Keeping Communion Fresh (part 1)

Communion illustration

When churches shift their focus, one thing that often gets neglected is communion. When we focus on reaching the unchurched, or serving the community, or new expressions of worship or different approaches to preaching and teaching, it is easy to let communion sit on the back burner. We tend to default to our traditional approaches or ignore it completely. I think that’s a mistake. It blurs lines that should stay clear and it causes us to forfeit opportunities to bring a manifestation of God’s presence into our meetings. Let me explain.

The Biblical message to outsiders should focus on the resurrection:

When you read the book of Acts you are struck by the fact that no one, at any time tried to explain to non-believers why Jesus died on the cross for us. Instead, the focus was on proclaiming what God was saying to us when He raised Jesus from the dead and appointed Him as our ruler and savior. The doorway to conversion in the New Testament was faith in the resurrected Jesus and acknowledgment of His leadership (Romans 10:9-10).

Non-believers find salvation through a faith surrender to the living Christ and they receive forgiveness as a gift from God. Forgiveness of sin is the amazing and wonderful fruit of our yielding to the Truth of the gospel. But, at least in the New Testament, non-believers aren’t readily given the privilege of knowing how God made that gift possible. That is bread for the children of God.

Communion reminds believers of the power of the death of Jesus:

This is where breaking bread together gains its power as a teaching tool and ministry opportunity. It is in communion that we proclaim the beauty, power and significance of Christ dying for us. His shed blood carries our sin away. It is how God is both righteous and merciful at the same time. We remember that God didn’t forgive us because he felt sorry for us, was in a good mood or had warm fuzzy feelings for His creation. He forgave us at great cost because He is both holy and loving. He pays our debt for us.

Communion reminds believers of that, we re-learn it, apply it to our lives and to the church. It is a wonderful celebration of and call to grace. This is what it means to be believers! We should be looking to teach these wonderful truths and apply them to who we are and what we do.

Communion is exclusively for believers:

There are many unnecessary barriers between believers and non-believers and I generally applaud efforts to tear down as many as possible. But communion is supposed to be a distinctive.

It beautifully highlights the necessity of responding to Jesus. It makes it clear that either you are committed to following Christ or you are exploring what that might mean for you. By keeping this distinctive we have wonderful opportunities to both teach AND evangelize.

All that to encourage you to keep thinking about communion and how you practice it. I’d be interested in hearing from you. How do you approach sharing communion? What has been working and what might need adjustment? Your thoughts?

11 comments for “Keeping Communion Fresh (part 1)

  1. August 22, 2014 at 10:40 am

    When the kingdom first came into the earth and that culture is referred to
    in the book of Acts the second chapter beginning at verse 42, which says,
    “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, in fellowship,
    in the breaking of bread and in prayers.”

    So you see, you could think of this breaking of bread as being the Lord’s supper or you
    could think of it as being something vastly more significant and different. You could
    think of the symbology of breaking and eating bread and drinking wine in celebration of
    the Lord’s supper or you could understand that beyond the symbol of that is something
    that is meant to give life. The breaking of bread in the Scripture, as part of the culture of
    the church, is far more….far more than the Lord’s supper and goes back to bringing forth
    the full significance of the conflict in the garden into the kingdom of God. That is, it’s
    not that it brings the conflict of the garden into the kingdom but the kingdom resolves
    the conflict that began in the garden between the two trees; one that brings death and one
    that brings life. Because it’s in the kingdom that one gets to eat the bread of life come
    down from heaven because man has routinely eaten the bread that brought death.
    Now as we move this matter forward, let us look at a little bit of the history of bread in
    the Old Testament. When Israel was in the wilderness God fed them with manna. The
    word “manna” means “what is it?”. They didn’t know what it was, they only knew that it
    was bread from heaven. But to that very generation and while they were eating bread
    from heaven God told them this – look with me, the book of Exodus – concerning a table.
    In Exodus 25 God said, “Make a table of acacia wood,” and then He describes the
    dimensions of the table, He says, “Overlay it with pure gold and around it make a rim, a
    hands breadth,” and then He tells them how else to make it, you know make rings so you
    cannot put poles through it, so you can move it, but then He says, “And make plates and
    dishes of pure gold as pouring out of offerings,” and then verse 30, the purpose of this
    table, “Put The Bread of the Presence on this table to be before Me at all times.” The
    Bread of His Presence. The table was known as The Table of Show Bread because they
    put twelve loaves on that table every week, it was changed out every week. So for seven
    days out of the week, there were twelve loaves put on golden plates on this table. The
    table was called The Table of Show but the bread on the table was called The Bread of
    His Presence.

