My Struggle With Communion

I attended my first Evangelical communion service at a Christian youth conference when I was 18. After a weekend of high-energy shenanigans with my friends, we began to wind down to hear the discussion topic of the night. The youth pastor in the front of the hall brought fourth a few loaves of Wonder Bread and hundreds of tiny plastic shot glasses of grape juice. He stretched his hand over the food items and prayed for a blessing over them before distributing it to the 200-plus crowd of rowdy teens, including myself.

At that time I had been debating on leaving the Catholic faith to become Protestant. Ever since a former friend from summer camp gave me a series of anti-Catholic bible tracts from Chick Publications, I had been wrestling with whether or not the Catholic mass was a form of idolatry. One of the hot topics that really divided me inside was the idea of transubstantiation – the bread and wine becoming the spiritual essence of the body and blood of Jesus.

I remember the speaker at this youth conference proclaiming, “There’s no magic to communion! By eating this bread and drinking out of this cup, you are merely partaking in a symbol of what Jesus has done for you!”

“A symbol. That is all, right?” I thought to myself. “Why would it be anything more than that? If it was, wouldn’t that be some kind of witchcraft?”

As someone who was new to faith in Jesus, my whole worldview had been turned upside down. I’ve heard of the possibility of material objects having the ability to possess evil spirits, even as a cradle-Catholic. The mindset that was fed to me during my youth group years was that behind every idol hides a demon. As a result, everything to do with crucifixes, statues, rosaries or even the Eucharist itself scared the hell out of me – pun intended.

It took me years to wrap my mind around the biblical evidences supporting God being present in material objects. For example, how He talked to Moses through a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and Paul blessing hankercheifs and distributing them to heal the sick (Acts 19:11-12). As Christians, we are quick to accept that it happened in ancient times because the Bible said so. Nowadays it seems easy for us to assume that anything appearing to us as mildly supernatural in the form of material items should be automatically dismissed as demonic.

Over the years I developed a complicated relationship with communion. I eventually found myself withdrawing out of feeling unworthy to partake in it. This was largely influenced by my Catholic upbringing – that if I knew I was struggling with sin in my life, I should not receive it in an abusive manner (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). On the flip side, I had also developed a complacency out of a lazy mindset that not partaking in all these churchy activities was not going to affect my salvation whatsoever. Wrestling with the issues of faith versus good deeds eventually led me to completely reject the doctrine of justification by faith alone (Sola Fide).

The other bible verses that came into mind were that we aren’t to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4). Many people I know have used these verses to try and invalidate the Catholic Mass, but it doesn’t seem to imply that we live strictly off reading the Bible and not take care of our bodies by feeding it physical food. Similarly, regarding my issues with Sola Fide, faith and works need to go hand in hand and not one without the other (James 2:14-24). They are both important for our relationship with God!

If communion is reduced to ‘just a symbol’ then what’s the point? If, by proclaiming the Lord’s death by accepting communion, does not everything we do have spiritual implications? Is God not present in communion (John 6:55-56)? Are we not called to become active members of the church and be in communion with one another (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)?

A friend of mine quoted it hilariously simple (please pardon my language),

“God does weird shit. If we apparently believe He created the world in 6 days, talked through a burning bush, or was born out of a virgin to become a man, why is transubstantiation completely taboo?”

I’ve toyed with the idea of consubstantiation, which means that the Spirit is present in communion but not in physical form. But I find it extremely difficult to find a middle-ground argument because of these personal experiences and learnings. Either God truly gave himself to actually become the consecrated bread and wine we consume (similar to the manna from Heaven in Exodus 16:15), or He is nothing more than a symbol made of Wonder Bread and McCain’s grape juice and simply does not exist whatsoever. If the latter is the case, then why do we even bother with communion at all?

I guess the questions I have to all of my Christian brothers and sisters would be: what is Christianity if there is no God in communion? Is reducing God to merely a symbol a subtle way of removing Him from our churches altogether?

I’m not a theologian by any means, but it’s food for thought.

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6 thoughts on “My Struggle With Communion

  1. ‘If communion is reduced to ‘just a symbol’ then what’s the point?’ The point is remembrance. ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ The point is to remind each other that Christ died for us. ‘Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.’

    1. True, but again there’s this:

      “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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”
      ‭‭John‬ ‭6:53-56‬

  2. Have you considered your relationship with confession in relation to communion? An honest and in depth examination of conscience followed by confession is a remedy (of sorts) to build a bridge between being in a state of sin and needing the grace that comes from communion to move away from that sin. You cannot investigate communion with out exploring confession.
    “Over the years I developed a complicated relationship with communion. I eventually found myself withdrawing out of feeling unworthy to partake in it. This was largely influenced by my Catholic upbringing – that if I knew I was struggling with sin in my life, I should not receive it in an abusive manner (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). On the flip side, I had also developed a complacency out of a lazy mindset that not partaking in all these churchy activities was not going to affect my salvation whatsoever. “

    1. I appreciate that response. It’s funny you mention confession, that is actually one of the next things I was going to write about. And you’re right, communion and confession are directly related.

  3. I agree that if the bread and wine of communion is only a symbol, it seems a pointless one. We’re to remember Christ’s death on the Cross by eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice)? If remembering is so important, aren’t there better ways of doing it? A crucifix would seem the most obvious, or a painting of the crucifixion. Or, reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion and death.

    But Jesus evidently meant communion to be some kind of a ceremony to be performed by his followers. Even Protestants seem to understand this, as evidenced by the communion service you describe. Thus, not merely a reminder but a ritual. But what is the purpose of the ritual?

