Communion, or Holy Communion, is also known as the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist and the Catholic Mass.
What is Communion? The Lord’s Supper uses bread and wine as symbols of Jesus’ body and blood.
It is celebrating that Jesus died for us, that he willingly gave his body and spilt his blood as a sacrifice for all our wrongs and sins so that we could be forgiven by God.
In eating the bread and drinking the wine it symbolises that we are taking part in his life, that we are a part of him and that he is in us by his Spirit.
Communion meaning and the Passover meal meaning:
1. How is Communion carried out in churches
Some churches celebrate Communion by the congregation walking up to the front of the church and each person is given a very thin wafer or a piece of bread.
Then this is followed by sipping from one communal cup or chalice.
In other churches, the congregation remain in their seats and bread is brought around, either this is already cut into pieces or each person tears off a piece.
Then very small individual glasses of wine or juice are brought to each person.
COVID-19 has changed these practices so that the bread and wine are not touched by every person.
2. How did Jesus introduce the concept of the Communion?
To understand what Holy Communion is about we need to look back at the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples.
In John’s gospel, we are told that the setting was an evening meal:
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.”John 13:2 NIV
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke we are told that it was at a Passover meal with his followers:
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”Luke 22:15 NIV
These do not contradict each other, because both were true.
Presumably, because Jesus as a man lived his life in obedience to the Law, he and his disciples would have visited the Temple that afternoon to slaughter their Passover sacrifice.
Then later that evening, they would have consumed it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, as required by the Book of Exodus.
That may be difficult for us to accept that Jesus was following the Law of Moses, the Old Covenant, at the point he was going to establish a new Covenant.
But think back to when Jesus wanted John to baptise Him.
John the Baptist didn’t want to do that.
People went out to him (John) from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.Matthew 3:5-6 NIV
Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”
Why should John baptise Jesus, he wasn’t sinful!
It didn’t make sense – the people were confessing their sins and were being baptised.
Yes, Jesus had no sins to confess because he is the Son of God, so why should he get baptised?
Well, Jesus said:
Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.’Matthew 3:15 NIV
Then John consented.”
So going back to the Passover meal that was going to be changed into a Communion meal, Jesus knew that he was going to finish the meal in a different way, but he did want to eat the old Passover meal with his disciples.
In initiating the Communion meal, God wanted certain things in this Passover meal to point to the Jews leaving Egypt, but also, and more importantly, to point directly to Jesus.
And this helps us in answering our question: What is Communion?
The Passover Meal is full of symbolism of Jesus and the Communion meal and we will look at this shortly in more detail.
3. The history of the Passover meal
Passover was started 3200 years ago when the Israelites left their slavery in Egypt.
From then until 70AD (about 40 years after Jesus was crucified), the Passover meal was informal:
- Each head of a family would in his own words explain the four Biblical rituals:
- the eating of the paschal lamb
- the bitter herbs
- the eating of matzah which is unleavened bread
- and telling the story of the escape from Egypt.
After the destruction of the temple in 70AD the Jews were unable to sacrifice the Pascal lambs at the temple.
The Passover meal then had to be home-based and over time became more formalised to a set pattern and it became the Passover Seder Meal.
There is an order to the Seder meal and ‘Seder’ means ‘order’.
On the table, they had a lamb bone instead of the Pascal lamb.
The Reform Judaism website describes the history of the Passover:
During the last plague, God killed the firstborn of each Egyptian family, but ‘passed over’ (thus ‘Passover’) the houses of the Israelites (who had marked their doors with lamb’s blood), leaving their children unharmed.‘Passover: History’ Reform Judaism 1
With this plague Pharaoh finally relented, and let the Israelites go.
