The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
As we come together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7), we emphasize that the Lord’s Supper represents the memorial of our Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This is, indeed, the primary purpose of the Supper. It is good and right for us to gather together on a weekly basis to consider what the Lord suffered so that we could be redeemed and added to His Kingdom (cf. Romans 5:6-11, Titus 3:3-8, Colossians 1:13).
Yet the Lord’s Supper is more than just the memorial of our Lord’s death– it also represents the communion of all the saints, both with the Lord and with each other. The communal aspect of the Lord’s Supper is often neglected but is quite powerful and necessary in its own right.
The Lord’s Supper represents the communion of the saints with their Lord. The church is considered the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:4-5; 5:22-33, Colossians 1:18). When Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper, they are to discern the body and blood of Christ in the bread and the fruit of the vine (1 Corinthians 11:29). Thus, it can be said in a figure that the body of Christ partakes of the body of Christ: the church coming together to partake of the Supper. As Jesus says,
Jesus therefore said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him” (John 6:53-56).
Much violence has been done to this text and many others in gross literalization of the ideas involved. This abuse of what Jesus is trying to say does not, however, mitigate the powerful message that Jesus is sending: we have to consume the Word of God in order to live. This consumption is not physical as much as it is spiritual– learning of God’s word and the practice thereof in life (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 5:12-6:4). Yet, in the Lord’s Supper, we have a reminder of our dependence on God and the basis of our association with Him: the body and blood of His Son, discerned in the bread and the fruit of the vine. The Lord’s Supper represents a physical representation of the communion we enjoy with God in His Son.
The Lord’s Supper also represents the communion that saints share with each other as demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. As 1 Corinthians 11:23-33 indicates, the Lord’s Supper is an individual action done collectively: we each must purpose to assemble to partake of the Supper and we each must individually examine ourselves before we partake. And, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, it is the shared partaking that is such a powerful demonstration of the unity of the faith.
Understanding of the nature of our communion has also suffered because of gross literalization and extremism. Our communion is not dependent on eating the exact same piece of bread, nor is it dependent on eating the bread simultaneously. In 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul says that “we” who are many are “one bread” because “we” partake of the “one bread,” and he can say this even though he is physically in Ephesus and his audience is in Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:8).
The unity of our communion, therefore, is realized mostly in our shared practice of coming together on the first day of the week and participating in the Lord’s Supper. This wonderful unity begins while we are engaged in Saturday evening activities when our brethren in Australia and Japan come together to remember the Lord. As we rest during the evening, our brethren in India, Africa, and Europe come together to partake of the one bread. While we are getting ready in the morning, brethren in Brazil do so. After we partake and go about our Sunday afternoon, brethren to our west come together and remember the Lord. As brethren often come back together later on the first day of the week, other saints participate in this communion.
We all may speak different languages, wear different clothing, have different cultures and perspectives on things, but we all come together to partake of the one bread. We all spend some time on the first day of the week focusing on the Lord’s death. It does not matter how wealthy or poor we are, what race or culture we belong to, or any other difference: we are the one bread. We are the People of the Bread and the Fruit of the Vine, according to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.
We may not always think about these things, but they take place on a weekly basis around the world. It ought to provide us great comfort and encouragement. We are one with brethren throughout the world; we may not know them, and they may not know us, but we have joint participation in the Kingdom through the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7). We demonstrate this by coming together on the first day of the week to partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine.
While 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 shows that our communion is shared with all of our brethren around the world, there is a reason why we partake of the Lord’s Supper as a local congregation of God’s people. The abstract unity of all believers in the faith throughout the world is most concretely realized in the functioning of each local congregation of God’s people, where most of our effort is expended (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28).
It would be quite difficult to imagine the unity of all the believers in communion if we partook alone and in isolation! In a very concrete way, we demonstrate our shared participation in God’s Kingdom in the local church by coming together and sharing the Lord’s Supper with one another. In so doing, we proclaim our unity. In any given local congregation there are people of different classes, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, and talents. Yet, in the Lord’s Supper, all partake of the “one bread” and the “cup of the Lord.” This is why, ideally, all the saints will come together on the first day of the week to break bread– to remember the Lord’s death and proclaim His victory, but also to demonstrate our shared unitary faith. As we are one bread, let us partake of the one bread!