Communion as Body Fellowship
January 13, 2022 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Communion is gift from God. It is a means of grace wherein “worthy receivers are, by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace” (WSC #96). When we think of “all his benefits,” we most frequently think of that which benefits our relationship with God. This is appropriate, because the atoning sacrifice of Christ secures for us forgiveness of sins, adoption as children of God, and newness of life. The benefits of Christ’s death are not only vertical, so to speak. There is a horizontal benefit in the death of Christ, which is showed forth in communion as well.
Paul speaks about this horizontal work of Christ in Ephesians 2. He says in verses 14-16, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” The “dividing wall of hostility” was erected between Jews and Gentiles. But the division is a reality between all humans, rooted in selfish pride. Christ’s death on the cross tears down any such pride and unites people together in humble dependence upon his grace.
Paul applies this Christ-wrought benefit of body unity to communion in 1 Corinthians 10:17. He says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The bread of communion represents Christ’s broken body for his people. Since we all partake of the “one bread,” namely, of Jesus Christ, celebrating communion together also represents the unity of believers in Christ. In communion, we commune with Christ and we commune with the body of Christ, our fellow believers.
This explains Paul’s confrontation in 1 Corinthians 11. He is upset with the Corinthian abuses in the Lord’s supper. They were partaking in communion in very selfish and individualistic ways. Hear his complaint in verses 17-22: “In the following instructions I do not commend you… when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you… When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal… Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” Paul then proceeds to give instructions for celebrating the Lord’s supper.
The elders were discussing this matter on Tuesday evening during our Session meeting. Before the pandemic, we expressed our unity by coming to the front of the sanctuary to partake of the one loaf of bread. The pandemic has caused us to adjust how we administer the elements of communion. Believers receive individual wafers and eat on their own once they have received the elements. We believe this practice can cloud the horizontal benefit of Christ, that we are united in one body. Therefore, we plan to make one small adjustment this Sunday in how we celebrate communion together. We will ask you to hold the elements, do not eat and drink, until everyone has received them. Then I will instruct us to eat and drink all together at the same time, reminding us of our communion with one another. I know many churches have celebrated communion in this manner; it is good to be reminded of the biblical reasoning for what we do.
Communion is a gift for us. Through it we are made partakers of the benefits attained by Christ for us on the cross. One of those benefits is unity with the body. Let’s receive this gift with joy and thanksgiving.