The Symbolism of Communion
For the first communion (or The Lord's Supper, as it is also called) Jesus sat in an upper room with his disciples, celebrating the Passover. He said some things, broke bread, passed it around, and then passed some wine around. A common quotation from this event is, "Do this in remembrance of me." Today, churches still observe communion, although each in a slightly different way. But what does communion really mean?
To better understand what communion is, we need to remember the timing of the first communion. This event didn't just take place at any time of the year, but during Passover Week, the night before Jesus was crucified.
Now on the first day of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, "Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?"
He said, "Go into the city to a certain person, and tell him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples."'"
The disciples did as Jesus commanded them, and they prepared the Passover.
- Matthew 26:17-19
Why is this so important? Approximately three years prior to the first communion, John the Baptist had called Jesus the "Lamb of God." (John 1:35 and 36.) The significance of calling Jesus the "Lamb of God" is seen on the Passover, when lambs are sacrificed to cover the sins of the people. So by calling Jesus the "Lamb of God," John was depicting Jesus as a Passover sacrifice. And now, as he passed the wine on the Passover, Jesus himself said, "this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins." (Matthew 26:28.) Jesus recognized that he was the Lamb of God, the one who would die as a lamb on the Passover, for the forgiveness of sins.
- Communion represents what Jesus did as our Passover Lamb.
Consider bread for a moment. Bread is considered the most basic food of life. David mentioned its consumption in Psalms 14:4, Isaiah implied that to have no bread was a disaster (Isaiah 51:14), and God specifically mentioned bread in his curse of Adam (Genesis 3:19). Although bread is seen to be necessary for life, we must crush it for it to nourish us. Wheat is crushed to make flour, which we use to make bread. Then, when we eat bread, we again crush it between our teeth. Jesus said, "Take, eat; this is my body." (Matthew 26:26.)
Isaiah says the following concerning the "Suffering Servant":
Surely he has borne our sickness,
and carried our suffering;
yet we considered him plagued,
struck by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought our peace was on him;
and by his wounds we are healed.
- Isaiah 53:4 and 5
- Just as we crush bread to eat it during communion, and just as bread represents food as a necessity for life, Jesus was crushed that we might live.
Now consider wine for a moment. Like bread, wine is made from crushing something: grapes are crushed and the juice collected. Unlike bread, grape juice was thought of in ancient times like blood, because of its color. Jacob foretold the riches of Judah's descendants this way:
Binding his foal to the vine,
his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
he has washed his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
- Genesis 49:11
In the opposite sense, blood is thought of as grape juice in Joel 3:10-13:
Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’
Hurry and come, all you surrounding nations,
and gather yourselves together.”
Cause your mighty ones to come down there, Yahweh.
“Let the nations arouse themselves,
and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there will I sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
Put in the sickle;
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, tread, for the wine press is full,
the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.”
As Jesus passed the wine during his last Passover before he would die, he said, "All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins." (Matthew 26:27 and 28.)
- Just as grapes are crushed and the juice pours out of them to make wine, Jesus poured out his blood for our sake.
Communion literally means to have something in common. In ancient Israel, sharing a meal with someone represented fellowship, and closeness. When Boaz wanted to show kindness to Ruth, he invited her to eat with himself and his servants. (Ruth 2:14.) When Job's fortune and health were restored to him, his family and friends came back to him and ate with him. (Job 42:11.) David lamented the betrayal of a close friend, (prophetically) stating that they had previously eaten bread together. (Psalms 41:9.)
Jesus once said:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you.
- John 15:13-15
And now, Jesus is eating the Passover with his disciples. He prays over the bread, breaks it, and says, "Do this in memory of me." (Luke 22:19.)
- Just as the twelve communed with Jesus just before his death, we can commune with Jesus by remembering his sacrifice in our breaking of bread and drinking of wine.
The disciples did as Jesus commanded them, and they prepared the Passover. Now when evening had come, he was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. As they were eating, he said, "Most certainly I tell you that one of you will betray me."
They were exceedingly sorrowful, and each began to ask him, "It isn’t me, is it, Lord?"
He answered, "He who dipped his hand with me in the dish, the same will betray me. The Son of Man goes, even as it is written of him, but woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for that man if he had not been born."
Judas, who betrayed him, answered, "It isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?"
He said to him, "You said it."
As they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks for it, and broke it. He gave to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, "All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins. But I tell you that I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on, until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s Kingdom." When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
- Matthew 26:19-30
- "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29.)