Perhaps the best answer for why we as Christians and Episcopalians take Communion is that Jesus told us to. There are many ways Jesus gave us to act out our faith. He told us to love each other, to help the poor and the sick, to be hospitable to the stranger, and listen to the child. He taught us to pray by going into a quiet place between ourselves and God and he taught us to pray using the Lord’s Prayer. However, to remember him, that he came as a human and lived for us and died for us, he asked that we remember him in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
As much as we might think of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in relation to his last meal, it was painted almost 1,500 years later. There was not a group shot, no selfie with Jesus, not even a formal portrait. Nothing written down, not even Snapchat seen and gone. So how do we understand? How do we feel present in something that happened more than 2,000 years ago?
During the Passover meal, known to us as the “Last Supper,” the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified for us, Matthew writes:"While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." -Matthew 26:26-28
Mark 14: 22-25 and Luke 22:14-20 share these same instructions. Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, not only quotes Jesus’ words but gives instructions on when a shared meal is not a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and when it is. Paul is clear that it is not to be done without self examination, discipline, and repentance. This is why the Holy Communion follows the Proclamation, Prayers, Confession, and Peace in our Eucharistic services. When we remember Christ, it is a celebration, a serious celebration. It is a celebration of Jesus’ saving presence in the time of his earthly ministry, continuing now and forever.
In the Communion service, the words of remembrance are said in a prayer thanking God for Jesus’ human life and ministry. Following a calling for the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and the wine as the body and blood of Jesus, the bread is broken, as Jesus’ body was broken in the crucifixtion. We, like the first disciples, have been redeemed by his death are reminded again of what has been done. Jesus died for our sins and then overcame death so that we might have life, life that reflects God’s love in the words of the prayer that follows receiving the Sacrament: “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you." Like the first disciples, we are called to remember Christ, to come together, and to take what has been given to us and take it out into God’s world.
While Communion was given to us by Jesus, it has become one of our traditions. In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Holy Eucharist is stated to be “the principle act of Christian Worship on the Lord’s Day and major Feast." This was a change from the 1928 Prayer Book which included Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the Litany as well as the Holy Communion as the principal services. Episcopalians, while progressive and thoughtful, love tradition. We must balance our need for tradition with Jesus' meaning for the Sacrament.