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Why and how do Christians celebrate this really important shared meal?
What are the most important events in your life? Being born is pretty important, which is why most people remember and celebrate it every year on their birthday. For Christians, communion is an action that helps them remember and celebrate.
In communion, Christians eat bread and drink wine together – usually but not always in church – in memory of how Jesus died on the cross. They celebrate it because they believe that because of Jesus’ death they can be
forgiven by God for the wrong things that they have done.
Communion is based on a real event, known as the Last Supper. On the night before Jesus died, he had a special meal with his disciples - the Passover meal. They and other Jews ate it every year to celebrate how God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians in the time of Moses to start a new life together in the Promised Land. The Bible explains what happened during the meal:
‘Jesus took some bread in his hands. Then after he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this and remember me.” After the meal, Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and said, “This is my blood, and with it God makes his new agreement with you. Drink this and remember me.”’ (1 Cor 11:23-25)
Christians believe that the ‘new agreement’ that Jesus talked about was a new relationship between God and the people on earth. They believe that when Jesus died on the cross the next day (Good Friday), he took away all the wrong things people had done so that they could know God as their friend now and in the future. Although communion is a time to be sad that Jesus died, it is also a time to be happy and thankful that he did.
The Communion service is also known as Mass, Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, and Breaking of Bread. Churches do this in different ways. Before taking the bread and wine in the Communion service Christians will think about any wrong things they may have done and say sorry to God. This is called confession. Roman Catholics may do this with the help of their priest.
Christians in Catholic and Orthodox churches believe that the bread and wine used in communion become something very special and holy. At the last Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples he said, 'This is my body' and 'This is my blood.'
Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe this in a literal way – in other words, that the bread becomes Jesus’ actual body and the wine his actual blood. This is known as transubstantiation.
However, in most other churches, Christians believe that Jesus meant his words in a symbolic way, that the bread and wine are simply reminders of Jesus’ death.