We all tend to forget things after a while. We need to use something to serve as a reminder. This is especially true when it relates to matters that concern the distant future. Knowing that the Israelites had short memories, Joshua wanted to ensure that what they experienced, crossing the Jordan River on dry ground, will never be forgotten. So he set up at Gilgal a memorial using the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. And he said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground'“ (Joshua 4:20-22).
But while Joshua was able to erect a memorial using the most durable of materials, said memorial did not last for as long as he intended. Today, the stones are nowhere to be found, and many of the Israelites had already forgotten the miracle that happened that day. If stones and similar materials cannot be a lasting memorial, what can be used instead? Well, it can be gleaned from Scriptures that certain practices can actually be a better memorial since these can be passed on from generation to generation. This is the reason why God established certain feasts for Israel, for them to remember the things that God wanted them to remember. For instance, in establishing the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Lord said, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14).
In the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, he instituted the Lord’s Supper to ensure that his disciples, and all those who will later believe in him, will not forget the sacrifice that he offered for the salvation of mankind. He used two familiar elements to serve as a reminder. He said of the bread, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Of the cup, he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). And because of this, believers from generation to generation have not forgotten the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus our Lord had offered for the forgiveness of our sins.
According to the apostle Paul, there are four purposes of communion. The first is for us to look backward. The communion allows us to remember what Jesus had done on the cross. And as we do, we do so not in a passive way, but we actively bring back the incident of the past and make it a reality, that what Jesus did then is not just history, but a present-day, life changing experience. While we are doomed because of our sins, the communion service will remind us of what Jesus had done. The apostle Paul said, “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13).
The second purpose is for us to look forward. Because of what Jesus had done to redeem us, we can look forward to the future with excitement. The apostle Paul said, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Yes, Jesus is coming again.
The next purpose is for us to look inward. It is during the communion service that we have to do self-examination. The apostle Paul said, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:28-29). As we examine ourselves, we need to confess and repent of our sins. Only confession and repentance can bring us back to God.
The last purpose of communion is for us to look around. Again, the apostle Paul said, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment” (1 Cor. 11:33-34). There are people around who are in need. Just as Jesus came to serve, let us serve one another and let us do this out of our love for each other and for the Lord.
Therefore, let us continue to break bread together and pass this on to our children and to our children’s children. In this way, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will be passed on, thus bringing salvation to them that will believe. Let this breaking of the bread be a lasting memorial for generations to come. Hallelujah!