    Jesus said to perform the ritual “in remembrance of” him. This strikes me as something like Veterans Day, which we celebrate every year “in remembrance of” the men and women who have died for our country. Someone who has never known a veteran killed in a war will not observe the day as a way of remembering any particular veteran, nevertheless he will do it “in remembrance of” countless veterans whom he never knew and has no memory of. It’s a ritual by which we not only remember, as honor and revere them.

    But that still brings us back to the question, how does eating bread and drinking wine constitute honor and reverence for Jesus? Obviously he said to do it, so we could say that we honor him by obeying his command to do it. But that’s rather circular, isn’t it? Honor me by doing this thing which you honor me by doing since I said to do it in order to honor me?

    Therefore it seems clear that it must have some purpose or function aside from merely doing it because Jesus said to do it. How to know what that function is?

    Seemingly, the obvious place to start is with the fact that Jesus mysteriously said, in regard to the bread and wine, that the bread was his body and the wine his blood.

    Is Jesus honored or remembered by our eating plain bread and drinking plain juice? But what if the bread really is his body and the wine really his blood? Does that make a difference? In that case we would not just be thinking of him, but actually being present with him and taking him into ourselves. Would that not be “remembering” him on a whole other level?

    We can also glean hints of its purpose from other places in the scriptures. You’ve already pointed out that he who receives “the body and blood of the Lord” unworthily incurs a judgment on himself (1. Cor. 11:27). This too seems to make a lot more sense if we think of the bread and wine as being really his body and blood.

    Then there is 1 Cor. 5:7: ‘For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’

    ‘Christ our Passover’ refers to the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb. The Israelites were saved from the angel of death by having sacrificed a lamb and spread its blood on their lintels. Oh, and also eating the lamb: ‘And you shall not leave any of it over until morning.’ Ex. 12:10.

    If Christ is the *fulfillment* of the Passover Lamb, what does that mean? Obviously it means that he saves not only the Jews but the whole world, and not merely from temporal death but from eternal death.

    That’s clear enough. But what about the eating part?

    The Jews were commanded to celebrate the Passover feast yearly as a *remembrance*, by eating an actual lamb. Christ commanding his followers to consume bread which he referred to as his body, and wine which he referred to as his blood, in remembrance of his own saving sacrifice, obviously is drawing a parallel with the Passover lamb. In light of this, here we have Paul pointing out that Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, therefore let us celebrate the *feast*. Can it be any clearer that communion is a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice in the same way that the yearly Passover celebration was a remembrance of the first Passover?

    Yet let’s not fail to call to mind, that Christ’s sacrifice is the *fulfillment* of the Passover sacrifice, and the feast of his body and blood is the *fulfillment* of the Passover feast. This being the case, which is the more real and which the more symbolic? Wouldn’t it be strange if the Passover feast, being a mere foreshadowing, consisted of the slaughtering and eating of an actual lamb — while the feast in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice is a mere ritual eating of foods that are mere symbols? How can the fulfillment be less literal than the foreshadowing? Shouldn’t it be the other way around, the original Passover being merely symbolic, and Christ’s feast being more real?

    Finally, we have St. Paul saying, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.’ 1 Cor. 10:21.

    This is right after he had said, ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?’

    What does it mean to say that the bread and wine are a “participation” in the body and blood?

    Previously, in verse 18, Paul had said, ‘Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?’

    Evidently under the Old Covenant, when you sacrificed a lamb or a bull or whatever, eating of the sacrifice signified your participation in the sacrifice. This again brings us back to the Passover Lamb: You had not only to kill the lamb and roast it, but also to *eat* it. Eating it signified your partcipation in its sacrifice. Those who were saved from the Angel of Death were not those who merely *believed* in the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, but those who participated in the sacrifice of the Lamb by eating of it.

    Yet here we have Paul talking about the bread and the wine being a “participation” in Christ’s body and blood. But not merely Christ’s body and blood, but the *sacrifice* of Christ’s body and blood. Because remember, Jesus didn’t say merely “This is my body”, “This is my blood.” Rather he said, “This is my body which will be given up for you”, and “This is my blood which is poured out for you.” So when we “participate” in Christ’s body and blood, that obviously refers to participating in the *sacrifice* of Christ’s body and blood on the Cross. Eating his body and blood, therefore, is how we participate in that very sacrifice.

    Now, how can this be so, if the bread and wine are merely symbols. If they’re just symbols, doesn’t that mean that our participation in Christ’s sacrifice is also merely symbolic? But if we’re really to participate in Christ’s sacrifice, his body given up for us, and his blood poured out for us, don’t we have to really partake of his body and blood?

    If eating of the Passover Lamb saved the Israelites from death, and Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover, does this shed any light on John 6? ‘[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’ John 6:53. Couldn’t the same have been said of eating the flesh of the Lamb on the night of Passover — that if you didn’t eat it, you would die?

    And again, the statement of Paul’s quoted above, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?’ (1 Cor. 10:21-22.) This is in the context of discussing whether to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul says that you can’t participate in Christ’s sacrifice, while at the same time participating in sacrifices to demons. What sense does this make, unless we are to partake of Christ’s sacrifice in a literal, and not merely symbolic way?

    Taking Christ’s words at face value, that the bread really is his body and the wine really his blood, doesn’t this make sense of the whole thing? Aren’t the confusion and mystification over the meaning of communion caused by *not* taking Christ’s words at face value?

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