They hurriedly packed and left Egypt, without enough time for their bread to rise (hence the holiday’s prohibition on eating leavened, or risen, grain products, and the custom of eating matzah)…
The Torah commands us to observe Passover for seven days. Many Jews in North America and in Israel follow this injunction, but some outside Israel celebrate for eight days. The additional day was added to Passover and other holidays around 700-600 B.C.E. to guard against a possible error… [of having no reliable calendar]
Celebrated in various ways throughout history, Passover incorporates remnants of ancient spring harvest festivals.
When the Temple existed, the holiday was one of three major festivals that required pilgrimages to Jerusalem to bring sacrifices.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, Passover became a more communal, home-centered holiday, with the Haggadah and the seder as we know them mostly finalized around 500-600 C.E.”
4. How did Jesus’ disciples prepare for the Passover Meal?
Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,Luke 22:8 NIV
“Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
Remember this is initiating the Communion meal.
We may think preparing for this meal is setting up a table and chairs and preparing a meal, but it involves something much more important than that.
It was mainly about getting rid of all the yeast.
It was a deep clean – like in hospitals to remove all the germs.
There mustn’t be a single crumb lying around.
A crumb of bread would contain yeast and yeast makes the bread rise.
It is a symbol of sin, it puffs up.
The Lord told Moses:
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.Exodus 12:15-19 ESV
On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day that person shall be cut off from Israel.
On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days.
But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you.
And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt.
Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever.
In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.
For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses.”
Leavened bread involves fermentation which occurs whenever flour or grain comes in contact with water.
Yeast, which causes the fermentation, occurs naturally in the air and will start fermentation immediately.
Jewish law states that any grain product that has been combined with water and sits longer than eighteen minutes before being fully cooked is leavened. 2
Jesus at this Passover Meal, this Communion, held up the unleavened bread and said:
This is my body given for you.”Luke 22:19 NIV
He was saying in effect that he had no yeast, no sin.
He is sinless, pure, he had not failed in one thought, action, or word, because he is the spotless Pascal Lamb (the Passover Lamb).
Jesus came to set us free from our worldly, self-centred life so that we can live with Jesus and be children of God.
5. Who was there at this Passover meal?
Talking about who would betray Him Jesus said: ‘It is one of the Twelve’…”Mark 14:20 NIV
This implies that there were more people present than just the twelve disciples.
There were probably women there and possibly children.
After all, the Jewish Passover does include children in the ceremony.
6. Holy Communion and the Passover Meal celebrate freedom
We’ve just seen how Jesus introduced the Communion by having a Passover Meal, and we looked briefly at how the Passover Meal has now become the Seder Meal.
We see what Holy Communion means when we look at the context of Jesus having his last supper with his disciples.
The Passover meal celebrates freedom from the Egyptians and Jesus would certainly have seen this Passover, and the new ceremony of Holy Communion, as a celebration of spiritual freedom, even though he knew that he was about to die on a cross.
The Passover Meal is a picture of freedom – from Egypt:
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.”Luke 22:14 NIV
Reclining at the table speaks of being masters, or even conquerors, and not slaves.
The apostle brings this point out in his letter to the Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?Romans 8:35-39 ESV
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Passover meal celebrates being redeemed out of Egypt.
Hundreds of years of slavery of hard physical labour, making bricks for their Egyptian oppressors.
Egypt is a Biblical symbol of being ensnared by this world.
So Jesus would certainly have seen this meal as celebrating the release of the Israelites, but also spiritual freedom for all of us now.
Jesus knows that his sacrifice, his body pierced by nails and a spear would give spiritual freedom to all who believed in him:
the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:7 NIV
So Jesus said a remarkable thing while they were eating.
He took hold of the bread, gave thanks for it, then he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said:
‘Take and eat; this is my body.’Matthew 26:26-28 NIV
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying:
‘Drink from it, all of you.
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’..”
Yes it was going to be absolutely terrible for Jesus in the next 24 hours or so, but he was looking towards securing our freedom:
For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”Colossians 1:13 NIV
References – open in new tabs:
A good online Bible is at Bible Study Tools