The Case for Communion

Part I

A friend recently explained to me that he did not find the worship of the Orthodox Church relevant.  For him, it was boring, out of touch with twenty-first century life, and simply one “branch” of Christianity’s “take” on how we should worship.  In response, I explained that true worship comes from God and is ordained by Him.  The Church, therefore, cannot seek or invent new ways of worshiping Him, ways that might appear to be relevant.  Rather, she must be faithful to the commands and directions of the Lord, in all things, even worship.

Specifically, God has commanded that when Christians assemble for worship, they celebrate and receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.  Historically, the Church from the time of the apostles until today has gathered on the first day of the week, Sunday, and, in worship, the Church has celebrated the Holy Eucharist.  In fact, until 1517 when Martin Luther sowed the seeds of the Protestant Reformation, no one had ever questioned the validity of Holy Communion.

When we look at how various Christians worship today, it is apparent that few still believe the Eucharist to be the central aim and goal of worship.  In fact, in a country like the United States, worship styles are constantly being developed, and relevance (what worship style “speaks” to me, makes me “feel” good) is, for many, the primary objective.  As a result, the goal of worship when relevance is used as the measuring stick becomes of the self rather than of God.  Yet, as we shall see, what can be more relevant when it comes to how we worship than the commands of Christ, located in Holy Scripture? 

According to scripture, Christ commanded His followers to “Take, eat; this is my body” and again, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant,” (see Matthew 26.27-28, Mark 14.23-24, Luke 22.19-20). The original Greek of this command is even more powerful than the English translation of it.  In the original Greek, Christ uses the imperative case; He is giving a command, like “stop!” or “sit!”  In other words, He is commanding His disciples to receive, eat, receive, and drink His Body and Blood.  More importantly, the imperative case He uses implies the infinitive, meaning He is giving a command that has no end in sight.  Like when you tell your child to look both ways before they cross the street – your intention is that they do it every time they cross the street, not just the one time you told them.  Therefore, Christ’s command is to be followed even today! Looking at the scriptural witness for Eucharist, one must also take into account the words of Christ found in chapter six of the Gospel of John.  Careful study of this chapter must be made with special attention given to the verses following the forty-first.  In verse forty-one and following, Christ says, “‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall 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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him,'” (John 6.51-56).

The reaction to the words of Jesus was disbelief, as is stated in the following: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.  Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,'” (John 6.66-58).  Today, many still find these words of Christ difficult to believe.
(This concludes part I of this series, next month this series will conclude with some additional texts from the New Testament that further The Case for Communion).

Part II, How we Worship & Why

After Jesus was raised from the dead, we know that He appeared to His disciples and strengthened them in their faith.  One such appearance occurred on the road that goes from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Two disciples were walking towards Emmaus when the Lord joined them on their way; the account is given to us in Luke 24.13 – 35.  At first the two disciples do not recognize that it is Jesus who has joined them and as they walk, they share with Him the events and news that surrounded Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.  The Risen Lord then upbraids them because they failed to recognize that the Christ was to suffer and die and then enter His glory, and so Jesus goes on to open and interpret all the scriptures as they pertain to the Himself. When the three of them reached Emmaus, the two disciples, who still do not recognize their traveling companion as the Lord, ask Him, “‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’  So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight,”  (Luke 24.29-31).  The two immediately returned to Jerusalem to share what had happened to them with the other disciples, saying, “. . .They told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread,” (Luke 24.35) 

What does this passage tell us about communion?  How are we, the faithful, to know the Lord after His passion, crucifixion, and third-day resurrection? How will we recognize Him?  It is clear that Holy Scripture tells us that Jesus is recognized in the breaking of the bread, a technical phrase that indicates Holy Eucharist (it should be noted that this event occurred on the first day of the week, Sunday).

Now, after Jesus’ ascension into the heavens (Luke 24.51, Acts 1.9), we know that the Apostles continued the celebration of the Eucharist on the first day of the week, as their Lord had commanded them, which is shown in the following scriptural passage: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (in Greek koinonia, the direct translation is communion), to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2.42).

Of course, the great Apostle Paul wrote about the celebration of Eucharist in his epistle to the Corinthians, and from the Book of Acts, we know that he too devoted himself to Eucharist every Sunday (Acts 20.7).  This was how St. Paul worshiped; he celebrated the Lord’s body and blood and received it, as the Lord commanded.  In the decades following Christ’s death and resurrection, the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians dealt with the incorrect understanding many Christians developed concerning the Eucharist.  In his first letter to the Church in Corinth, St. Paul writes, 10.16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ?”  St. Paul corrects those Christians who had forgotten what the true meaning of the Eucharist was: an actual communion with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Later in this same epistle, he warned the Corinthians that the participation in the Eucharist in an unworthy manner could lead to illness and even death (1 Corinthians 11.27-30).

The Church has never forgotten the command of Christ, and in humility, She accepts the Lord’s words as they stand, “Take, eat, this is my body.”  For 2,000 years now, she has faithfully gathered and worshiped by celebrating the Eucharist. The question remains for every Christian, how shall I worship?  Shall I worship in a way that has been ordained by God, Holy Eucharist?

In the end, the Christian must not ask himself what type of worship they find relevant, or the type of worship they like. Rather, they must ask themselves is the way in which I worship according to the words of the Lord.

“O taste and see that the LORD is good!”  Psalm 34.3