Communion points us in three directions. We look backward, inward, and forward.
First Corinthians 11:23-29 was written for troubled people who needed repentance, forgiveness, and acceptance in order to go forward with their lives. The same need exists for us today.
The backward look is to Jesus when he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (v. 25). Communion is looking back to the cross and seeing the One who died so that we might live. He hung from the cross not because of his sin, but because of ours. We remember Christ because of who he is and what he did. He lived the perfect life in order to become the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
We look back to Jesus as our personal Savior because he was accredited by God in the resurrection. It was gut-wrenching pain, for not only was it a physical act of violence as his body was pierced with huge nails, but the pain of carrying the “sin burden” of the world broke his heart. However, the writer of Hebrews gives us Jesus’ perspective when he said, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). It was the joy of knowing he was presenting to the Father a new family that he would meet at Calvary.
We are admonished to look inward as we commune: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). We examine our attitudes and our actions of the past week, the times when we did not reflect the character of Jesus, and we ask for forgiveness. Paul goes on to tell us that to fail to do this is to bring judgment upon ourselves. Communion is not to become a thoughtless habit; rather, it is a focused time to search the soul in sober reflection, resolving in our spirit to be like Jesus.
Communion also is a hopeful anticipation as “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26). Communion is a forward-looking event. We can now anticipate, rather than dread, the Lord’s reappearing some day. When he comes, he will draw together everyone who belongs to his family, and we will celebrate day and night around the throne forever and ever. As the songwriter says, “Oh that will be glory for me.”
Bryce Jessup is president emeritus of William Jessup University, Rocklin, California.