What, if anything, makes communion different from the rest of our worship service? Should communion create feelings and/or emotions in me other than those I have during a regular service? Most messages during communion focus on what Jesus has done for us and rightfully so. But we are remiss if we do not also identify what our responses should include.
I do have different reactions and responses based on where I am in my spiritual journey and what is happening in my life at any given moment. But one emotion is always present, and, I would argue, most important. That emotion is an overwhelming sadness at what our Lord had to suffer for my sake, and this sadness ultimately drives me to repentance.
Jesus instituted communion to be a very personal experience. Only in communion do we use all five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch). We see the communion elements. We hear the words Jesus spoke at His last supper with His disciples before His death. We smell, taste, and touch the elements provided. Through the five senses, we have a physical reminder of the excruciating suffering and death Jesus experienced on the cross as a result of our sin. In addition to a physical reaction, every time we partake in communion, we should experience an emotional response similar to those we feel when we see the Passion of Christ presented in a play or movie. Our response should be heartfelt.
As an illustration, my life verse is Micah 6:8. The LORD through the prophet Micah has given a series of judgment prophecies against Israel as a result of their sin. The people ask Micah what they should do—is there an offering they can bring to the LORD that will satisfy him? In response Micah tells them, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” As I read this verse, I learn something about how God wants me to live my life. I have gained knowledge and intellectual assent, but I must personalize this verse for this understanding to go from my head to my heart: “The LORD has told me what is good, and this is what is required of me: I am to do what is right, I am to love mercy, and I am to walk humble with my God.”
Just as in my illustration, our initial response during communion is initiated by our senses. But during communion, if we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, our experience will progress from understanding intellectually to becoming personal—from the head to the heart. I believe this is Jesus’s intention. Note the personal pronouns Jesus used at his last supper with his disciples as recorded by the apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 11:24-25. “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” and “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (italics are mine).
I do not think Jesus was concerned His disciples were going to forget Him. He is saying do this in remembrance of what I am going to do for you on the cross. Jesus is telling His disciples, and by extension, me, to remember His atoning sacrifice for my sins. I am being reminded, in a very real sense, that every sin I have committed and will ever commit, has added to Jesus’s suffering and the reason for His death.
This realization leads me, with a heavy heart, to repent my sins, to recommit to turn away from sin and turn towards Jesus, my Lord and Savior. If communion does not inspire repentance, I do not know what my response should be.
I have attended churches where communion feels as if it is an add-on to the “normal” church routine. The music and preaching do not compliment or add to my communion experience. Fortunately, there are also churches I attend that do integrate communion with all parts of the service, so we remember what our Savior did for us. I pray your church is one of those.
Repentance, thanksgiving, and love should always occur in our heartfelt response during communion. But if repentance does not come first, how sincere will be our thanks for Jesus’s substitutionary death on the cross for us? What will our response say about our gratitude and love for Jesus because He died to become our Savior?
Is communion only a routine part of the worship service for you? Or have you turned around again in repentance and a renewed desire to live a more Christlike life?
Just some “thoughts from the back pew.”
The purpose of our writing Experiencing God’s Love in a Broken World, was to give pastors a resource to help people who want the answers to these questions, and to give them a tool they can use as well. May you be richly blessed in this season of crisis and change.
Roy Haggerty is a lover of God, a husband, and a father. He has a BA from the University of Miami, Miami, Florida, and has taken courses towards a masters of theology through Reformed Theological Seminary. Roy retired in his mid-sixties and has spent his time immersed in Bible study and a study of modern politics. He has taught Bible studies for over twenty-five years.
Deb Haggerty is a lover of God, a wife, and a mother. Born in Benson, Minnesota, she earned her BA from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and her MBA from Mercer University in Atlanta, GA. Following a successful career, she purchased Elk Lake Publishing, Inc., a Christian publishing company in 2016.