The Christian practice of communion is a reminder of why Jesus is important and how his life affects us. To see the full depth of it, you have to consider pre-Christian religion.
Before Jesus: Manna Was “Bread from Heaven”
When the Israelites left Egypt, they spent 40 years in the desert as nomads. During this time, their primary sustenance was a food called “manna” (lit. What is it?). Every morning, it appeared on the surface of the ground. People milled it into flour, then baked cakes with it. This food couldn’t be kept overnight; it would spoil.
During this time, God sustained people in a very tangible way. They would have starved in the desert if he hadn’t provided them with this miraculous food. The people had no choice but trust God to provide it each day.
Before Jesus: Sacrificed Meat
Part of the Israelites’ relationship with God was animal sacrifice. In short, sacrifices served as “bridges” between the supplicants (who were imperfect) and God (who was perfect). An animal would be killed, then some parts were burned on the altar. Other parts were given to the priests, to be eaten by them.
In this way, the sacrifice served a double purpose of providing access to God and providing food for full-time clergy.
Jesus Is “Bread from Heaven”
These two points provide a backdrop for Jesus’s claims:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
(source: John 6)
Here, Jesus united the traditions of sacrifice and “bread from heaven”:
- Jesus himself is some kind of better bread than manna.
- To eat this bread, you must eat his flesh. (Yuck!?)
- As the “living bread”, Jesus provides absolute sustenance: those who eat it have “eternal life”, meaning that they’ll enjoy eternity in union with God after Jesus’s return (cf “raised up on the last day”).
On the night before his arrest (ie, during the “last supper”), Jesus made this idea concrete:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
(source: Luke 22)
This instituted the practice of communion, also called the Lord’s supper. Communion is a reflection of some points of faith:
- The bread & wine are imperfect pointers to a perfect “food”, which is Jesus himself.
- Although bread sustains you for short time, believing in Jesus provides eternal life upon Jesus’s return.
- The bread & wine are stand-ins for Jesus’s flesh and blood (😳), and by eating it, we remember Jesus as a sacrifice in both ways mentioned above:
- Jesus bridges the gap between us and God, allowing us to have a relationship with God
- Jesus provides sustenance for day-to-day life (by way of faith in him, in the form of hope for his kingdom to come).
These are the reasons I enjoy communion. It’s a reminder of how God made peace with me, a sinner, by Jesus’s sacrifice. As a result, I can trust God to forgive my sin, sustain me in day-to-day life and “raise [me] up on the last day”.