There are three distinct iterations of the communion command that have existed since the instructions were first given by Jesus and then Paul in First Corinthians as it was commonly practiced in the first century church.
Number ONE: A Meal
The correction given by Paul to the Corinthians was about a MEAL... What some have called an Agape meal. Today we might practice it as pot luck. Everybody brings something and everybody eats. Paul was critical of how it was conducted in the Corinthian Church and he corrected them:
1 Corinthians 11:17-22 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
This was not instruction about a sip and a wafer, this agape meal was practiced commonly in the early church. It was not a sacrament except as it was recognized. There were not words of institution. It was a recognition of the Body of Christ in the breaking of bread together. Example:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Act 2:42This verse does not reference communion as is practiced in the Catholic and Lutheran church today. It was the Agape Meal. BUT it was communion in that sense. It required instruction. Paul did that.
Number TWO: Table Graces
The second is the Recognition of every time you eat and drink, you are remembering HIM. This comes from the words used in institution and was practiced for centuries after Christ walked the earth. Whenever even two people sat down to eat anything, instead of a common table prayer, they gave simple thanks, and in Latin would hold the food and drink in their hands and say "Corpus Christi" and then "Sanguinis Christi" ... no words of institution, just a recognition that in remembrance we recognize the gift that food is and that which Jesus came and gave himself. Even now if I have a pizza and a coke I often will think of and sometimes even say... Body of Christ, Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi, Sanguinis Christi). This tradition came out of the teachings of Paul...
1 Corinthians 11:24-25 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."…
In this way there is a communion that takes place in the recognition of Him when we eat anytime... anything, there is remembrance. Unfortunately there is a soft taking of communion in some evangelical church services that are simply remembrances. It's not communion. Once again the recognition of His Body and Blood is lost in tradition and flawed theology.
Number THREE:The Sacrament
The third iteration of communion is the formal sacrament. The way it is done in most churches lacks the capacity for recognition of the true presence of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is irreverent. Without understanding. Dangerous really.
Churches end up in this trap when they try to minister communion with a too great frequency, it has become something we do often ... so we do it unworthily in order to "Get it over with". Time constraints have robbed people of what matters. Communion is taken without thinking.
The issue is "THIS BREAD" and "THIS CUP". It was the institution of a Passover type encounter with the living Christ that Jesus practiced. Jesus words:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Luke 22:19-20When with significant reverence and intentionality we enter into what Paul described in
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:16Then we consider the warnings about the encounter with the Holy that Communion when done sacramentally and intentionally is where we touch the Living Christ. We meet with HIM bodily. Yet it is done so poorly. Paul isn't sanguine about this loose flippancy in 1 Corinthians 11
(in the Amplified):
IF Paul the Apostle was so serious about this so should we be. In all three iterations of the communion, when we come together for an agape meal, when we meet one another over a cup and a bite and remember the Body and Blood given for us or when with intention we meet with Jesus in the Sacrament, it's time to discern the Body and Blood of Christ.
23 For I received from the Lord Himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was treacherously delivered up and while His betrayal was in progress took bread,
24 And when He had given thanks, He broke [it] and said, Take, eat. This is My body, which is broken for you. Do this to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance.
25 Similarly when supper was ended, He took the cup also, saying, This cup is the new covenant [ratified and established] in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink [it], to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance.
26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are representing and signifying and proclaiming the fact of the Lord’s death until He comes [again].
27 So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is unworthy [of Him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the Lord.
28 Let a man [thoroughly] examine himself, and [only when he has done] so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ’s] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself.
30 That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason many of you are weak and sickly, and quite enough of you have fallen into the sleep of death.
31 For if we searchingly examined ourselves [detecting our shortcomings and recognizing our own condition], we should not be judged and penalty decreed [by the divine judgment].
32 But when we [fall short and] are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined and chastened, so that we may not [finally] be condemned [to eternal punishment along] with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you gather together to eat [the Lord’s Supper], wait for one another.
34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together to bring judgment [on yourselves]. About the other matters, I will give you directions [personally] when I come.