Holy Communion is a very important sacrament to Christians because it was personally established by Jesus as a commandment for His disciples to follow (Lk 22:19-20).
(adapted from a sermon by Pr Chin Aun Quek)
Jesus established the Holy Communion Sacrament so that we might remember Him. To recall that He died for our sins and His precious blood has washed away our sins, enabling us to be His children and heirs of His kingdom. He has used His precious blood to establish a new covenant with us and this is the reason why we conduct the Holy Communion Sacrament to remember our Lord.
Given the importance of this sacrament, we need to ask if the way we conduct the Holy Communion is correct.
There are no church denominations who object to conducting Holy Communion. In fact, as far as I know, all Christian churches conduct the Holy Communion in one form or another; the many different Christian denominations each have their own ways of conducting Holy Communion. Why are there so many different ways of conducting this?
It is clear that when our Lord Jesus established this sacrament, there was only one way. Even when the apostles, including Paul, conducted the Holy Communion subsequently, none of them went about conducting it in their own method or way; they conducted it in the way our Lord Jesus had taught and showed them. From this we know that there is only one way of conducting the Holy Communion.
There are many ways the Holy Communion is conducted now because we have not conducted it according to how Jesus did. Today, many Christians believe that as long as they remember that the bread is the body of Christ and the cup is the blood of Christ, it is enough; it doesn’t really matter what methods they use and they do according to what they think is good.
But is it really unimportant how it is done?
If it is unimportant, why did our Lord Jesus specifically instruct us to do it as how he had done? Not only do we conduct the Holy Communion in remembrance of Him, we have to do it according to how our Lord has shown us. And in the Holy Communion, the bread and the cup are important. We cannot subtract nor add to the way we conduct Holy Communion because we ought to do as how our Lord Jesus did.
In this case, it is important to know the kind of bread Jesus used during Holy Communion. There were many types of bread available in His time, but Jesus used unleavened bread during Holy Communion, which was also during the feast of Passover. During the feast of Passover, the Israelites cannot have anything with leaven in it. So this feast was also called the feast of the unleavened bread. It signifies the need to preserve one’s holiness and abstinence from sin. The unleavened bread is important because it is related to teachings regarding sin; using common bread which contains leaven instead of unleavened bread would defeat the teaching of having no sin.
Similarly, it is important to know what was used for the cup. Grape juice and not wine fermented from grapes is used. Some churches use wine, which contains leaven. Using wine also, defeats the teaching of having no sin.
“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.”” (1 Cor 11:23-24)
Apostle Paul, in a discussion regarding the Holy Communion Sacrament, emphasized the need to do what Lord Jesus instructed. “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you.” He did not do anything according to what he thought best or what others thought was good. Back in the apostolic days, there was only one way to conduct the Holy Communion Sacrament.
Paul also tried to correct some of the erroneous teachings that the Corinthian members followed. He said that we not only use unleavened bread during Holy Communion, but that we should only use one bread. This is a point that many people neglect. There are some who use unleavened bread, but they use multiple pieces. “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.” (1 Cor 10:16-17)
It is clear from these verses that although we may be many, there is only one bread. This bread represents one body. It is not an analogy. We use only one bread during Holy Communion; when there are many, a bigger bread is made. Likewise, when there are fewer members, a smaller one is made. And unless we partake of the same bread, we would have gone against the teaching of the bread being one body.
The way to conduct the Holy Communion Sacrament is not complicated. If all of us act according to the words of Jesus, there is only way. Just like it was during the time of the apostles, only one unleavened bread and grape juice is used. Today, when we conduct Holy Communion, do we do it in this manner? If not, should we correct ourselves and return to the way our Lord Jesus had taught us?
It is not only important for us to remember our Lord Jesus during Holy Communion. Another important teaching of the Holy Communion Sacrament is to have communion in the body and blood of Christ. Paul reminds us, “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?” This is, sadly, an important teaching we often neglect. If we do not feel that we are actually partaking the body and blood of Jesus during Holy Communion, Paul says that we have actually “offended the body and blood of Christ, you are eating and drinking your own sin”. This is a critical problem which we ought to consider. The Corinthian members did not value this teaching and it was the reason why they were drunk during Holy Communion. Was it because of their drunkenness that Paul said they were eating and drinking their own sins? No. They probably had other problematic behaviours.
So what does it mean to “take the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner”? If I get drunk, I am merely offending my own body, not Christ’s. How is it related?
“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.” (1 Cor 11:27-29)
We are guilty of the body and blood of our Lord when we treat the Holy Communion as something common. When we partake the Holy Communion without believing in the teachings, we are eating and drinking our own sins.
How does one discern the Lord’s body (v.28-29)? What does it mean to eat and drink judgment upon oneself?
To what extent do we believe that the bread and the cup are indeed the body and blood of Christ? If I do not truly believe and yet still take it, then I am guilty of the body and blood of Jesus because I have not discerned that this is His body. In the same way we get baptized because we believe, we partake of the Holy Communion because we believe that the bread and the cup are the body and blood of Christ. To partake is to obey. It is unlikely that we will be able to discern this when we are drunk, and to some who partake of the Holy Communion, this is merely a ritual. These are people judged by our Lord.
