Why don’t Christians only have communion once a year?

Q. If Jesus had communion with his disciples as part of the once-yearly Passover meal, why do modern Christians usually have communion much more often (sometimes every week!)?

The observance of communion or the Lord’s Supper is based on more than the once-yearly Passover meal. It is true that the observance draws great meaning from its continuity with Passover, with Jesus seen as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” But the observance is also based on the fellowship offerings that are described in the Old Testament. Those were a frequent occasion for worship in the life of the Jewish community in the time of Jesus.

These fellowship offerings were understood to be a meal that was shared by the worshipers with God. Part of the animal whose meat provided the meal was completely burned up. That was God’s share. The person making the offering would share the rest with invited guests, the priests, and even with the poor. These offerings could be made in fulfillment of a vow, in thanks to God for help, or spontaneously (as a “freewill offering”) specifically in order to provide the occasion for such a shared meal.

We can see the analogy to communion, which is understood to be a meal shared with God. (Indeed, the word “communion” means basically the same thing as “fellowship.”) And since fellowship offerings were made frequently, it was natural for Jesus to tell his disciples at the Last Supper, when they were sharing the Passover meal, that he wanted them to re-enact the same observance whenever they ate together. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So Jesus himself said to observe communion frequently, and his first followers understood that this was his intention. That being the case, perhaps the question should now be  why most Christians observe communion more than once a year. Instead, perhaps we should ask why most Christians do not observe communion even more often than weekly or monthly. There seems to be a case for Christians to have communion every time they gather together for a shared meal.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.