The 6 Names for Communion and How They Shape Our Worship
Communion is a ritual that is so theologically rich, the Bible and Christian tradition have called it by many different names. Each name gives us a different lens in which to view the Table and by looking at them we can recover a richer and fuller expression of worship at the Table.
- The Lord’s Table (1 Cor 10:21)
In the Greco-Roman world, religious societies often hosted dinners in the presence of and in honor to other gods. Those tables could be called the table of the lord ________ (fill in the blank with Greek or Roman God) and that signified which god was hosting that meal.
So to call communion the Lord’s Table is a way of communicating that Jesus is the host of the table, the one whose presence we meet at the table, and the one who is being honored at the table. We must remember first and foremost the Table is about Jesus Christ. It’s established by him, it’s for him, about him, to honor him, to remember him, and to commune with him.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Table. It is to be a celebration that is found in the church until he comes, simply because he has commanded it to be so. He said “Do this for the remembrance of me” Our worship response to the Lord’s Table is simple: Submission. To submit to Jesus Christ as Lord over all and of your life.
- The Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20)
In 1 Cor 11, Paul calls the Table, “The Lord’s Supper” and provides the “Words of Institution,” which recount the instructions of Jesus at the Last Supper.
The emphasis of the Lord’s Supper is on remembering the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his ensuing betrayal, his arrest, suffering, crucifixion, and death.
At the Last Supper, recall that Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples. This was a meal that God commanded the Israelites to do in remembrance of The Exodus, when God delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. The Exodus was the central saving event of the Israelite community.
In the same way, the cross and death of Christ is the new Exodus for the Christian community. It is to be remembered through the Lord’s Supper through all generations until he comes. This is why Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is why you may hear it called a “memorial meal.” The Lord’s Supper transmits the memory of the Gospel by constantly retelling the story and finding ourselves in it. Our worship response to the Lord’s Supper is to remember. In the Lord’s Supper we remember the cross, the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.
- The Breaking of the Bread
The breaking of the bread is found in the Scriptures in a few places. Breaking of bread can simply mean the sharing of a meal. But the “Breaking of the Bread” can call to mind another theme as well.
Luke tells an instance of the breaking of the bread with the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) after Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples did not recognize Jesus at first, but finally recognized who he was when he broke the bread (Luke 24:35).
This is a story of communion but first and foremost it’s a story of the resurrection. The Good News is that Jesus died for our sins but also that he didn’t stay there! We can still have a real relationship with Jesus because he is alive and we often recognize his presence with us when we gather around his Table to break bread. Breaking bread is having a meal with the living Jesus in his presence. It’s a reminder that he is still alive and we can commune with him anytime we want.
Our worship response to the breaking of the bread is to celebrate! We celebrate that Jesus is alive and that we get to break bread in his presence.
We find the Biblical reference to communion in 1 Cor 10:16 “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” The word “Participation” is Greek word Koinonia, which can be translated “fellowship.” It’s about a group of people participating in something together.
In Communion, we become participates in the Blood of Christ and the Body of Christ. Participation in the communion makes you a participant in Christ’s saving death.
Communion can be considered a covenant meal. A modern day example of a covenant is the covenant of marriage. When covenants are made, there is often a meal associated in the covenant-ratifying process. Notice how there is usually a meal following the covenant ceremony at a wedding.
Jesus calls communion the New Covenant in his blood. Communion renews our commitment, our covenant relationship with Christ, which by default, renews our relationship with his body, the church. Communion establishes and renews the vertical connection with Christ and the horizontal connection with Christ’s body, the church.
Communion unites us with other believers. So, it is essential that we come to the Table having reconciled with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our worship response to communion is confession and reconciliation. Communion requires us to reconcile with God and with each other often. We do this through confession to God and seeking reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- The Eucharist
The word Eucharist can be seen in Luke 22:19, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” The phrase “gave thanks” is the Greek word, Eucharistesas, where we get our term the Eucharist and it can be translated as Thanksgiving.
At the Eucharist, we give thanks to God for all the he has done for us in Christ Jesus. The Eucharist is especially focused on thanking God for his final victory over all things; over sin, death, Satan and all the forces of hell.
This gives us hope because the one who conquered all things will come again and fully establish his kingdom when he renews all things.
Eucharist is the Thanksgiving Meal of the Church. A meal where we gather together to give thanks for all that God has done for us in Christ and look forward to when he returns. Our worship response in the Eucharist is to give thanks and to hope. This is accomplished by the prayer of thanksgiving said during the liturgy of the Eucharist.
- Love Feast
The reference to the love feast can be seen in Jude 1:12. It also has been called the Agape Feast or the Agape Meal. The Love Feast was a full meal where the church fellowshipped with one another. They early Christians were known for their love for one another and this love was expressed in the sharing of a meal. This is clearly how Paul depicted communion in the Bible, “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together” (1 Cor 11:33).
Communion, in the early church, was a meal, a love feast. At the Love Feast, we show the love of God to one another by becoming present to each other over a shared meal. Our worship response to the love feast is to deeply love our brothers and sisters in Christ, where we treat each other just like family. We love each other by giving one another the gifts of our time, our food, and our very selves as we share a meal together.
In summary, Table Worship helps us Christians to:
- Submit to Jesus as Lord (Lord’s Table)
- Remember his death on the cross (Lord’s Supper)
- Celebrate his resurrection (Breaking of the Bread)
- Confess our sins and reconcile with others (Communion)
- Give thanks for Jesus’ victory and hope for his return (Eucharist)
- Deeply love our brothers and sisters in Christ (Love Feast)
May the table help us to richly worship Jesus Christ.
P.S. You can listen to a sermon on this subject here (The audio kicks in at 1:45): https://www.faithecc.org/sermons/worship-at-the-table/