    So the table and the bread together was meant to show the presence of God. And then
    now, at the end of this sojourn in the wilderness in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 8,
    God would say this, “Man shall not live on bread alone,” in fact He said, “I took you…”
    let me find it very quickly. Here He said, Deuteronomy 8:15, “He led you through the
    vast and dreadful desert with it’s waterless land, with it’s snakes and scorpions, He gave
    you manna to eat to test you and to humble you so that in the end it may go well with
    you. You may not say that, ‘It was by my strength or by my power have I done these
    things’,” and God said to them, “Remember the Lord when you come into the land.” And
    just previous to that God had said, “The reason I did this was to show you that man does
    not live on bread alone, he lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

    I want to follow on because while God is feeding them manna, bread that
    they may consume but even by consuming this bread they would still die. He had them
    create a memorial of another kind of bread: bread that brings life. He said, “Put on the
    table of show twelve loaves of the Bread of My Presence,” to teach what? That man does
    not live on bread alone, he lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

    the breaking of bread is part of the culture of the kingdom meant
    to impart life to the believers. Man needs food from God.

    So this is the evolution and this is the significance of bread; that there is one bread for
    the body and one bread for the spirit and it’s different. God himself, the bread of His
    presence – feeds the human spirit and whoever seeks the kingdom does not primarily
    seek bread for the body; we seek first the kingdom and the righteousness of God and all
    the things for which our bodies have a need will be added to us. Nowhere is this notion
    more clearly delineated than in and around the sixth chapter of the book of John and the
    eighth chapter of the book of Mark. Now I’ll review the events of both of those chapters.
    In the sixth chapter of the book of John, Jesus feeds the five thousand. The young boy
    had five barley loaves, small loaves, and two small fish and he brings them to the Lord;
    Jesus feeds a multitude. And then strangely enough, after feeding the multitude, Jesus has
    His disciples collect up twelve baskets full of fragments.
    Now in the event around the feeding of the four thousand, which is a different event and
    it happens later in time, the one recorded in Mark 8, in that event Jesus feeds four
    thousand and they’re in the boat after the feeding of the four thousand and Jesus asks
    them this question, He says…He asks them about bread and the disciples had forgotten to
    bring bread, this is from Mark 8:14, “The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except
    for the one loaf that they had with them in the boat,” and verse 15 Jesus says, “Watch out
    for the leaven of the pharisees and of Herod,” the disciples obviously didn’t understand
    what He was talking about so they concluded that this discussion had come about
    because they had no bread. Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them, “Why are you
    talking about having no bread? Do you still not see and understand, are your hearts
    hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you
    remember when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of
    pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied, “And when I broke the seven loaves for
    the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They answered,
    “Seven,” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” Well the question is:
    “Understand what?” Our focus, on the feeding of the five thousand and on the feeding of
    the four thousand, normally is on how many people are fed. His focus – the Lord’s focus
    – in both instances, when He reviewed those instances in Mark 8, was on “How many
    baskets full of fragments did you pick up?” When they fed the five thousand they picked
    up twelve baskets; when they fed the four thousand, they picked up seven baskets full.
    What is going on? Well to understand this we must pursue further the things Jesus was
    speaking about in the sixth chapter of John. You recall after He had fed the five
    thousand, the multitude followed Him around and the next day caught up with Him in the
    city of Capernaum and they basically said, “When do we eat again?” And He said to
    them, “Do not labor for the bread that perishes,” and they said, “Well Moses fed our
    fathers in the wilderness,” and He said, “Don’t seek to be fed in this way, there’s more to
    life than this kind of bread.” “I am the bread of life,” He goes on to say, “whereas your
    fathers ate manna in the wilderness, they have died. But if you eat of Me you will live
    forever because I am the bread of life that has come down from heaven.”
    So the obvious question is, “What is the difference between bread like our fathers ate in
    the wilderness, manna, and this bread that You’re claiming imparts life?” Well to
    understand that one has to understand what we were speaking about earlier: there’s bread
    for the body and there’s bread for the spirit. They were focusing upon eating enough
    bread for the body so that they didn’t have to work anymore, like Moses and their fathers
    in the wilderness, their daily bread was supplied by simply going out and gathering it;
    there’s no toil involved, they didn’t have to go to work to earn money to buy food. But
    Jesus was saying there is another kind of bread that is all the more important and it is
    bread for your spirits. And so when they said, “What do we do to get this kind of bread?”
    He said simply, “Believe on the one who has been sent and I am that Bread that has been
    sent, if you’ll eat of Me you will live forever,” and they were thoroughly offended
    because to them ‘eating of Him’ was perceived carnally and they were offended at the
    notion of cannibalism. But He was not in the least talking to them about cutting off
    chunks of His flesh and ingesting it, that would begin and end in the realm of physical
    food. And the Lord’s supper – the bread does not transubstantiate to become the flesh of
    Jesus, that would begin and end in the carnal. The wine does not transubstantiate to
    become blood, that begins and ends in the carnal. No, they’re symbolic of something
    greater and that is they’re meant to be food for the human spirit. The revealed person of
    Christ is food for the human spirit, it’s not chunks of His flesh that would become food
    for his body, it’s the revealed Christ who is food for the human spirit. And He was saying
    to them, “Who I am cures that which was lost when Adam ate from the tree of the
    knowledge of good and evil because what Adam did then was to feed his own soul,
    denying his spirit bread that came from the tree of life. When that happens, man dies.
    As long as the emphasis is on ingesting any substance within this human body, then we’re
    still in the realm of death. The knowledge of good and evil did not bring life to man, it
    brought condemnation because man with the knowledge of good and evil is condemned
    because he is incapable of being good apart from God. Because the evil one said, “You
    shall be as gods.” How successful can a man be at being God if he is in opposition to
    God? He dies. This is what sin was. Sin was eating the wrong food, sin was encouraging
    the soul….sin, the original sin was encouraging the soul to live in opposition to God and
    the whole metaphor was eating from the wrong source. Because you see, life itself is
    considered to be sustained by eating. God, in creating man, gave him a body, He gave
    him a soul, and He gave him a spirit and each one may be sustained. The body is
    sustained by physical food, the soul is sustained by the will of the man – the food that the
    man generates for himself – and the spirit is sustained by the presence of God. The soul
    may be sustained by the spirit if the soul is subject to the spirit.

