I have been seeking to understand the development of communion as it is practiced in the church today and how communion was practiced in the first century Church. I referred to written works from authors with a Jewish understanding and perspective about the practice of breaking bread and communion, To understand the original intent of the communion practice, I have also looked into the figurative language and word play involved in the culture. The practice of communion in the first century is very different from communion practiced today. 1) Is the communion practiced today on Sunday developed from a ritual? 2) How should the Church today practice true communion on Sunday?


I am not sure what Sunday communion practices today you are referring to.  There are a variety of practices.  I do not know which you are familiar with and which you are asking about specifically, which makes it hard for me to respond to your question about whether the practice you are familiar developed from a ritual.  What I can do, and what is most helpful, is to ask what we find in the Bible and what is the evidence from the very early church as to what they did.

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  We have the example of what he did on the night he was betrayed in Matthew, Mark and Luke (somewhat surprisingly, the Lord’s Supper is not described in John).  Then we have more detail about the communion from Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.  Here is what we know.  Jesus used what was the accepted tradition on the night before the Passover–the Jewish Seder–to establish the tradition.  During the Passover Seder Jesus took the bread (Matthew 26:26 for example), passed it around, and said that “this is my body.”  Most non-Catholics believe that in this Jesus meant that the bread is “like” my body, not that it was literally his body (especially because it was his body holding the bread!). In other words it is a symbol of his body.  It was similar with the cup.  After the bread, Jesus took the cup of wine, passed it around (although there may have actually been many cups… we do not know for sure) and said “this is my blood.”  Probably the most important biblical text on this is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, where Paul tells us that we are to take the bread and wine “in remembrance of me” (ie. of Jesus).  Therefore, as I understand it, this ceremony is principally a remembrance.  It is not a reenactment of the crucifixion but a remembrance of it.  Like Paul says, when we take the Lord’s supper we remember what he did and we proclaim his death until he returns. We take bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood as a means to remember what Jesus did for us.

How was this practiced in the very early church?  The evidence is that there was a very simple ceremony of taking bread and wine together.  All evidence points toward this being done at least weekly, on Sundays (or Saturday evenings, as the day went from sundown to sundown, not from 12:00 to 12:00).  In the very early church the body of believers also shared a meal together which they called the love feast, but this was separate from the communion.  There is strong evidence that the primitive church offered the communion only to believers, but this may have been more for security in a world of much persecution than a theological thing, so whether communion should be “open” is debatable, biblically.  The church I attend has open communion.

So, I suggest that this is what we should do today.  We do not need “priests” to do the Lord’s supper.   We do not need fancy ceremonies or prescribed words.  This was not found in the early church and it is not found in the Bible.  You ask about today’s practices.  In the church I attend we have a simple, weekly ceremony of sharing the bread and wine (actually, we use grape juice).  We call people to remember the death, burial and resurrection as they take the elements.  We hope it does not become a rote ceremony without meaning.  For this reason, we normally have a short homily to focus our thoughts before taking the supper.

Some churches have elaborate rituals–including an entire mass surrounding the communion.  Some teach that only “priests” can do the ceremony.  Some teach that the communion (they call it eucharist) is a reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus. Some even take the words of Jesus, “this is my body” literally and believe that when a priest performs a ceremony, the bread is literally changed into flesh and the wine into blood, but this is a theological error.  I suggest that you attend a church with a communion service at least somewhat like what is taught in the New Testament and was practiced in the primitive church.

John Oakes

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