Our 7th article of faith: The Holy Communion is the sacrament to commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It enables us to partake of the flesh and the blood of our Lord and to be in communion with Him so that we can have eternal life and be raised on the last day. This sacrament shall be held as often as possible. Only one unleavened bread and grape juice shall be used.
(adapted from a sermon by Pr Barnabas Chong)
This article of faith encapsulates two discussion points.
The first point is derived from the first portion of this article of faith, specifically its significance, why we commemorate the Holy Communion. The second part concerns how we conduct the Holy Communion. In other words, when we should conduct the Holy Communion and with what materials we should use.
Why do we need to conduct the Holy Communion
The Holy Communion is considered a sacrament. Sacraments are important and we need to conduct them since we have been directed to perform them by the Lord Jesus. Moreover, sacraments are intimately linked with salvation. Additionally, more specific to the Holy Communion, we have to conduct it because it is to commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (NKJV, Luke 22:19-20)
The verses record the very words of the Lord Jesus and He instructed His disciples to conduct the Holy Communion in remembrance of Him. In remembering Him, we must also remember His death and that He gave up His life for us, the greatest thing the Lord has done for us.
We know what kind of people we were before we believed in Jesus, hence we know that we are not worthy of salvation. Today, even after having believed, baptized, and having partaken of the Holy Communion, and having received the Holy Spirit, we still feel that we are unworthy of salvation. However, our Lord Jesus has already died for all of us while we were still sinners, so we should remember Him. This remembrance is necessary and all of us should do it, just as the apostles obeyed the command when they heard it. Paul too taught likewise in his epistle to the Corinthians.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (NKJV, 1 Cor 11:23-25)
When Paul taught the Corinthian believers, he taught them according to the teachings of Jesus. In fact, he described the scene of the Holy Communion once again, telling the believers to remember the Lord Jesus in this manner. Additionally, he also added a particular phrase in verse 26 – “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
Sometimes we say that we do in remembrance but we do not know what we are remembering. Because we have been doing this repeatedly and this is a weakness in man, we tend to forget its significance. However, Paul tells us, on one hand, we remember the Lord’s death, but on the other, we are also making a proclamation to the unbelievers and to everyone that the Lord Jesus died for us. And every time we conduct the Holy Communion, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death. Therefore, each time we conduct the Holy Communion, we should not think of ourselves as having to only remember the Lord’s death, for we are at the same time also proclaiming that the Lord died for us.
More than just remembrance and proclamation
Conducting the Holy Communion however, is more than just remembering the Lord’s death. It also includes a very important component, which is to partake of the Lord’s flesh and blood and to receive life.
Then Jesus said to them, “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. 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. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (NKJV, John 6:53-57)
The Lord Jesus told the multitude that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. When the Lord Jesus said these words, many of the disciples could not accept them, and later on some of His disciples left because they could not accept this saying. However, since the Lord Jesus has commanded us so, we have to do it. The Lord Jesus also taught us how to partake of His flesh and blood just before He was crucified and this is what we do during the Holy Communion.
When He blessed the unleavened bread, the unleavened bread turned into His body, and He broke the bread and gave it to them. After supper He took the cup, blessed it, and it became His blood. And when we drink of the cup, we will receive life. When the Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Communion the disciples understood Jesus’ words in John chapter 6 and they understood that the Holy Communion has to do with receiving the flesh and the blood of Jesus and by doing so they will have life. Even today, when we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, we are not only eating of the unleavened bread and drinking of the grape juice but also partaking of His flesh and blood, and we are receiving the life of Jesus.
