Communion is a celebration that occurs most weeks in a lot of Anglican churches as well as within other denominations! Different denominations believe different things about communion and therefore treat this celebration differently. I have experienced communion in both the Baptist Church and within the Church of England, but for the purpose of this blog post I will largely be talking about the Church of England’s view on communion.
What is communion?
Communion is a part of the service where members of the church follow liturgy called the Eucharistic Prayer, before taking a piece of bread (or a wafer) and a sip of wine. In some churches, individuals come forwards to the front of church where the priest and other servers share the bread and the wine with them. However, in other churches, the bread and wine are passed around the congregation members for them to take (in this case, the wine is often served in small individual glasses).
Why do we celebrate communion?
The main reason that we partake in this act of communion is a response to Jesus’ command in the Bible. During the Last Supper, the Passover meal that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the night before he was crucified, Jesus broke bread and shared a cup of wine, giving thanks to God for them and telling the disciples that these items were his body and his blood. You can read about this in Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26 & Luke 22:7-23. The Luke translation of this passage, specifically says: “do this in remembrance of me”. We obediently follow Jesus’ teaching by celebrating in this act.
The act of celebrating communion is an act of remembrance, the bread and wine reminding us of the sacrifice that Jesus made of his body and blood through dying on the cross. Naturally, this also acts to remind us of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the future coming of God’s kingdom. Just like the traditions observed on Remembrance Day, Communion acts as an opportunity for us to reflect upon Jesus’ sacrifice and demands our respect.
Communion is also an act of thanksgiving. The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘to give thanks’. As we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, we also thank him for this sacrifice – the fact that he died for our sins and rose again.
Communion also acts as a symbol of unity. The wording of the liturgy we use in a communion service speaks of us sharing one cup and one bread – because, through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are united as the body of Christ. Communion is something that we do together as both as one local church and one global Church.
What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is regarded as a ceremony or act, through which God imparts grace. I’ve written some more on what grace is here. Whilst grace cannot be seen, grace is the outward sign of the inward gift of grace. In Catholicism there are 7 different sacraments, however in the Church of England, there are just 2 – baptism and communion, demonstrating just how highly the Anglican church views the act of communion.
Who should take communion?
In most churches, the Vicar celebrating communion will say something about who can come forward for communion. This is usually anyone who normally takes communion in whatever church they usually attend. Traditionally, in the Church of England, this has included anyone who has been confirmed in the Church of England, however more recently children have been allowed to take communion before they are confirmed, usually supported by a course to ensure they understand communion, and greater involvement within the communion service.
In the early days of the Church, the first Christians shared bread and wine together very regularly, whenever they met, simply in their homes when they gathered together. There are no barriers to communion, based upon your knowledge, your past or your age. God welcomes everyone to eat at his table.
However, the Bible tells us a bit more about the attitude we should have in taking Communion. 1 Corinthians 11:28 says: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” We must examine ourselves, repent of our sins and ensure that we turn to Christ as our Lord before we take communion. In the context that Paul is speaking here, he is especially referring to our relationships with one another. If we are quarrelling with someone, or have unresolved conflict, we are to resolve such conflicts before we partake in communion. Jesus mentions this briefly in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. In most communion services, we get the chance to make peace with other congregation members in the form of sharing the peace before the Eucharist Prayer.
If you pronounce Jesus as your Lord and saviour, have repented of your sin and turned away from evil, have turned away from conflict with others and are part of a church community, you are usually welcomed to partake in communion within the Church of England!
My top tips for taking communion
Read the Eucharist Prayer carefully – this long prayer is easy to just follow along without really thinking about what you’re saying. Take the time to really read the words you’re saying and reflect upon what they mean.
Watch what the vicar is doing at the altar/table during the prayer. During the Eucharistic prayer, whoever is celebrating communion (usually the Priest or Vicar) will be preparing the altar/table for communion. This will include pouring the wine, breaking the bread and other things depending on the style of service. Definitely try watching what’s going on (harder than you think when you also have to read along with all the words) as this can be really interesting and can help you to understand what is going on better.
Pray before going up. Before you go up to take communion, ask God to help you really understand what communion is and to use this act to deepen your relationship with him. This can be really helpful in focusing your mind on why you are doing this and asking God to move through it.
Listen to the words of the servers. When you receive the bread and the wine, the people serving will often say something as they give them to you: “The body of Christ keep you in eternal life”, “the blood of Christ, shed for you” or shortened versions of these are quite common. Listen to what they are saying. Lots of people choose to say Amen as they take the bread and wine, but it’s up to you whether to say this in your heart or out loud.
Reflect on the meaning of the bread and wine as you are taking them. Clear your mind of distractions and focus simply on the bread and wine that you are taking and what they mean. Try not to let your mind wander and just reflect upon what the bread and wine represent.
When you sit back down, reflect upon the act of taking communion as a whole church together. Depending on where you sit in your church, you will usually have a time of waiting before you go up to take communion, and a time of waiting once you’ve sat back down as the remainder of the church goes up. Personally, I like to use this time to look at the other members of my congregation as they go up for communion and reflect upon the fact that we take communion collectively as one family and one body – all drinking from the same cup.
Resources to help you understand: what is communion?
Do you have any more questions about communion? Leave them in the comments below!