What is Communion?

A comment over at A Bit of Smoke got me thinking about what communion is. The dictionary says that communion is:
  • the celebration of the Eucharist
  • a group of persons having a common religious faith
  • interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication
I wonder if we religious types have bought into the first two and left out the last one? It reminds me of this verse in 1Corinthians 10:16
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (NKJV)
The Greek word translated “communion” in this verse is koinōnia. In other New Testament verses koinōnia is translated fellowship or sharing. I like those words but unfortunately, in religious circles today, the word fellowship is an overused word - the church I go to has it in it's name ... it has become a catch-all word for a religious group of people that get together. Because of this, and our discomfort with revealing our true selves, we have lost the meaning of what it means to commune or fellowship with another.

The essence of fellowship and communion is intimate communication where you bare the deepest part of your heart. This is the heart of prayer - communing with God in a way that bares our fears, our insecurities, our challenges, our questions and our deepest wounds to a loving Father. When we get to that place with the Father then we can begin to take steps to commune with each other.

In my last post I shared about the cost of friendship. In a sense communion is a somewhat scary part of intimate friendship. It is scary because we don't bare our hearts very often and have all sorts of anxieties around being transparent with another. We don't understand that to love and be loved requires risk. Sometimes people won't understand when we open our hearts to them - it may scare them because they will experience heart feelings that have been long suppressed.

Communion is what we were created for ... intimacy with God and with each other is what life is all about. We deceive ourselves when we acquiese to a superficial communion that demands nothing of our heart. We lull ourselves into a spiritual stupor when we think that communion is all about the bread and the wine and not about the sharing - the sharing of the life of Christ in each of us.


  1. "interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication."

    The difference for my understanding of Holy Communion is that this interchange takes place THROUGH the communion with Jesus Christ. I am not connected to you in fellowship - I am connected to you THROUGH Him. That makes the connection Christ-centered, fueled by Grace, and removes the temporal aspect of diversity or homogeneity. We can have nothing in common in the world but our belonging to His Body.

    That has actual physical and psychological ramifications, if we let it. Communion is very vertical. The fruit of it looks very horizontal. Does that make sense?

  2. I'm processing what you wrote here, what Bruce wrote on Smoke and what you have posted on What About Bob.

  3. I agree with everything you said Therese. The problem is that I just don't see the horizontal fruit you speak of - unless you exclude intimacy when you define communion/koinōnia.

    I think that the kind of (vertical) communion actualized in most of the churches that I have been to cannot be too vertical because there is virtually no fruit of horizontal communion. The theme mostly seems to be performance and not communion.

    Let's dialog some more though. I am interested in how you see the whole idea of communion and koinōnia.

  4. The most meaningful communions I've taken part in are the most intimate--we're gathered for a dinner or whatever, and Jesus is the center of attention-we do it in rememberence of HIM. We get hit with the reality of what He did. . .and tears often flow as we partake. I think that communion in Paul's day was much like that. . the common table, the gathering together (as long as no one got out of hand!
    Church communion smacks of a show at times--the MC at the front..really, I don't see the "coming together" to remember HIM.
    KB, you remember that one communion that I experienced that I emailed you about.Oy.

  5. First, I had to look up koinonia again! One of those words the definition just slips out of my grasp. Wikipedia says "A special New Testament application of the Greek word of koinonia is to describe the fellowship and communion that existed at the celebration of the Lord's Supper or sacrament of the Eucharist."

    If you're not seeing the fruit, have you prayed specifically to recognize it and become part of it? Just askin'....

    I thankfully see the horizontal fruit, not always understood, not with every person, not completely effective. But once you recognize His transforming Grace knitting us together in worship, changing the way we interact, you recognize it even in its faintest traces.

    The "nice guys all together" relationships I have with some parishioners may be friendly and generous, but they are not filled with joy like those formed by worshiping side by side.

    Now that I think of it, my closest friend at work is an earnest Christian, a young Evangelical guy I have virtually nothing temporal in common with but this job and our faith in Jesus. Because of faith, we have a different style of friendship, our conversations are different; on some moral topics in the news, we feel "safer" talking to each other about them. It's nice to be able to mention Scripture in everyday conversation!

    THAT fruit I bet you do recognize among your friends and fellow church members. It's related, but not as intimate. Just standing (or kneeling) shoulder to shoulder changes how we relate face to face.

  6. I agree with Karen when she says:

    "The most meaningful communions I've taken part in are the most intimate."

    Sharing communion in a small intimate group is a wonderful rememberance of Jesus and the Last Supper.

    I think that intimacy is attainable if communion is shared the way that Jesus shared it with His friends.

    I don't think that communion in church has to lack intimacy. Our church asks people to take it with others in small groups ... praying over the elements and praying for each other ... it is a warm Christ remembering experience.

  7. It seems to me that communion in our churches today is just something we do because we "have to." So many of the churches we've been visiting lately do communion every Sunday but it just seems so ritualistic and unemotional. I like where you are going with this thought of yours.


  8. If communion has become meaningless, ritualistic, unemotional, whatever, isn't the fault with us? Don't we have to go deeper into Scripture and prayer and put ourselves back into that upper room with Jesus, back into the Acts church, back with Paul?

    It sounds to me (I'm guessing) that the solution by many churches to "boring, ritualistic, meaningless" communion services is to cancel them, or keep changing them. Does that make sense?

  9. Hi Therese,

    If by "we" in "Don't we have to go deeper into Scripture and prayer and put ourselves back into that upper room with Jesus, back into the Acts church, back with Paul?, you mean church leaders, then I would agree.

