God has recently had me pondering this passage in 1 Corinthians 11 (God’s Word translation), which speaks on communion:
v26 Every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you tell about the Lord’s death until he comes.
v27-29 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks from the Lord’s cup in an improper way will be held responsible for the Lord’s body and blood. With this in mind, individuals must determine whether what they are doing is proper when they eat the bread and drink from the cup. Anyone who eats and drinks is eating and drinking a judgement against himself when he doesn’t recognize the Lord’s body.
v30-32 This is the reason why many of you are weak and sick and quite a number of you have died. If we were judging ourselves correctly, we would not be judged. But when the Lord judges us, he disciplines us so that we won’t be condemned along with the rest of the world.
Let’s unpack these verses…
WHY DO WE TAKE COMMUNION?
Communion (in some form or another) is evident throughout both the Old and the New Testament.
To commune means, ‘to get very close to someone by communicating one’s feelings and thoughts’ or ‘to live and work together, sharing possessions and responsibilities’ (Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster Dictionary). Communion adds ‘to provide for, nourish, protect and redeem’.
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve communed with God (Genesis 1:26 – 3:21). He formed them and breathed His very life into them (Genesis 2:7). He gave them the responsibility to name and to care for the animals (Genesis 2:19). He walked and talked with them in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). He had conversations with them to protect (‘Don’t eat the fruit of that tree’) (Genesis 2:17), discipline (‘Why are you hiding? You’ve done the wrong thing and now bear shame’) (Genesis 3:8-9, 14-19), and restore (‘Let me cover you’) (Genesis 3:21) them.
This is the gospel in a nutshell: God created us to commune with Him, we broke the relationship, He fixed it. Every story throughout the remainder of the Word echoes these same tenets.
The Passover, wherein people painted blood on their doorposts so that God’s judgement would pass over their home, was a precursor to communion as we understand it today (See Exodus 12:13-28).
Communion always involved bloodshed for the redemption of sins. In the Old Testament the blood of animals was used and in the New Testament, the blood of Jesus took this place. Christ’s sacrifice brought us back into right-standing with our Heavenly Father once-and-for-all-time.
Thus, 1 Corinthians 11:26 reminds us that taking communion is a declaration of this saving grace we’ve experienced and received. We take communion to celebrate the significance of Jesus’ gift to us.
HOW SHOULD WE PREPARE TO TAKE COMMUNION?
The Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist as some may refer to it, is what we know as communion today. It is a small meal consumed to remember and celebrate Jesus’ love for us as demonstrated by his sacrificial death on the cross.
As every good cook and chef knows all too well, crafting a meal takes a measure of preparation. Creating a gourmet experience for a consumer is often a lengthy process, whereas a ‘fast-food’ option might be made more quickly and easily.
I don’t know about you, but I often muse over things whilst waiting for the kettle to boil so that I can make my morning coffee. A few days ago, I was doing this and thinking about making my breakfast and it hit me… we often take communion like we do our breakfast.
“Pardon?” I hear you say. Let me explain.
Typically I, and likely most of our readers, am in the habit of making a fairly easy breakfast, giving little thought to it, Often I think,besides ‘How can I make this part of my day less time-consuming so that I can get on with other things?’ If you had a birds-eye view into my kitchen, you’d likely see me preparing a bowl of cereal or perhaps toast: easy and efficient.
Last Monday, I had a friend stay overnight. In the evening, we wandered along, ambling our way to the local grocery store, prams (strollers) in tow with our little ones. We chatted all things life… and all things breakfast and decided, “Let’s do a cook-up!” We purchased supplies and the next morning as I entertained our babies, my friend lovingly prepared our cooked breakfast: bacon, eggs, tomatoes, avocado, toast… a delicious feast, nothing like my usual quick-fix breakfast (Also, if you read my previous article and you’re feeling bewildered, yes I do have another foster bub (Aussie for baby) in my care!).
This banquet reminded me of a time when I was a little girl, when my family lived with my grandmother for a period of time. In the wee hours of the morning she would get up and cook us breakfast. There were thick sausages, eggs, toast, you name it. My brothers and I, who were young children at the time, ate huge servings (man-sized portions). We loved it! It was special!
We can either view communion as the ‘cereal’ option – the quick and easy, get it done, kind of deal, OR we can see it as the incredible spread of a cooked breakfast. It’s all about what preparation we’re willing to give to it.
The Corinthians were ‘cereal’ kind of people in their attitudes towards taking communion, and so they received a warning to not take it for granted, but to treasure the significance of what it means (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). This can serve as a warning to us also. If we’re to prepare our hearts well, first and foremost we need to be a people who place value upon communion because of the powerful redemptive story it tells. We must put-off our dismissive ways and flippant attitudes and focus wholeheartedly on ‘why’ we take it.
