communion. They knew it was a meaningful way for them to remember Jesus’ sacrifice. That’s why they did it often.
We celebrate communion for the same reasons. It’s an opportunity for us to remember Jesus’ life and to reflect on His sacrifice.
Communion creates connection.
We also know that communion created unity in the early church. Local churches rarely got to connect with their brothers and sisters in Christ from other cities. Yet they knew that all followers of Jesus shared the same tradition.
We can feel the same unity today. Christians all over the world speak different languages and worship in diverse ways. But we all share “one bread” and “one cup.”
So, in a way, it’s impossible to take communion alone. Even if you take it when no one else is around, you’re still sharing communion with your global church family.
How Do I Participate in Communion?
There’s no rule in the Bible saying where we should take communion. So we can take communion at home, at church, or anywhere we happen to be.
The early church celebrated communion with a meal in homes. Today, communion is often practiced in church buildings. Some still share full meals in communion, but more often, we simply share symbolic pieces of bread and a sip of wine or grape juice.
Does Communion Need to Include Bread and Wine?
There’s nothing magical about the bread and wine. They’re simply a physical way to represent Jesus’ body broken for us and His blood shed on the cross.
The bread and drink at the Lord’s table were ordinary. Just about every meal in those days included bread and wine. Jesus took those normal elements and used them to illustrate spiritual meaning.
So no, you don’t need to use unleavened bread and wine in communion. You can use anything you have available. Why? Because the power of communion is in reflection on Jesus’ sacrifice and connection with other followers of Jesus.
How do I know if I’m receiving communion the right way?
If you eat while reflecting on Jesus’ way of life, and drink while remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, then you’re taking communion.
We need communion … for now.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11 that there’s a time limit on communion. He tells us that we’ll keep taking communion until Jesus returns. Why? Because communion is a physical reminder of Jesus’ life and sacrifice. When Jesus returns, we won’t need to take communion. Instead, we’ll consistently be in His presence, and we’ll never be in danger of forgetting all He’s done for us.
For more on communion, check out this set of communion resources.