Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why Every Sunday? (3) What does "Communion" Mean?

I doubt that they still have a "radiator club" at Northwest Christian College. It was never official -- just a group of guys gathered around the warmest spot on campus on a cold day who debated heavy theological subjects. One of the topics that came up occasionally was how and when we come in contact with the blood of Christ. If His blood was shed for our forgiveness and salvation, how and when does it become effective in our lives?

I was familiar with language in the New Testament that seemed to link baptism with the blood of Christ, as in Romans 6:3, Do you not know that as many of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? It sounds like he is answering our question. The blood of Christ, shed for our salvation becomes effective in our lives when, with faith, we are baptised. If it is through the blood of Christ that we are forgiven then Peter's words on Pentecost also link baptism with His death: Repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of your sins ... (Acts 2:38). He used a purpose phrase: be baptised for the purpose of receiving forgiveness of sins.

Paul also seems to link communion with the blood of Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:16 where he asks rhetorically, Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? This is where the word "communion" comes in. The Greek word, koinonia, is translated here as "sharing". It can also be translated as "participation" in the blood of Christ, or as "communion," that is, a common sharing in the blood of Christ.

Add to this what Jesus says in John 6, using strong and graphic metaphorical language: Most assuredly, 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 eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (6:53-54). When we read this in context it becomes clear that Jesus is not speaking literally. Instead, he is stressing what happens when we truly believe. When we have an active, dynamic faith in Him it is like ingesting him, i.e., making him a part of our lives in a real sense. Many commentators see these words in John 6 as his interpretation of what happens when we partake of the Lord's Supper with faith.

It is significant, I think, that the words of institution used by Jesus in the upper room were not, "the bread is a symbol of my body," or, "this cup is a symbol of my blood." What He said was, This is my body ... This is my blood. Sometimes I think we would feel the impact of this more if, as in some churches, we would come to an altar, kneel and receive the communion from someone who says to us, with the bread, "the body of Christ, given for you," and with the cup, "the blood of Christ, shed for you."

Why do we have the Lord's Supper every Sunday? Because baptism alone is not enough. In baptism we meet Christ in his death and receive the benefits of his death. But that doesn't end our sinning. Fortunately, the Lord has provided for our need and each Sunday we can once again, as Paul says, Share in the blood of Christ.

Dr. G. Edwin Osborn, one of my teachers at Phillips Graduate School, attended Edinburgh University. He told of attending a Church of Scotland communion service when a high school girl near him hesitantly lifted the cup to her lips and then, with tears in her eyes, put it down. The Minister leaned forward from his seat on the chancel and whispered in a hoarse, easily heard, voice, "take it lassie, it is for sinners like us." Amen.

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