In Holy Communion God stoops down to our level to show the great mystery of our union with Christ in a very tangible manner. He does not just explain a complex theological concept to us and leave us to ponder about it. He lets us see, smell, touch, taste, and even participate in its reenactment. Even when we cannot see the cross of the past, or imagine our future feast, or comprehend our present union with Christ, Holy Communion still helps us get a small taste of this mysterious beauty.
What happens when Christians “do” Holy Communion? What’s the point of it? Is it just a visual aid—a symbolic depiction of something that can be communicated just as effectively by words? Is it something we really need?
Many of us might find it difficult to give clear answers to these questions—especially after the long period of online worship we have been through recently. Perhaps some of us still aren’t sure whether getting together for Communion makes any difference at all.
In this short article, I want to set out three things that Jonathan Edwards tells us about why we should take Communion seriously.
Remember: a Commemoration of Christ’s Death
This is perhaps the one thing that most Christians think of when they consider the meaning of Holy Communion. Remembrance is the most obvious aspect of the Communion. Jesus himself said during his Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24)
Jonathan Edwards said that Christ’s death “should be commemorated in the church in all ages by this representation of it in this ordinance [i.e., the Holy Communion].” In a sense, this sacrament transfers our minds back across time. Every time Christians partake in the Holy Communion, we remember and even reenact Christ’s sacrifice which gives us life. And that’s a good thing. We are forgetful creatures. In the midst of the busyness and distractions of life, God has given us this sacrament to help us remember what Jesus has done. It is our duty to help our minds remember regularly by partaking in it as often as we can.
Hope: an Expectation of the Heavenly Feast
Holy Communion also transfers our minds to the future. This is probably not something a lot of Christians think of as they partake in Communion. But for Edwards, this was an important aspect of the sacrament. Communion is “a type of that eternal feast of the saints in heaven.”
Imagine that: there are Christians having an eternal feast right now with Jesus at the head of the table—something that we, living Christians on earth, are looking forward to as well (see Isaiah 25:6; Revelation 19:9). We will join them when we get there. But for now, what we do during Communion is a “type”: a pointer towards that heavenly reality. Every time Christians partake in Holy Communion, we are participating in a spiritual feast together with all the saints—on earth and in heaven; from the past, present, and future. That future when we get together and actually feast with Jesus face to face will be “unspeakably happy and glorious”—so glorious that it will have to be experienced. But we can enjoy that experience now, to a small extent, as we partake in Holy Communion. Edwards constantly invited his church members to diligently participate in this sacrament for this reason. And he’s right. Who does not want to participate in that glorious heavenly banquet?