The Ministry of Communion

By Jon Walker

It is the command of Jesus that none should come to the altar with a heart that is unreconciled to his brother. If this command of Jesus applies to every service of worship, indeed, to every prayer we utter, then it most certainly applies to reception of the Lord’s Supper. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Perfect Love desires communion, the sharing of life together, so it cannot be expressed from a distance. God came in human form to make His love visible. God so loved the world that He came up-close in Christ. 1 John 1:1-3 (MSG)

The Big Idea: Communion is about the sharing of life. It is about knowing others and being known by others, about caring and being cared for on a deep and personal level. And, when we take Communion (the Lord’s Supper) together, we should reflect the life we share with one another because the Life of Christ is active in our hearts.

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We cannot love like Jesus loves us unless we enter each other’s lives in an intimate and personal way. And so Jesus expects us to come up-close to each other. At the Last Supper, he spoke of the deep communion we should have with him and with one another. This is when he tells us, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me” (John 15:6 TEV).

He tells us that we must love one another, deeply, saying, “I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love.” Then he says, “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.” Finally, he adds, “This, then, is what I command you: love one another” (John 15:9; 15:12; 15:17, TEV).

During the Last Supper, Jesus emphasizes the reality of our oneness with him, with the Father, and with each other; yet, we’ve lost that emphasis in the way we share the Lord’s Supper today. We’ve reduced it to a ritual, where we focus entirely on the sacrifice of Jesus, to the exclusion of the oneness we are called to with each other.

Don’t misunderstand—the death and resurrection of Jesus is the unimpeachable core of our relationship with God and each other. It is the very thing, the only thing, that brings us into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “But now, in union with Christ Jesus you, who used to be far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 TEV).

And so our communion with Christ should compel us into communion with each other. Not in the lesser sense of communion—when we say that someone communes with nature—but in a deep, unconditional commitment to each other. Do you share that sense, do you model that message, when you lead your congregation in communion?

Jesus spent most of the Last Supper speaking about his love for us, and our oneness with him and the Father. He says to the Father: “I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me” (John 17:21-23 TEV).

Yet, we’ve truncated the message into a memorial service for Jesus. We say, “Let’s remember what he did for us,” but then we stop before we get to the part where we’re supposed to remember what we should do for each other because we are in union with Christ.

Jesus says our communion with each other, our love for one another, should go as far as it can possibly go: “The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them” (John 15:13 TEV).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, says we should prepare for Communion (the Lord’s Supper) in the same way we prepare for worship because Communion is worship. We prepare by slowing down, turning our eyes away from ourselves, and contemplating the infinite things God has done for us.

Jesus says, before we come to worship, we should first come to confession, re-establishing our communion with one another before we engage in worshipful communion with God: “If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God” (Matthew 5:23-24 Msg).

Confession leads to communion, and Bonhoeffer says that means the day of the Lord’s Supper should be “an occasion of joy for the Christian community” because we have re-established the unity between us, confident in God’s promises that we will receive “forgiveness, new life, and salvation.”

Jesus is . . .

Through his blood, Jesus brings us into communion with God and with one another (Ephesians 2:13).

To be like Jesus . . .

When we are united in Christ, we “can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God . . .” (Romans 15:6 NLT).

Pastor, do you have any broken relationships that need to be repaired before you enter worship? If yes, what are you going to do about that?

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This article is an excerpt from Jon’s book: In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work ‘Life Together’.

Jon Walker

Jon Walker is author of the small group study In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer's Classic Work ‘Life Together’ and managing editor of Rick Warren’s Daily Devotionals. © 2012 Jon Walker. Used by permission.