    How many baskets full did the disciples of Jesus collect when Jesus instructed them –
    following the feeding of the five thousand – when Jesus instructed them to collect up the
    fragments? The answer: twelve baskets. What is the message? The message to them,
    understood in the next day, John 6, the day after He had fed the five thousand, the
    message is this: “Yes, you came and I fed you like God fed your fathers in the wilderness
    a long time ago but you were not interested in who I actually am, you’re just interested in
    having another meal. But who I am is the Bread that sustains you because I am the bread
    that was symbolized by the twelve loaves on the table; I am the bread of the presence of
    God. I am the bread which if you will eat will give you life, it will restore you to God,
    will remove the curse of the fall, will present you again to the Father in the One who is
    bread from heaven. I am that bread.” But because twelve baskets full were collected, He’s
    saying to that multitude that day, “All that I really am remains uneaten. Collect back up
    the fragments and what you will see is none of who I am was eaten while they ate their
    fill of bread miraculously produced like manna was given in the wilderness. So gather up
    the fragments and it’ll tell you whether that generation has received Me or not. And what
    is the verdict? They did not receive Him. “He came unto His own,” John 1:11-12 says,
    “and His own received Him not but as many as receive Him, to them He gives the power
    to become the ‘huios’, the fully mature sons of God.

    So when He said, “Gather up the fragments again,” this is what He’s saying, “Although
    this generation does not eat the bread of My presence, there will come a generation that
    will.” What generation would that be? The answer: the generation that receives the
    revelation of this mystery. Behold, I show you a mystery, this generation will eat the
    bread of His presence and be restored to our fellowship with the Father through the Son.
    The breaking of bread then is when we meet to together, the Christ that is in each one be
    shared with the other.

    With this revelation and understanding then we do share the table of the LORD.

  2. August 20, 2014 at 9:33 am

    The Scriptures shows how God is restoring the culture of the kingdom to the Body of
    Christ. We understand Scripture through the culture with which we are familiar.

    The breaking of bread as a cultural element of the kingdom when present culture has been superimposed upon the culture of the kingdom, the “apostles
    doctrine” means “500 year old doctrines”
    by Luther and Calvin and so on and fellowship means meeting to have a potluck or a common meal usually at the church building .

    The breaking of bread is relegated to the Lords supper and prayers means either prayers that have been written down in a book of common prayers or all night prayers, as is the current vogue.

    These are present culture superimposed upon the Scriptures producing a totally insufficient largely meaningless interpretation of the Scripture .

    So why is the breaking of bread a critical element of the culture of the kingdom? Is it more than a common meal? Why does God even use the symbology of bread?
    This principle of bread has been selected by God,He

    selects objects in time or persons, like God presents male and female as ways of showing
    things about God; types, shadows, indicating the reality. And the more common the type,
    the more common the shadow, the more significant the representation of God that that
    thing is.