However, we must remember this point clearly, because if we do not remember this point, we might partake the Holy Communion in an unworthy manner. In fact, there were believers who partook of the Holy Communion in an unworthy manner.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (NKJV, 1 Cor 11:27-29)
Since we are eating of the Lord’s flesh and the blood, we ought to partake in a worthy manner. Partaking in an unworthy manner would make us guilty of the body and blood of the Lord and this is why everyone ought to examine himself before he partakes of the Holy Communion. Therefore, on every occasion when we partake of the Holy Communion, we must remind ourselves that we are eating the body of Jesus. When the grape juice is brought to us, we must remind ourselves that it is the blood of the Lord. If we are careless and do not discern the body and blood of the Lord, we will be guilty.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he emphasises the attitude in partaking of the Holy Communion. Today when we partake of the Holy Communion, even if we feel tired or even if we find the sermon speaker dull, we ought to seek to refresh ourselves. We ought to think about how the Lord Jesus has died for us, because the Holy Communion is for us to remember His death. The preacher cannot remember Jesus death for us; we have to remember His death on our own. By doing so, our attitude will be set right and then we would be receiving the Holy Communion properly.
Moreover, when we say that we have come together to receive the Holy Communion in one accord but in our heart we might dislike someone very much and then we say that we have come together to partake the Holy Communion, this too is another example of not partaking the Holy Communion in a worthy manner. However if we have this attitude, how can we partake of the Holy Communion, since this bread, the body of Jesus was broken for everyone’s sakes. If we come to the church with this attitude, we are breaking up the body of Christ, the body that was broken for every single one of us. As such, as we come together as a single body, likewise we must receive as one body. Otherwise we would also be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
If we have committed sin, we have to examine ourselves properly and to ask the Lord to forgive our sins so that our consciences are clear before Him. However, if anyone among us has committed sins that cannot be forgiven (i.e., mortal sins or sins that the Lord Jesus will not pardon), then he should not partake of the Holy Communion, because if he does, he will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me and I in him.” Hence, anyone who commits a mortal sin thereby makes his stand that he no longer wishes to be in Him. This person thus cannot partake of His Holy Communion lest he consumes of his own sins (cf. 1 Cor 11:30).
How do we conduct the Holy Communion
During Holy Communion, we use only one bread as well as one cup of grape juice. Why do we conduct it in this manner? Let us see what Paul has to say:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. (NKJV, 1 Cor 10:16-17)
The reason we use only one bread is because we are all of one Body, and since the Lord Jesus only has one body, we are all of that one body. For this reason, we only use one bread during the Holy Communion.
Also, we only use unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice during the Holy Communion, because when the Lord Jesus conducted the Holy Communion, it was during one of the feasts, that is the Passover; following the Passover is the seven feasts of the unleavened bread. During these feasts, there was to be no leaven found in their homes and hence we can conclude that the Lord Jesus conducted the Holy Communion using unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice (Refer to Lev 23:4-6).
This bread and grape juice, when does it become the body and the blood of Jesus?
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (NKJV, Matthew 26:26-28)
At the point when Jesus blessed the bread and the cup, they became His flesh and blood. This, too, is our belief. When we bless, what was originally just an ordinary piece of unleavened bread becomes the body of Jesus. However, we know that it is still a piece of edible unleavened bread. Yet, through the working of the Holy Spirit, the bread has spiritually become the body of Jesus. This also applies to the cup, where after being blessed, the grape juice spiritually becomes Jesus’ blood. Hence, when we partake of the bread and the cup after they have been blessed, we receive life. We must have the faith to accept that this is the reality and not treat them as common items.
How often should we conduct the Holy Communion?
The Bible does not clearly record how often we should do it. We can even do so daily just like the disciples during the Apostolic era. All in all, the frequency is not important. What is more important is our attitude when we conduct or partake of the Holy Communion.
In summary, each time we come to partake the Holy Communion, we ought to prepare our hearts. Furthermore, if we are parents, we also ought to prepare the hearts of our children to partake of the Holy Communion. It is the duty of parents to educate their children of the significance and the right solemn attitude required during the Holy Communion service. Similarly, we ourselves ought to be solemn when we partake of the Holy Communion. Concurrently, we should also come with joyful and thankful hearts, and resolve to be a better Christian each time we partake of the Holy Communion. We should also remind ourselves that the Lord Jesus will come again to receive us home someday where we can then drink the cup with Him anew.
May the Lord Jesus help all of us.