The Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper, is a common practice in various Christian traditions. While the specific rituals vary greatly, they all include the same basic elements. Participants partake of some type of bread and drink to commemorate the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross.
Some groups, such as Anglicans and Lutherans, observe the Eucharist as one of the main sacraments of the church. Others, such as Baptists and other Protestants, view it as more of an ordinance or an act of obedience. Regardless of the specific role it plays in church life, the Eucharist is an important part of remembering both the death of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection.
One of the main goals of the Eucharist is to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made so that his followers could share in the joy of eternal life. The Bible tells the story of Jesus giving his disciples bread to represent his body broken for them and wine to mirror his blood shed for them. Members of many faith communities reenact the last supper on a regular basis through communion.
Each tradition has its own way of doing this. Many use actual wine, and others serve grape juice or water. Whereas Jesus likely used unleavened bread to share among the disciples, there are several variations served in churches today:
- Communion wafers
- Yeast bread
Through the ritual of the Eucharist, participants acknowledge the death of Jesus and what it means in their spiritual lives. They are reminded that their sins have been forgiven and that the path to God is open to them.
Another important part of the Eucharist is the understanding of the presence of Jesus. There has been much debate on the exact way this happens in the ritual itself. Many Catholics believe that the elements of bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus. This viewpoint is called transubstantiation. Most Protestant churches hold that the spirit of Jesus is simply present among his people when they partake of the elements. This stance is called consubstantiation.
Regardless of where a particular church falls on this spectrum, most are in agreement that Jesus is alive and working in his church and the world today. Communion gives the congregation space to recognize this truth and reflect on how it applies to the lives of each individual as well as the function of the church body as a whole.
The implication of the events commemorated by the Eucharist is that they're not the end of the story. It is a reminder that God is still with the church and that even death cannot separate humanity from the power and love of the divine. Although the remembrance of his death is a somber ritual, it also comes with the hope of abundant new life in Christ.
Churches vary in their doctrines regarding who this promise is for (and thus, who can participate in the Eucharist). Some only allow members to partake. In fact, a few groups, such as Eastern Orthodox communities, require certain preliminary rituals even for their members. Other churches open communion to all who are present and want to observe the Lord's Supper with other believers. Many people of faith have strong preferences and often base their decision of whether to join a church on who it includes or excludes from the ritual of the Eucharist.
No matter how the Eucharist is performed, it remains an important part of the tradition in most Christian churches. Remembering the basis of faith and its promises for today is essential for modern Christian life.