    So when we speak of the human need for bread on a daily basis, to consume bread, we’re
    speaking of the nourishment of the human being that is also required as regularly as
    bread is required. But there is more to the human being that just this physical body and
    more to bread than just eating that he might be sustained in his physical body. Here’s
    what Jesus speaks of. This is from the book of John chapter 6 verse 47, “I tell you the
    truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the Bread of Life. Your fathers ate
    manna in the desert yet they died but here is the bread that comes down from heaven
    which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven, if
    anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh which I will give
    for the life of the world.” Do you see? When God said to man in the garden, “Of all the
    trees of the garden you may freely eat but of the tree that’s in the midst of the garden you
    shall not eat of it because in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” He is
    introducing us to the notion of bread and not all bread is good for you, even though our
    thinking is, “Surely, all bread must be good for you.” But here God says, “Do not eat of
    the tree that’s in the midst of the garden,” and He calls that tree “the tree of the
    knowledge of good and evil.”

    “I am the bread of
    life come down from heaven, if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever,”? There’s
    bread that brings death and bread that brings life that rescues one from having eaten of
    the bread that brings death. This is the threshold issue and all of what is meant by bread
    in the Scripture if it is more than just food to be ingested plays off of these two critical
    pictures; there’s a bread that brings death and there’s a bread that brings life. The bread
    that brought death was bread from a tree known as the tree of the knowledge of good and
    evil. And that compares to another tree that was called the tree of life. Once man ate of
    the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was forbidden to eat from the tree of life
    but there is no indication that he could not routinely eat from the tree of life as part of his
    daily eatings.

    So you see, you could think of this breaking of bread as being the Lord’s supper or you
    could think of it as being something vastly more significant and different. You could
    think of the symbology of breaking and eating bread and drinking wine in celebration of
    the Lord’s supper or you could understand that beyond the symbol of that is something
    that is meant to give life. The breaking of bread in the Scripture, as part of the culture of
    the church, is far more….far more than the Lord’s supper and goes back to bringing forth
    the full significance of the conflict in the garden into the kingdom of God. That is, it’s
    not that it brings the conflict of the garden into the kingdom but the kingdom resolves
    the conflict that began in the garden between the two trees; one that brings death and one
    that brings life. Because it’s in the kingdom that one gets to eat the bread of life come
    down from heaven because man has routinely eaten the bread that brought death.

    The breaking of bread then is when we meet to together, the Christ that is in each one be
    shared with the other. Our fellowship is not about how we meet to have potlucks, that’s
    how the household of God is arranged. And the breaking of bread is not about having the
    Lord’s supper, the breaking of bread is how the life of Christ that is in each of us might
    be broken and distributed in our conversations together. The true fellowship that the
    Scriptures speak about, the word fellowship that we call meeting together to eat, that’s
    actually the fellowship of the Spirit which is how the Body of Christ is arranged. But
    what we call fellowship is actually the breaking of bread, the bread that is broken is the
    bread of His presence in each of us. So our meetings together, these kinds of meetings
    should not be about lectures from the pulpit. The early church did not meet
    congregationally, the only time the early church met in this fashion was to hear an
    apostle. The normal meeting of the church early on was from house to house. So we’re
    going to have to change the culture of the church – from the culture of congregational
    meetings run by pastors – to fellowship that meets in such a setting as would allow The
    Bread of His Presence to be broken and distributed that the people of God might have an
    abundance of food for their spirits.

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      August 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      Mohammad, It is great to have you join our conversation. Thank you. Much of what you share comes from a perspective that I don’t often see and I so appreciate your insights. It is true, and I agree completely, that we all see the scriptures through the window of our own culture. It is also true that what Western Christians say is apostolic doctrine is often the doctrine of the reformers from a few centuries back. The challenge for all of us is to keep pressing into the scriptures to see what they meant to the original writers and listeners – as best we can.

      I also love the idea of taking the imagery of bread and linking it to the greater bread that is Jesus Himself, and then plugging in to the greater story of human history and redemption. He is there in the Garden, He is there with the Apostles, and He is here with us when we gather. It is among us that He is broken and shared between us. That is so true and so powerful indeed.

      While I am not sure that I fully understand all you were saying, I do think it is important for us to participate in the physical manifestation of that bread, broken for us. I cannot escape thinking that Jesus had exactly that in mind when He stood with a cup and bread in front of the Apostles and said, Do this in remembrance of me. Paul also seems to echo that sentiment. (But they too were saying that within a specific culture with all the meaning that held.) It is always possible to get so caught in the imagery of the “sacrament”, that we miss the reality. This is what I hear you speaking about. But, to my mind, that doesn’t eliminate the power or the necessity of actually using bread (or whatever fills that role in our culture) and a cup to remind us of the spiritual realities we honor and celebrate.

