What is so important about communion?
Or is it important?
Every month we take time to eat a little piece of bread and drink a tiny cup of juice, and we say that it is an important and significant act of worship. Is it? We know that not only do the gospel writers provide accounts of the inception of the Lord’s Supper, but so also Paul applies that practice to the church and gives instruction about how to carry out that practice.
But in too many churches too many people are bored with the whole notion. Around one Easter season many years ago, our church celebrated communion on two consecutive weeks and one man said to me, “are we doing communion again?” While I was dismayed at his comment, it’s likely that he was merely expressing a fairly prominent sentiment.
So is it important?
We know that Christ died on the cross and that communion was given as a means of remembering and reflecting on that act. But we also forget the historical significance of communion — how many died to preserve its meaning.
[In England] from 1555 to 1558 (the reign of bloody Queen Mary), 288 Protestant Reformers were burned at the stake. Of these, one was an archbishop, four were bishops, 21 were clergymen, 55 were women, and 4 were children. They included John Rogers, John Hooper, Rowland Taylor, Robert Ferrar, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, John Philpot, and Thomas Cranmer. Why were they burned by the Roman Catholic Queen? [Piper, “Why We Eat the Lord’s Supper, Pt. 1.]
J. C. Ryle answers Piper’s question:
It is a broad fact that these 288 sufferers were not put to death for any offence against property or person. They were not rebels against the Queen’s authority, caught red-handed in arms. They were not thieves, or murderers, or drunkards, or unbelievers, or men and women of immoral lives. On the contrary, they were, with barely an exception, some of the holiest, purest, and best Christians in England, and several of them the most learned men of their day. [Ryle, Five English Reformers, p. 8.]
So why were they burned? They were martyred over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper:
The doctrine in question was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Did they, or did they not believe that the body and blood of Christ were really, that is corporally, literally, locally, and materially, present under the forms of bread and wine after the words of consecration were pronounced? Did they or did they not believe that the real body of Christ, which was born of the Virgin Mary, was present on the so-called altar so soon as the mystical words had passed the lips of the priest? Did they or did they not? That was the simple question. If they did not believe and admit it, they were burned. [Ryle, p. 23.]
In other words, the ordinance of communion was something they decided they were willing to die to keep. There is a weightiness and significance to the Lord’s Supper that they understood and that sometimes we have forgotten. John Piper has commented,
So, as we [consider] this doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, let no one say, “What’s the big deal?” Rather let us humble ourselves and realize that while we may enjoy freedom of religion in this country, so that no one is burned or beheaded for religious reasons, we may also have lost all sense of the weight and wonder of what Christ has given us in the ordinances of his church. It would do us well to admit that if their age was marked by brutality, ours is marked by superficiality. They may have weighed things differently than we would, but it may be that we have lost the capacity to feel weighty truth at all. [Piper, “Why We Eat the Lord’s Supper, Part 1,” August 3, 2003.]
So the next time you come to the communion table, do not come with reluctance or casual familiarity or boredom. Come recognizing it came through the blood of Christ and that the blood of other men was shed to preserve it.