By Jerry Harris
The church established in Acts 2 identified two sacred observances: baptism, which was discussed in week 1 of this series (May 2020), and Communion, termed “the breaking of bread” in Acts 2:42, that this article discusses.
The word sacred is used to describe baptism and Communion for a reason. These rituals are often labeled as “ordinances,” but they are much more than obligations to adhere to, for they possess an aspect of holiness that connect us to the blood of a sacrifice. This blood is connected to both cleansing and the forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22), meaning it is essential to personal faith. These two rituals have much similarity and some key differences. Baptism initiates the believer into a new life in Christ, the source of salvation, while Communion keeps a believer in contact with Christ.
The centrality and essential nature of blood for covering sin is illustrated by God making suitable coverings from animals for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Mosaic law taught that life is “in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11), and so blood is a physical representation of the giving of a life. Animals’ lives were taken to cover the shame of Adam and Eve, and that act was prophetic of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.
Baptism is that first point of contact with Christ’s blood that frees us from the shame of our sin. Baptism connects us to the death of Christ, the event where his blood was poured out (Romans 6:3-4), and so baptism connects us with his blood. For baptized believers, Communion is a recurring point of contact with Jesus’ blood, as evidenced by Jesus’ words at the Passover meal (“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”—Matthew 26:28).
In both of these sacred observances, Jesus infused a supernatural quality into what would have been viewed as a very ordinary thing. Being immersed in water or eating and drinking two regular parts of a meal might seem trivial but, in fact, in baptism we pass from one reality into another reality, and via Communion, we remember and reconnect with that new reality.
Where does it come from? The Passover in Exodus occurred 1,500 years before Jesus’ time on earth; it was the last plague before Pharaoh released the Israelites from centuries of captivity.
Jesus took the Passover observance and—in the upper room on the night he was betrayed—revealed its true meaning (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The Israelites thought the Passover was a time to look backward, but abundant evidence shows it was actually about looking forward. The Lord told Moses, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13) . . . blood from sacrificed lambs was applied to doorframes (Exodus 12:21-22). John the Baptist connected Passover at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Communion, then, is the central and most important part of a church service.
What am I supposed to do? Communion carries specific instructions, plus it’s the only observance that comes with warnings (1 Corinthians 11:27-31). At Communion, Scripture says, a believer is supposed to conduct a spiritual self-examination or inventory. In this examination, a believer looks backward, first at what Christ did, and then personally at what the believer has done or is doing. Communion always will include repentance, because the believer always has more work to do.
Communion needs to be regularly observed because believers need frequent contact with the blood of Jesus Christ. Acts 20:7 indicates the early believers celebrated Communion on the first day of the week. Communion helps to keep me anchored in an intimate personal relationship with Jesus.
As with Passover, Communion was designed to be taken in community. Communion and community are basically the same word (see 1 Corinthians 11:33-34). During Communion, something deeply personal occurs while, at the same time, something wonderful rises up out of the community of believers. It’s our purest moment of unity. It is something upon which we all can agree. Jesus died for me and I need to live for him! Maybe we have trouble living for him is because we don’t regularly remind ourselves to do that in “communion.”
Let’s look at a day in the life of Jesus. Jesus heard about John’s death, and then the 70 returned with thousands of people following them. Jesus preached to the crowd from a boat, and then he sought out a quiet place, but the crowd followed him. He preached, taught, and healed all afternoon and into the evening until everyone was hungry and tired. So, Jesus and his apostles fed the crowd from a child’s lunch.
Jesus sent his apostles to Capernaum in a boat, but he stayed behind. A storm came up and the apostles couldn’t get to shore. The disciples saw someone approaching, walking on water—it was Jesus. Peter got out of the boat and went toward Jesus. Jesus helped the boat get back to shore, where a crowd was waiting for their next miraculous meal. Then, in his “bread of life” sermon (see John 6:48-58), Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (v. 54). This caused many of his thousands of followers to leave him, but not the Twelve. Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t initially understand, but in time they did . . . and now we do, as well.
As we gather every week, we cannot let this critical and sacred act of Communion slip down lower and lower on our priority list! Jesus made us his priority! We must respond by making him our priority by remembering him through the celebration of Communion.