21st Century Discipleship Resources

Session 12: Bread and wine

The principles and practice of communion

(This final session combines the last study with the chance to reflect, to celebrate, and to pray for each other. You may like to enjoy a meal together before the study, and then share communion with one another. You could also invite a minister from your church to join the group for this session.)

Ice-breaker

Q) Talk about what this Foundations group has meant to you over these past weeks. What are you going to miss about it the most? In what areas have you grown in understanding?

Defining communion

Q) What do you understand by the term ‘communion’?

Q) Describe some of the different ways you have seen communion celebrated.

In different churches, communion may be called different names: the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread, the Mass and the Eucharist. Each of these reflects a particular understanding or emphasis, but they all refer back to the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, before he was crucified.

Origins of the communion service

Jesus and his disciples were in fact celebrating the ‘Passover’ meal together. The history of the Passover dates from around 1270BC, the time of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. It is described in Exodus 12. When the final plague killed all the firstborn sons, God ‘passed over’ the houses of the Israelites and they were spared. They fled to freedom the following day, and God told Moses to instruct the Israelites to commemorate this deliverance for all future generations. In time, this became the week-long Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread, during which the Passover meal is celebrated.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ final Passover meal is called the Last Supper, and it is on this that our celebration of communion is based. Read about it in Luke 22:14-20.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God. After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. NIV

Significance of the communion service

There are three dimensions, all of which are found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. This passage is known as ‘the words of institution’ and is often referred to in the communion service.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. NIV

Remembering – verses 23-25

Q) What do you think the symbols of bread and wine represent? In communion, each participant eats the bread and drinks the wine (or grape juice!).

Q) What is the significance of your action in taking communion?

Sharing

Communion is usually taken together with other people. One way in which we can emphasise this is to take the bread individually as we receive it, but share the cup (or cups) and drink together as a reminder that we are one body.

In the communion service, we relate to the risen Lord Jesus, who is among us by his Holy Spirit. We also become aware of our relationship with each other. We affirm our unity as ‘one body’ and we affirm that Jesus is Lord over that ‘body’, the church.

Communion is a good time to receive from God, and from each other. What are some of the things in a service that could help to make this happen?

Looking forward – verse 26

We don’t just remember the past and celebrate the present, we also look forward to the future. Jesus tells us with authority that he is coming back again! Is this something you have been conscious of during a communion service?

How to celebrate communion

Many different practices have evolved through the centuries, and it is possible to be creative and innovative in the way in which we share communion. The key thing to remember is that it is not so much what we do, as the attitude in which we do it that is important.

Read what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. NIV

Q) What does this tell you about the frame of mind in which we should take communion?

This passage stresses the importance of having a right relationship with God and with each other. Sometimes we may not feel good enough to take communion. But sin can be confessed, forgiveness received, relationships restored. For each of us, taking communion can be a time of new beginnings.

Celebration

As we come to the end of the course, this may be an appropriate time for your group to celebrate communion together.

As you do, remember and rejoice in all that God has done for you, through his Son Jesus Christ. For some of you this may be an opportunity to reach out to God for the first time.

Perhaps you will feel that you can pray for each other, or you could request prayer for a specific need.

What next?

Now the course is over you will probably be asking what comes next? The most important thing is to get involved in the life of a local church and consider being baptised (as an adult) if you have not already done so.

You may also want to build on the relationships you have made in this group and perhaps continue to meet together? You have set out on a journey but there is still a long way to go and it is good to have companions as you travel.

Alternatively you could agree on a date for a reunion and have a bring and share meal together?

Relationships need to be nurtured. Try and find time each day for a quiet moment with God. Read the Bible and listen to God as you pray.