Along with giving attention to the reason we take communion, we must examine our own hearts just as David did in Psalm 139:23-24 when he prayed,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting”.
To examine one’s heart as a Christ-follower, isn’t simply to think about matters ourselves, but to extend an invitation unto God, asking Him to reveal to us the true nature of what’s in our hearts.
As Jeremiah 17:9-10 (King James version) states,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings”.
Personal introspection without direction from God, is useless. In our broken-humanity, we too readily make excuses for our behaviours and attitudes; reasoning-away matters which need our attention and correction. Giving the Father permission to speak truth into our lives breaks down this barrier and allows us to accurately examine our hearts, turn our eyes towards Jesus, and align our will to His. Giving God permission provides us with an opportunity to repent (acknowledge, confess and turn from sin) and grow.
As we come to communion, we must examine our hearts, asking ourselves:
- Am I living as Christ would?
- Do I need to say sorry and make amends for something I’ve done this week?
- Do I need to rethink my attitudes towards someone?
- Is there someone I need to forgive?
- Do I need to extend grace, rather than judgement, to an undeserving person in my life? Am I honouring my Saviour, by praying that he/she might encounter Jesus and His incredible love, so that his/her life might be transformed too? Or am I selfishly holding onto resentment and bitterness, and in doing so putting a wall up which might make it difficult for this person, who so clearly needs Christ, to actually encounter Him?
Hence, to prepare to take communion, we must give the Lord both permission and room to speak to us. This is hard to do if we don’t allow room to hear from Him. So perhaps, we might become a little less hurried and somewhat more open to pause and genuinely commune with Him. We must intentionally create space for a meaningful conversation between us and Him.
I realise that each of us may feel ‘constrained’ by time within a church service, however I also know that we can allocate time in our personal lives for these conversations to occur – whether it’s in a set devotional time or as we go about our daily tasks. We can each then come to our church gatherings with our hearts and our lives already focused on Jesus and exposed to His examination. The physical action of taking communion together can, in a sense, be the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence of our week-long conversations with God.
WHY DOES IT MATTER THAT WE PREPARE BEFORE WE TAKE COMMUNION?
Verses 30-32 of 1 Corinthians 11 tell us WHY we must prepare our hearts – these words give us the reason for doing so.
If we don’t read this passage as it’s intended, we may feel confused or perhaps even condemned. The reality is that when we read through the lens of who God is and how He loves us, we recognise that it is entirely for our good!
In a world where we often see contrasts: night and day, light and dark, heaven and hell, these verses clearly warn us about what can occur if we come ill-prepared to the table of communion, and hint at the blessing that can be experienced if we prepare ourselves properly.
First… the bad news… If we don’t examine our hearts, we might become weak, sick or dead (spiritually or physically). Ever lived with bitterness in your life and felt like it has literally eaten away at you? It has robbed you of your peace, preventing you from sleeping well, leaving you fatigued, and in the end your body ‘crashed and burned’ in sickness. That’s a spiritual principle – if we don’t live as God intended us to, we become unwell!
But, there is GOOD news! If we allow God to discipline us (teach us how to live and bring correction into our lives) we can become increasingly strong in our faith. Our inner lives will be reflected outwardly in the abundance of peace we live in, and the confidence we have in knowing that God is a good, faithful and loving Father who uses all things for our good (Romans 8:28)! Can you think of some people you know who endeavour to honour God with their lives and who yield to His discipline? Aren’t they just the most vivacious people! Don’t they live from a place of incredible trust and unshakeable faith? Inspiring, aren’t they!
Approaching communion from a place of preparation positions us in a posture of submission, again much like David, who cried out in Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
David wasn’t perfect. In fact, he had a fair rap sheet of sin in his life. We’re not unlike him. I believe this is one of the reasons that Jesus told His disciples to take communion regularly (‘as often as you come together’), because He understood our nature and our tendency to not walk according to His ways, if we aren’t constantly reminded to go back to truth of the Word, examining our hearts, repenting and being sanctified (the process of growing to become more like Christ).
Our Father wants the best for us: strength, health and life. This is why He calls us to prepare our hearts so that when we take communion we can truly celebrate the gift of His son and His mercy and grace which is ever-changing us (if we allow it to!).
So, let’s be women who lean into God’s goodness and embrace His discipline. Let’s have soft hearts, rather than hardened ones. Let’s be those who shine His Light and Love into the needs of our hurting world. Let’s treasure communion and all that it represents! Let’s come prepared when we drink the cup and eat the bread of the Lord’s Supper.
Scripture references: The Holy Bible (several translations)
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