Children’s games are built around symbols – a baby blanket becomes a wedding veil for a little girl, a stick becomes a sword, a piece of rope a beautiful bracelet, or a tree a magic castle, the branches the stairs and the leaves the vaulted roof. Ordinary objects become beautiful because of the wealth they represent in the child’s imagination, and that beauty doesn’t diminish as we become older and our imaginations perhaps a little less active – we see it because they see it, and these ordinary objects gain an incredible value and significance. Think of moms who still have their grown-up children’s toddler scribbles, or the teddy bear they slept with. Think of the wedding rings we give each other, or the letters of love or friendship that we keep. It’s not about the cost or material – it’s about the value that the item gains through its association with something or someone very special to us.
I think that God knew the value that symbols can hold for us, and so He gave us some very special symbols to remind us of the value of the gospel – like the crosses that we love to wear and display, representing the way that Jesus saved us through His sacrifice, or the presents that we give at Christmas to remind us of the gift that Jesus is to us.
Or the symbol that this article is about – the breaking of bread, or communion. Don’t be misled by my earlier comparison to children’s games – there’s nothing frivolous about communion! It’s a weighty reminder, a joy-filled proclamation, and a humble approach to God.
Jesus instituted this symbol, which is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In each account, Jesus gives thanks for the food and drink, and then has His disciples eat some of the bread that makes up their meal and drink some of the wine, telling them that the bread is His body and the wine His blood, or the new covenant brought by His blood. He instructs His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me (Luke 22:9).” This all happened at the last supper that Jesus ate with His disciples, which was a celebration of the Passover, and 1 Corinthians records that the early church followed Jesus’ instruction, eating the bread and drinking the wine, calling it “The Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11).” We continue to observe this today for the same reasons that they did – to remember, to proclaim, and to be part of Jesus’ death and all it gained. It’s all about who He is and what He did. It’s about Him.
Whenever we take communion, we remember His death and proclaim it’s truth. Paul said in
1 Cor 11:26, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” When we do this in Church, we do it as people who believe that Christ really died and His death really is what resulted in us being forgiven. So taking communion, breaking bread, whatever we call it, is a statement – “He died for me. He made me clean; He set me free!” We don’t exclude people who don’t believe – it’s not a secret, this good news! But the significance is there for we who do believe, precisely because it’s we who believe in the power of what we are proclaiming. It carries a weight – this isn’t just a story or something trivial that we celebrate.
We do it because Jesus really lived! He had a body that was wounded and broken for us, that experienced pain and death. He really bled, and really did rise again from the dead. And He did it all so that we could stand before God, clean of all sin, as we could never be on our own. These are the events that we call to mind when we eat that little piece of bread and drink that little cup of wine or grape juice. It looks a little different in different churches – some use wine and some juice, sometimes the bread is flat, or unleavened, and sometimes it has yeast. Jesus didn’t specify what kind of bread (although we assume, since it was a passover celebration, they would have, in keeping with the Jewish tradition, used bread without yeast), and the only reference to what was in the cup is a single line in each of the three gospels, calling it “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29; cf. Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). Where Jesus placed the emphasis was on what the physical elements represent (His body and blood), and why we should eat and drink them (to remember Him).
There’s another thing that happens when we as believers take communion. We feed our souls on Jesus. In John 6:35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” He said this because the people had come looking for him after he miraculously fed a huge crowd – he wanted them to know that the physical bread he fed them was far less than what he is – that what we eat has so much less value than the benefits and blessings that Jesus purchased for us when he died on the cross. When we eat, drink, remember him and proclaim his death until he comes, we participate in the blessings that he bought for us! We feed our souls on all that he is and all that he has bought for us, and we are satisfied in him.
What a blessing to be able to remember what this amazing God has done for us! To have a way of stating, over and over, that we believe in the truth of who He is, and to have access to the joy, the peace, the victory over sin and death, bought for us by the death of Jesus on a cross and His rising again from the grave so that we can have life in Him today.