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Holy Communion

When we call the Lord’s Supper, “Holy Communion,” what do we mean?  The “Holy” part should be the most obvious, but in particular, what do we mean by “Communion”?  Communion most simply means to come into union with another.  So, we are talking about how this Sacrament brings us into union, but with whom?  Is this coming into union with God or with the Church?  As is so often the case in these types of questions, the answer is: both.

First, in the Sacrament we come into union with God in a most intimate way.  This is more intimate than any Old Testament fellowship meal.  Let’s take Exodus 24:9-11 as an example.  Here Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel went up on Mount Sinai and ate with God.  They were able to behold God and eat in His presence because they were covered in the blood of the covenant.  So, there was a union that they had with God because of this covenant.  In a previous post, I noted how we, through Holy Communion, have union with God in the New Covenant of Christ’s blood, and the parallel here is striking.

However, we find in Holy Communion a form of unity with God that is greater than any in the Old Testament.  First of all, it is a unity sealed in the blood of Jesus, not in some bull, goat, or lamb.  Yet there is another way we are given a greater form of unity with God.  This unity is that the blood of the sacrifice is not put on us, but into us.  Jesus commands us: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV).  Likewise, we are commanded to eat Jesus’ body.  Whose body and blood are we commanded to eat and drink, but God the Son’s!  You cannot come into union with another in a greater way than this.

It is this union that also brings us into union with the Church, with other Christians.  Because, if I am in union with God through Christ’s body and blood, and you are in union with God through that same body and blood, how can we not be united together?  The Apostle Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (ESV).

This makes our practice of Holy Communion a reception of union, but also a confession of union as well.  If we are united with Christ and with each other at the Communion rail, should we not make sure that this is in fact the truth?  What happens if we come to receive Communion with those with who we are not in union? Are we not sending a mixed or even false message of union where there is no union?

Here we need to make a couple of things clear.  First, through Christ, and yes through the Sacrament, the whole Christian Church is united.  We should not say that because another Christian disagrees with us over a given area of doctrine that they are somehow excluded from the union of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church.  On the other hand, we also should not use the great, internal union of the Christian Church as an excuse for pretending we have a greater union than we really do.  If there are real differences between Christians of different confessions, we should be honest about this, rather than pretending to be in full “communion” when we are not.  Full communion with God and with each other should be our goal, but one to be achieved in truth, not by covering over real divisions.

So receive Holy Communion, be built up in the faith and in union with God, and hopefully He will knit us together fully in His truth so that all Christians might enjoy Communion here on earth.

 

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