About the Communion Service As it Was Celebrated by the Earliest Christians (From “The Story of Christianity: Volume 1” by Justo L. Gonzalez)
We are told in the book of Acts that from the very beginning the early church had the custom of gathering on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread — the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. The reason for gathering on the first day of the week was that this was the day of the resurrection of the Lord. Therefore, the main purpose of this service of worship was not to call the faithful to repentance, or to make them aware of the magnitude of their sins, but rather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the promises of which that resurrection was the seal. For this reason, Acts describes those gatherings as happy occasions: they “ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” Those early communion services did not focus their attention on the events of Good Friday, but rather on those of Easter. A new reality had dawned, and Christians gathered to celebrate that dawning and to be participants in it.
From that time, and throughout most of its history, the Christian church has seen in communion its normal and highest act of worship. Only after the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century — and in many cases much later — did it become common practice in many Protestant churches to focus their worship on preaching rather than on communion.
Besides the well-known but scant data offered by the New Testament, it is possible to reconstruct early Christian worship by piecing together information from a number of extant documents. Although these writings come from different times and places, and therefore there are differences and inconsistencies in what they tell us, it is possible to draw from them a general picture of the typical service of communion.
The most remarkable characteristic of those early communion services was that they were celebrations. The tone was one of joy and gratitude, rather than sorrow and repentance.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”
On the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread: And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: This do in remembrance of me.
John 6:58 says, “This is the bread which came down from heaven: not as the fathers ate and died; he that eateth this bread shall live forever.”
TAKE AND EAT
“In the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood: This do you as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me.’ For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”
Hebrews 9:22 says, “According to the law . . . all things are cleansed with blood, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission.”
1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as he is the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
TAKE AND DRINK
After they had finished the first Supper, they sang a hymn and went out into the night.