by Tim Isbell

All Christians are instructed in scripture to regularly partake of Communion.

A Teaching on Communion

The two sacraments of evangelical Christians are baptism and Holy Communion. Communion graphically illustrates the price of our salvation and our union with the family of God. Christians partake of communion because our Lord instructed us to do so, and left a description of the symbolic meaning of this sacrament. We believe that Jesus himself is our unseen host at the communion table, meaning that it is a fellowship meal to which Jesus invites his followers to gather and eat as he serves. Jesus himself instituted Holy Communion on the night before the crucifixion, and instructed his followers to continue with the practice as a prototype of the celebration meal we’ll share with Jesus in heaven. Scripture identifies the two elements of Lord’s Supper as bread and wine. The bread is a reminder that Jesus’ body was broken, killed by crucifixion on a Roman cross, as God’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. The wine, usually replaced by grape juice in evangelical churches, is a reminder that on that same cross Jesus’ blood was shed in order to offer to us a “new covenant.” By “new covenant” Scripture means a new agreement through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God’s new promise is that every person who trusts in Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of past sins, and chooses to follow Jesus as leader of their future life, receives the very Spirit of Jesus. This Spirit is a continual companion, guide and source of strength in restoring the Christian to become more and more like Jesus himself. Holy Communion is a time of remembering this core truth of the New Covenant.

The Lord’s Supper and Eucharist are synonyms for Holy Communion. In addition to the teachings in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Paul passes on an account (1 Corinthians 11. 17-34) of the communion practice in the early church. Paul’s letter was written more than 20 years after the crucifixion. Scholars believe that his account describes the ritual that had grown up in the early church by that time. There is some indication that initially the followers of Jesus shared communion daily.

Different Christian traditions celebrate Holy Communion in slightly varying ways. In evangelical churches, an ordained or licensed pastor normally serves communion. We believe that Holy Communion is a symbolic sacrament in which Jesus’ Spirit joins Christians at the table. Though the bread used at Jesus’ Last Supper was undoubtedly unleavened, because it was a Jewish Passover meal, churches today are just as likely to use normal bread. Most churches use small individual containers of grape juice instead of wine in celebrating communion several times each year. In most churches, you do not need to be a member of that particular congregation or denomination to participate. All who have committed themselves to follow Jesus Christ and to pursue right relations with our fellow men are welcome at the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes communion is used as the marker to identify when someone decides to become a Christian.
Scripture does not give us direction on whether or not young children are to take communion. Thinking on this issue is diverse, so different churches handle this in different ways. Some automatically include young children as part of the family of Christians, only asking the general question of whether the child loves Jesus as best they know how at this stage. Other Christian parents teach their children to wait until they are old enough to become believers themselves before they are to partake in communion.

Episcopal and Catholic churches celebrate communion as part of every Mass. In Catholic Churches participation is limited to members of that church who have completed a course of study preparing them for their first Holy Communion. This generally occurs when a child is around the age of 8. Many of these more formal traditions use wine, often from a common cup. Grape juice is usually available upon request. 

A biblical example of Communion: Luke 22.1-20

This Scripture is one of three accounts in the Bible of Jesus’ last supper (the other two accounts are in Matthew and Mark). It occurred as part of the Jewish Passover celebration.

Questions about Holy Communion

  1. What are the 2 food items used in Holy Communion, and what does each represent? (1 Cor 11.23-25)
  2. What motivated God to send his son into the world, what did he do when he got here, and what good is that to us? (John 3.16-17)
  3. What is the old covenant? (Leviticus 20.22-24 and Exodus 20.1-17)
  4. What is the new covenant? What’s new about it? (Heb 8.6-13)
  5. Who brings us the new covenant? (2 Cor 3.4-6)
  6. Reflection question: What are the requirements for a mature adult to participate in Holy Communion? How about for a teenager? A child? (1 Cor 11.17-22 & 27-34)

Memory verse:

1 Corinthians 11.26

Optional reading

Nouwen, Henri, Life of the Beloved. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1992

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