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Meaning of Communion: Body
The Sacraments, Lesson 9
Happy Easter! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
Today is traditionally the day that we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead, and we certainly want to do that. However, the next couple weeks we are still going to dwell a bit on Jesus’s crucifixion and his sacrifice for our sins—the things we remember when we participate in communion.
In the original Passover, there were two elements—the unleavened bread and the blood of the lamb. When Jesus broke bread with his disciples during the Last Supper, he equated the bread with his body:
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.”
So in this lesson, we’ll look a bit at the meaning of the unleavened bread, and then we’ll translate that to Christ’s body.
During the original Passover, these were the instructions given to the Israelites about the bread:
Exodus 12:6-11: 6 Take care of them [the lambs] until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
Exodus 12:17-20: 17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terms, yeast is a leavening agent. A leavening agent causes dough to rise by releasing gases. But this process takes time. And the Israelites were supposed to eat in haste. They didn’t have time to wait for the bread to rise. So they ate it without the yeast. They had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. (For those of you who’ve never eaten unleavened bread, it’s really…not very good…)
The Bible tells us that we need to do the same. Not that we need to eat bread made without yeast, but we need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice:
Matthew 24:36-44: 36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
At some point in the future, Jesus (the Son of Man) will return to collect those who follow him. Those who believe will be taken away to heaven, and those who don’t believe will be left behind. This could happen at any moment. We need to be ready. We need to be right with God, which means that we need to believe that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and we need to repent of our sins and live in obedience to him.
While using unleavened bread for the Passover was about being ready to leave at a moment’s notice, the use of unleavened bread during the following week-long celebration was a metaphor for cutting themselves off from sin. The Israelites were finally separated from the Egyptians, who worshipped other gods and would not let the Israelites worship their own God in the way that they wanted or needed. By being separated from the sinful practices of the Egyptians, the Israelites were able to start fresh and follow God wholeheartedly. Paul warns us to cut ourselves off from sin as well:
1 Corinthians 5:6-8: 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
In the case of the Corinthians, they were boasting about their sinful practices. Paul warned them that if they celebrate sin, this sin will spread throughout the whole church, just as a little yeast spreads through the entire batch of dough. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a time that they could get rid of that old batch of dough, with the harmful yeast, and start fresh with a new batch of dough that followed Christ in truth.
When we eat the bread of communion, it is a reminder that we can turn from our old sin and start fresh by confessing our sin, repenting, and recommitting to follow Jesus. We can do this not only on Passover but at any time of the year.
Jesus as the Bread
As we read through the gospels, we find seven “I am” statements that Jesus made. One of those relates to our study of communion:
John 6:35: 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus declared that he is the bread of life. He expounds on this a few verses later:
John 6:48-58: 48 “I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
This description seems pretty morbid, but Jesus wasn’t really asking us to eat and drink his physical flesh and blood. He showed us this when he shared the Last Supper with his disciples.
Luke 22:19-20: 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.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
When you think about the verses from John 6 in the context of communion, it makes more sense. Even though Jesus died for us, he is the living bread. He didn’t just die. He also was raised to life in power over sin and death. When we share the bread of communion, it symbolizes that we are remaining in Christ as the living bread. We are allowing him to be the thing that gives us life, that gives us power in our lives over sin and death. This helps us be obedient to Christ here on earth, and it allows us to share in his final victory over Satan for eternity.
Christ often compared his body or his flesh to bread. He is the bread of life. The bread eaten at the Last Supper (or communion) is his body. If we eat his flesh, we will have eternal life. So what do we know about Christ’s body? The Bible tells us that Christ’s body was tortured in the time leading up to and during his crucifixion. We see this suffering first prophesied in the Old Testament:
Isaiah 53:4-6: 4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Then we see it fulfilled during his trial leading up to his death:
Luke 22:63: The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him.
Matthew 27:26: Then he [Pilate] released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged*, and handed him over to be crucified.
*Being flogged was a Roman judicial penalty, consisting of a severe beating with a multi-lashed whip containing embedded pieces of bone and metal.
Matthew 27:28-30: They [soldiers] stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.
On top of all of this torture, the process of crucifixion itself was enough to break anyone. If you want a really gruesome description of the beating and crucifixion process written from a physician’s perspective, you can read this article. But I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart. In addition to the mutilated state of his body from the flogging, Jesus had long nails driven through his wrists and feet. He was so weak from blood loss that he had barely any strength. To get any breath at all, he had to push himself up, leveraging his weight on the nail through his feet, activating painful nerves and rubbing the torn flesh on his back on the wooden cross. Literally, his body was broken for us. He endured this torture to pay the penalty for our sin. The punishment should have been ours, but he willingly endured all of this for you and for me.
The next time you take communion, you will likely hear these words:
1 Corinthians 11:23-24: 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Let these words be a reminder to you of the cruel torture that Jesus went through on your behalf. He literally gave his body to be beaten, flogged, and crucified so that you could be free from your sin. When you eat the bread, remember this sacrifice and be thankful. Every day of your life, live in remembrance by turning from your sin.