    It makes sense to me for church leaders to avoid boring rituals. That said I don't think that church liturgy has to be boring. It is on the leader/minister/priest/pastor/etc. to bring relevance to the liturgy through heartfelt example, teaching and encouragement.

    From your feedback it seems that you sense a lot of intimacy in your church liturgy around communion. I think that is pretty cool.

    Blessings, Bob

  10. Yes, I agree with Therese that the meaningfulness of communion is our responsibility, but the problem of ritualism needs to be addressed in most churches, especially the large ones. My husband and I take communion at a local church when we go; they pass the tray around with the little cups and little wafers in the middle. Communion has always been a moment of worship for us; an honor to partake. I'll never forget his face when he saw the young couple in front of us kick back the "blood of Christ," tuck the empty back in the tray; and knock back the "body of Christ" like it was a piece of popcorn. When I watch mass on TV, it's not really much different, except, frankly, that men at the front feel the hierarchical need to feed people. Where was that in Scripture?
    I still think that communion is best done in a dinner setting. . .church dinners would be a wonderful time to achieve this.

  11. The examples of those people "kicking back the blood and body of Christ" is sad, but it needn't affect us. God knows I've seen it too: people chewing gum, nudging each other, bored, day-dreaming. Poor Jesus! He gives us everything and we bring Him our sinful lazy butts. BUT, those of us who take it seriously can love Him all the more, since we're praying all in one Body, and what affects one part affects the whole body. Can't say "I have no need of you..."

    Have to disagree with the comment about the "men in front feeling a hierarchical need to feed people." We certainly don't see them that way; they are at the same time the father of a family, the shepherd of a flock, and the words of Christ standing visible before us, letting us hear and see them and Him. At no time have I EVER thought of them as anything but that, even the priests I don't like personally. What they're doing transcends who they are. It might not look that way from the outside, but I promise it's not that way on the inside!

  12. Sorry, Terese, but I disagree. I don't believe that it should just be men in the leadership. As an ordained elder, it gets tiresome.We are all a royal priesthood; He works through all of us, if we let Him.
    I'm not going to go into a battle of scripture over this.
    I believe that if a church is committed to communion, it should be done with a seriousness and a respectfulness. Yes, it does affect us. As you say, what affects one part affects us all. The very act of communion is a coming together to remember Him; Jesus Himself did not hand feed His disciples. Again, not in Scripture. The kind of disrespect we're talking about at the communion table is precisely what Paul rebuked the Corinthians for.

  13. Rodrigo--Eu odeio realmente quando os povos usam blogs anunciar.

  14. This has been a very interesting comment thread ... comments in other tongues and all :)

    The purpose of my post was primarily to focus on this definition of communion:

    "interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication

    Sadly we have (me included) got involved in this definition of communion:

    "the celebration of the Eucharist".

    Dogma aside, I really think that what the world needs is real communion with Him and with us.

  15. Sorry, couldn't resist the temptation to explain (if I hear the word "hierarchical" one more time.....!)

    About communion, I see those two definitions as completely in tune with each other. They lift each other towards Heaven.

  16. I missed the discussion.

    During communion I always remind myself that it is the partake of the body of Christ, i.e. this is my body ... this is my blood, within the body of Christ, i.e. the Church.

  17. Sorry, KB.

    This definition of communion, the "interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication" is great in principle but seems either unrealistic or undesired in the church today, at least in our corporate worship times. There doesn't seem to be a place for it. Or perhaps churches don't know HOW to incorporate this definition into our narrowly defined ideas of modern, contemporary worship. Plus, the "intimate communication" part implies a willingness to open up our souls and be vulnerable. This just won't (or can't) happen in our large corporate worship times.

    Me thinks I need to chew on this a while longer.


  18. "interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication"

    ...well, we just had ourselves a communion then!

  19. Hi Bruce,

    When you say "unrealistic or undesired" it is probably one of those two because of the church structure. If we wanted to make communion intimate we probably could ... but we might have to cut the sermon short :)


  20. Shorten the sermon? Then the coffee wouldn't be ready!

  21. Bob - and your point is??

    Therese z - I can wait.


  22. Hi Bob. Linked here through Tracing my Steps (trace).In general, I am one of those people who like to watch and comment... never revealing much about myself.. my questions... my fears... my insecurities... my faults. Over the past five years, however, I have been "in communion" with the Church and I am at a point where I am starting to open up a bit. But I find that I'll say things to my church friends about myself that I am unlikely to admit to my golf buddies or co-workers. I think I have to take that next step to be in true communion with Christ... where I can be authentic and true to the man he created, wherever and with whomever I am. Thanks for your post... has me thinking about some more work I have to do!

  23. The intimacy with God and with one another is something that I treasure. I go to my church's early service because it's quieter and has a much smaller group of people (~20), which feels more intimate to me. Communion is my favorite part of the service because we all go up to gather behind the altar together in a circle. We're shoulder to shoulder and can see everyone's faces. That experience has helped me see what communion means for me - a weekly reminder of how much Jesus loves me - and it has also made me feel very close to the people in my church (even if I may not actually know them very well otherwise). It's been very powerful for me because communion always felt sort of rote before, and I had trouble connecting with it.

    Unfortunately (in my eyes), during the summer, my church drops the early service. Communion at the later, well-attended service is an assembly line. You walk up, get your bread, move along the line, dip it or drink, and move along and head back to your seat. I understand why the church does it, mostly to save time, but I don't feel the same connection and intimacy - the feeling of being together at a meal with a group of beloved people - that I do at the early service.

  24. Great input Kristen. I wonder if your church would change the way it did communion if it read your comment. Might take a bit more time but maybe they could organize the service a bit different and get a bit more intimate.

    Blessings, Bob


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