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Communion is one of the most important elements of the Christian life. It’s a reminder of the price Jesus paid for us. It should convict us of our sin and faults, while also leading us to seek forgiveness as we grow toward spiritual maturity (John 6:53-58; Acts 2:42-46). It is our way of evaluating our life so that we can make the proper adjustments needed to continue our spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 11:28).
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell 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 them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Why would Jesus say something so disgusting about eating his flesh and drinking his blood?
When Jesus set up communion He used the Passover Seder as the foundation for what He was asking His followers to do. The Passover is a weeklong celebration of Israel’s rescue from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. But the Seder meal, which kicks off the first night of Passover, is an observance of the night when God passed over the houses that had the blood of the lamb over the doorposts of the house. And it’s the night when they were not able to fully bake bread and had to bake “matzah bread” because they left so quickly. So let’s look at the matzah first.
During Passover, you are not allowed to eat anything with leaven in it. In fact, to this day, Jews in Israel will do a “Passover Cleaning” where they take out all of the leaven in their houses. Many of them will burn the leaven outside and their houses will be empty of any leaven during the time of Passover. The only bread you can eat is matza bread, which is made of pure flour and water, without leaven, and it’s pierced. Sound familiar? What’s even more striking is the symbolism of leaven.
“Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:7
But that’s not all the Matzah bread has to offer in the picture of Christ during the Seder. In the Seder we have one napkin, called the Echad or Unity, that has three different compartments which each hold three different matzoth. These compartments represent the Priest (Cohen), Levi, and Israel. The middle matzah is taken out during the Seder and broken in half. The larger piece that’s broken is called the Afikomen, which means “that which comes after” or “dessert.” This piece is placed in a napkin and hidden away until after dinner. Following the Seder dinner, the children go and find the Afikomen, bring it back to the host, and there is a ransom that is paid for the Afikomen. Once the Afikomen has returned, everyone takes a piece of this broken and pierced piece of matzah and eats it.
There is clear imagery here between Jesus and matzah. Jesus was the sacrificial Passover Lamb that took away our sins and rescued us from God’s judgment. Now, when we dig a little bit further, we can see that during the time between the First and Second Temple periods, the Priests were unable to make the sacrifices because the Temple had been destroyed. In place of the Passover Lamb at the Temple, the rabbis instructed the people to continue observing Passover using Mazoth. Therefore, in the eyes of Jews living in the Second Temple Period in the first century, they already equated the Matzoth with the Passover sacrifices. When Jesus asks the Disciples to take the bread and view it as His body, He was telling them that this body represented the Passover Lamb that would rescue us from our bondage to sin. After all, Jesus’ name “Yeshua” in Hebrew means “Rescue” or “Salvation.”
During the Seder we have four cups of wine. These cups are all based on the four promises of God during Passover. God wanted His people to know that He was about to do something mighty for them and gave them four promises to prepare them for what was about to happen in Egypt. This not only gave them hope that their bondage was coming to an end, but it also gave the Egyptians a warning to get things right or pay the price.
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” -Exodus 6:6-7
The Cup of Redemption
The phrase, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” is used for the third cup – the Cup of Redemption. This is the cup that’s identified as the blood of the Passover Lamb as well as the cup we drink immediately after we eat the Afikomen. What’s interesting about this phrase is that when God used it in Exodus 6:6, he was actually mocking the Egyptian Pharaohs. “Outstretched Arm” or “Mighty Hand” is a common phrase in Egyptian Literature, to the point that Pharaoh was known as “Neb Khopesh” which means “Lord of the Strong Arm.” This phrase was used throughout ancient Near Eastern cultures for kings and gods. So what does Jesus do? How does He redeem us? With an outstretched arm on the cross to bring us out from our burden and bondage to sin. While I believe all cups are important to communion, it’s no doubt that the Redemption Cup is the Communion Cup. Finally, we can rest assured that we have a God who loves us as he takes all mankind, not just the Jews, to be His people and He is our God. We are adopted, and as Paul says in Romans 11, we are branches that are grafted into the root.
After you celebrate the Passover, you will never look at communion the same way again. You will have a deeper appreciation for communion and understanding of what Jesus actually did for us during His time on earth. As I contend, communion is a way of taking us back to Easter each time we take it. For this reason, I believe we should take it each week or each time the body of Christ comes together to worship.
Requirements For Communion
As we observe communion, we cannot take the elements as if we are just eating any other piece of bread or juice/wine. And before you take communion you must be a follower of Jesus and someone who has committed their life to Him. Paul notes that people who take communion need to examine themselves before taking it and consequently, one must be a follower of Jesus in order to take the elements. Paul suggests that people are actually getting incredibly sick when taking communion without actually examining themselves and taking it nonchalantly.
“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. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.” -1 Corinthians 11;27-32
Communion has the power to take us back to Easter every time we observe it and this is why it’s important to spiritual growth. Each time we take it we’re reminding ourselves of our first love we had for the Lord and that first time we felt that freedom from our sin. Communion has the power through the Holy Spirit to convict us and catalyze spiritual transformation and maturity (John 16:8-14). Not only does it remind us of the sacrifice that was made because of our sin, it also shifts us to hope for the future when we will be united with Christ and our pain and tears will be no more (Rev. 21:4).