      We must never get so caught up in the way our culture celebrates those things, that we miss the thing itself – Jesus among us, the bread of Life!

  3. Keith
    August 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for your blog Mark. You had me thinking on this one. Through the years we’ve celebrated communion in a variety of ways:

    • Where everyone had a large piece of bread and shared it with various individuals ending with a common cup.
    • A season where we shared it Sunday service on a weekly basis.
    • An efficient distribution with 6 tables appearing and we were ushered through a line where we picked up a piece of unleavened bread and dipped it in the grape juice, It was so efficient we didn’t have time to think,
    • And then there was the Promise Keeper Conference where we all received a premanufactured cup with a thin wafer in the cover, These were passed/thrown around until all were “served.”

    I’ve always looked lonmgily at Smith Wigglesworth’s practice of daily communion He pointed to those times as central to his life in the Spirit.

    Regardless of form, Jesus said to “do this in remembrance of Me.” Time to ponder His great love, His character, Word, purpose in my life have always been rich. I’ve also seen communion as a practical way to keep the Body of Christ free from division and disunity. Paul’s warning of the consequences of wrongly discerning the Body seem incongruent with some of what’s taught today. Am I wrong?

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      August 18, 2014 at 7:12 am

      There really is a lot in this Keith. I’m not certain the important issue is in the actual, How we celebrate, what I really think matters is the proclamation that comes with it. Faith comes by hearing…

      There are important personal things that happen between God and us in communion. There is the opportunity to experience God in fresh ways in the taking of the bread and the cup. I think that is reflected in Wigglesworth’s taking it daily. But there is also an unmistakably corporate thing that happens too. This can never be accomplished alone.

      I think quite possibly this is what is behind Paul’s statement that we judge the body incorrectly and experience some judgement from the Father. Communion has a distincly “called together as one body” component that the strictly personal part can ignore. Perhaps the challenge we face is to adjust the proclamation that we use when we invite people to partake. Here is where we need sensitivity to the Holy Spirit so that we are inviting people to experience God in the way He has in mind, for this moment.

      PS, I really hate those pre-packaged communion cups, don’t you?

  4. August 15, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for the provocation Mark. The most meaningful times of Communion for me have been intentional meals – feasts with the whole church. This seems to echo the practice that Paul refers to in Romans 11. He was rebuking the church for not….well basically for not showing love and care for one another when they did gather to eat. Even a meal together as a church can lose significance. But we only do it occasionally and that keeps the meaning and value special. Would it be so, if we ate together every week?

    • August 16, 2014 at 2:29 am

      Thanks Mark for your characterisic clarity on the subject.Like Anthony,communion in the context of a meal together,but distinct from a normal social occasion continues to be the most meaningful expression for me . However I constantly feel there is a greater reality in sharing communion that we are to discover .As well as expressing the unity of the body of Christ and remembering the Lord in a way that is aided by revelation and not hindered by religious tradition,I personally believe it should be a place of great healing. That is the very opposite to what happens if we engage in communion in the wrong way as detailed in Corinthians. We probably need a greater measure of the fear of the Lord so we can approach this also with greater expectation of positive.

      • Mark McGrath
        Mark McGrath
        August 17, 2014 at 9:56 am

        I agree John, I believe communion can provide us with a powerful doorway to the supernatural – and we might be short changing ourselves and the call of God to “break bread” regularly.

        Typically, when we do something in remembrance of someone it is because they are gone. In Jesus case, when we call him to our active memory, He is there! Does He want to enhance His interaction with us when we “remember Him?” Does He want to apply what He accomplished in the very act we are remembering? Does He want to hold us actively and presently accountable for those realities. I think that may be in part what Paul is referencing in the negative effects on people who broke bread without integrity. He is holding us accountable in a very real and present way. I sure want to find that doorway more frequently.

      • Keith
        August 17, 2014 at 4:45 pm

        How do you celebrate communion I’m LifeLine UK.?

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      August 17, 2014 at 9:48 am

      No question Anthony, it seems that communion in the early church days was part of a meal. I wonder if that was partly because Sunday was a work day in both the Jewish and Roman world? Maybe eating together also filled a very practical time and nourishment need. Either way, the normal discourse around a meal seems to facilitate genuine sharing and interaction. In context that is part of what communion is supposed to represent. Would it be possible to lose track of that if it were done every week? I guess that is why there may need to some exhortation at every meal, to provide some focus.

      Are there ways to get the same dynamic more regularly? I think that might be the challenge we all face. Your thoughts?

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