Christian Articles Archive

Common Participants at the Table

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Jaume Serra, The Last Supper (1370-1400)
Jaume Serra, "The Last Supper" (1370-1400), Tempera on wood, Museo Nazionale, Palermo Larger image.
What does it mean when we eat the bread and drink the cup at the Lord's Supper? How should we think about it when we partake? The Apostle Paul wrote:

"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?" (1 Corinthians 10:16-18, NIV)

One word stands out because it is repeated again and again — the Greek word koinonia, "participation" (NIV) also translated as "communion" (KJV) or "sharing" (NRSV). It means sharing something in common with others, common participation in something with other people.

  • Lord's Supper: Meditations for Disciples, by Ralph F. Wilson
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    We participate with all the others who partake of the one loaf, the one Bread who unites us all — Catholics and Protestants, Orthodox and Pentecostal. We are one at the Lord's Table.
  • We participate in the body and blood of Jesus, sacrificed for our sins. When we partake we confirm again their saving power on our behalf.
  • We participate, in a sense, in the altar of sacrifice. The Jewish priests sacrificed upon an altar in the temple. But the "altar" upon which the Lamb of God was slain is the cross. By eating the elements of the Lord's supper we participate, in a sense, in the cross itself. We affirm that we are crucified with Christ.

The Lord's Supper is a remembrance. It is also a participation with Christ himself and with all others who follow him.

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Note: The root word of koinonia, "participation, sharing" is koine, which means common in contrast to private or sacred — common ground, common pastureland, communal property, a couple's community property. When it refers to people it means "participants, fellows." The idea is that which is shared in common with others. (Friedrich Hauck, "koinonos, ktl.," TDNT 3:789-809)

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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