Hence, during Holy Communion, we not only remember our Lord, we have communion with His body and blood. As we partake, we need to examine ourselves: Do we truly believe that Jesus Christ died for us, that His blood has washed away our sins, and we are partaking of His body and blood? Knowing this, we need to preserve ourselves and not sin anymore. This is the attitude to have as we partake of the Holy Communion.
This teaching did not originate from Paul; he merely explains what our Lord Jesus had first explained in John 6:53-56:
“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.””
We eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lord during Holy Communion. From Jesus’ words, we know that this is not just an act of commemoration. Jesus specifically emphasizes the importance of eating His flesh and drinking His blood – it is so we will have eternal life and He can raise us up on the last day. Jesus emphasizes this repeatedly and makes it clear that it is a teaching we cannot neglect.
However, this is a difficult teaching for people to accept; even Jesus’ disciples found it hard to take and when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (Jn 6:60)
It is indeed a difficult teaching to understand and accept. Even today, many people feel the same way. So when we partake the Holy Communion, are we truly drinking Jesus’ blood and eating His flesh?
This was one of the issues that two well-known church reformation leaders, Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, differed upon. Together, they had led a largely successful reformation to bring believers back to the bible. Yet, because of their split over the Holy Communion, they separated.
Zwingli thought that the Holy Communion Sacrament was merely symbolic. Even after blessing the bread and wine used during the sacrament, he believed that the bread and wine stayed the same. After blessing, the bread and wine becomes a symbol of Jesus’ body and blood. His reasons for believing were that Jesus’ physical body was still present when He first conducted the Holy Communion and said that the bread was His body. When He said that the cup contained His blood, He had yet to be crucified. So to Zwingli, it is reasonable to explain that Jesus meant for the bread and cup to symbolize His body and His blood.
Luther disagreed; he argued that the bread and wine remains the same after blessing. However, when believers partake of them, they are truly partaking of the flesh and blood of Jesus because His flesh and His blood coexist with the bread and wine then. Luther too, had his reasons for this argument. Jesus lived as a complete man and had the complete nature of man when He lived in the world. Yet, we know that at the same time, He is completely God and has the complete nature of God. In essence, both the nature of man and of God exist in Jesus at the same time. In the same way, Luther argues that the wine and bread coexist with the true flesh and blood of Jesus.
The Roman Catholic disagreed with both. They believed in transubstantiation, which describes how the bread and the wine changes in substance to become the body and blood of Jesus. They believe in transformation, and not coexistence, of the bread and wine. Despite the transformation, the bread and wine does not appear to be different. This teaching was endorsed in 1215 during the Lateran Council.
The True Jesus Church does not agree with any of these teachings. We do not believe that the essence with the bread and cup has indeed changed to the body and blood of Christ. This is because Jesus had a spiritual body after He resurrected. We do not say that the substance of the bread and cup transforms to become the body and blood of Christ when His is no longer a physical body.
After Jesus resurrected, He told his disciples to “Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk 24:39). He had a body and He ate right in front of them. This seemed to suggest that Jesus still had a physical body and by association, suggests that the bread and cup appeared the same, yet its substance has changed. There is nothing wrong with this explanation if the spiritual body of Christ was truly like this. Yet, we saw evidence how His body was different. After His resurrection, Jesus could suddenly disappear and appear; He superseded time and space. How was He able to do this if His body had remained in its material form?
It is clear that Jesus’ body was longer a physical body, but a spiritual one. Hence, during Holy Communion, we cannot say that there is a transformation in the substance of the bread and the cup. Rather, in the spirit it has become the body and blood of Christ.
A transformation in the substance is vastly different from a change in the spirit because it is clear that the spirit and substance are two different things. We believe that in the spirit, the bread and cup is changed. This change is a difficult one to grasp because we are influenced by our understanding of the concept of transformation. A key question to ask would be how is it that the body and the blood of our Lord is now in the spirit? Jesus Himself explained this when people asked Him how to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood:
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (Jn 6:63)
The flesh profits nothing as all substance and all flesh will disappear. What remains is the spirit. “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” We believe that whatever the Lord says, it will come to pass. So when Jesus says, “this is my body”, it is indeed the body of the Lord in the spirit.
When Zwingli argued that Jesus could not give His body and blood while He was still alive, he was thinking in terms of its actual substance. Yet, it is clear from Jesus’ teaching that the flesh profits nothing. What He wants to give us is not His physical flesh and blood. It is something in the spirit. After blessing, under the moving of the Holy Spirit, the bread and the grape juice used in Holy Communion is the body and blood of Christ. We partake of it so that we have the life of Christ in us, to have eternal life, and be raised up on the last day.
May the Lord help us understand the teachings of the Holy Communion Sacrament, so that we may keep it in the way our Lord Jesus established.