The Significance of Communion in Christian Ministry

National Association of Christian Ministers How to Series: Ministry #

Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, is a central sacrament in Christian ministry, deeply rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostolic tradition. This sacred practice holds profound theological significance, serving as a means of grace, a symbol of unity, and a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. This article explores the multifaceted significance of communion in Christian ministry, drawing from biblical texts, historical development, and theological insights to illuminate its role in the life of the church.

Biblical Foundations of Communion #

The institution of communion is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20) and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. During the Last Supper, a Passover meal, Jesus took bread and wine, gave thanks, and shared them with His disciples, declaring the bread as His body and the wine as His blood of the new covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sins. He commanded them to “do this in remembrance of Me,” establishing a perpetual ordinance for His followers.

A Memorial of Christ’s Sacrifice #

Communion is a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where His body was broken, and His blood was shed for the redemption of humanity. This act of remembrance is not merely a mental recall but an active proclamation of the Lord’s death until He comes again. It’s a means through which believers participate in the mystery of salvation, making present the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ in a way that transcends time and space.

Participation in the Body and Blood of Christ #

Paul’s epistles, particularly 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, highlight communion as a participation (koinonia) in the body and blood of Christ. This participation is understood not only symbolically but as a real communion with Christ, who is present in a manner beyond human comprehension. Through this sacrament, believers are united with Christ and, by extension, with one another, forming one body—the Church.

Theological Significance #

Means of Grace #

Communion is a means of grace, a channel through which God dispenses His grace to believers. It nourishes faith, strengthens the believer’s union with Christ, and offers spiritual sustenance. In partaking of the bread and wine, believers receive the life-giving presence of Christ, renewing and deepening their relationship with Him.

Covenant Renewal #

The Lord’s Supper signifies the new covenant in Christ’s blood, echoing the covenantal meals found in the Old Testament, where a meal often sealed a covenant relationship. In communion, believers are reminded of the promises of the new covenant—forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life—and their commitment to live as God’s covenant people.

Eschatological Dimension #

Communion has an eschatological dimension, pointing believers to the future coming of Christ’s kingdom. It is an anticipation of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), where the people of God will feast with Christ in the new creation. In this sense, communion not only looks back to Christ’s sacrifice but forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.

Unity of the Church #

Communion embodies and promotes the unity of the church. As believers partake of the one bread, they become one body, reflecting the unity and diversity of the body of Christ. This sacramental unity challenges divisions within the church, calling believers to a deeper solidarity and love for one another.

Practice and Frequency #

The early church practiced communion regularly, as part of their communal meals (Acts 2:42-47). Over time, the practice evolved, with variations in frequency, elements used, and theological understanding across different Christian traditions. Despite these differences, the central act of breaking bread and sharing the cup, in obedience to Christ’s command, remains a unifying practice across the global church.

Ethical Implications #

Communion also has ethical implications, calling believers to live lives worthy of the gospel. Paul’s admonition against partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27-32) underscores the need for self-examination, repentance, and reconciliation. It challenges believers to consider their relationships with God and one another, promoting a life of holiness and love.

Preparation and Participation #

Proper preparation for communion involves prayer, self-examination, and, where necessary, reconciliation with others. This preparation is not about achieving perfection but approaching the table with a humble and contrite heart, open to the transforming grace of God. Participation in communion, therefore, is both a personal act of faith and a communal act of worship, affirming the believer’s place in the body of Christ.

Conclusion #

The significance of communion in Christian ministry is profound and multifaceted. As a sacrament instituted by Christ, it serves as a means of grace, a memorial of His sacrifice, and a proclamation of the gospel. It symbolizes and strengthens the unity of the church, embodies the new covenant, and anticipates the eschatological fulfillment of God’s kingdom. Communion challenges believers to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, marked by love, holiness, and reconciliation. As such, it is central to the life and worship of the church, a source of spiritual nourishment, and a powerful expression of the Christian faith. In teaching and practicing communion, ministers are invited to explore its rich theological depths, foster a deeper appreciation of its significance among believers, and guide the church in experiencing the transformative presence of Christ in this sacred meal.