When Was the First Communion?

How Jesus’ Last Supper in the Bible was commemorated by early Christians

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

last-supper

Jesus’ Last Supper in the Bible. The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci portrays Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples before his crucifixion.

When was the first communion?

The event described in Matthew 26:26–28 (also in Mark 14:22–25 and Luke 22:14–23) is known as the Last Supper. It was Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. In that meal, which was a Passover meal, Jesus gave bread and wine—representing his body and blood—to his disciples. These were symbols of his new covenant. Further, he charged his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), meaning Jesus’ followers were to partake of bread and wine and remember him. Jesus’ Last Supper in the Bible is the foundation for the Christian tradition of taking communion—known as the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion and the Eucharist.

Early Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper as a full meal, but by the third century, it had ceased to be a banquet and had become a ritualized small meal instead. Steven Shisley examines how the Lord’s Supper transitioned from a full meal to a ritual in his Biblical Views column “From Supper to Sacrament: How the Last Supper Evolved” published in the March/April 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Shisley explains that in the first and second centuries C.E., Christians usually gathered in individual homes for a communal evening meal to commemorate the Lord’s Supper. Although these meals generally fostered community, they sometimes led to disagreement, discord and debauchery. Shisley elaborates:

Early Christians participated in meals characterized by inclusivity, care for one another and unity (Acts 2:43–47; cf. Acts 6:1–7). But as Paul’s letters indicate, these idealistic practices at the Lord’s Supper sometimes became abused because Christians either practiced Jewish purity laws at the table (e.g., considering what types of foods were appropriate to consume), or they transformed the meal into a gathering modeled after Greco-Roman banquets by drinking too much wine (Galatians 2:11–14; cf. Romans 14–15; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34).

kathedrale-sancti-spiritus

When was the first communion? The tradition of communion originated with the Last Supper in the Bible, when Jesus gave bread and wine to his disciples as symbols of the “new covenant.” This painting of the Last Supper appears in the cathedral of Sancti Spíritus, Cuba. Photo: “Cathedral of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba” by Anagoria is licensed under CC-by-3.0.

Such misuses of the Lord’s Supper factored into communion becoming more controlled and structured in the Christian Church; communion became less of a meal and more of a ritual. In his column, Shisley explores several additional reasons for this shift, one of which relates to the time of day that Christians gathered to assemble. During the third century, Christians began assembling in the morning: “[T]he apologist Tertullian [c. 155–240 C.E.] recounts how his community in Carthage began to assemble in the mornings to participate in a separate Eucharistic ritual at an altar (De Corona 3). … According to Cyprian, a third-century bishop, Christians in Carthage regularly gathered as one large assembly in the morning at an altar for a Eucharistic sacrifice in buildings devoted to religious activities (Epistle 62.14–17; Epistle 33.4–5).” The growing size of the Christian community and the desire for all local Christians to meet together, which often necessitated a formal religious structure larger than a house, also likely contributed to the Lord’s Supper becoming a ritualized meal.

To learn more about the Lord’s Supper and its development from a full meal to a ritual, read Steven Shisley’s Biblical Views column “From Supper to Sacrament: How the Last Supper Evolved” in the March/April 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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BAS Library Members: Read the full column “From Supper to Sacrament: How the Last Supper Evolved” by Steven Shisley in the March/April 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? by Jonathan Klawans

The Hungry Jesus by Andrew McGowan

Did Jesus’ Last Supper Take Place Above the Tomb of David?

A Feast for the Senses … and the Soul
 


 

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  1. Dan says

    There is a common misconception that the supper in the upper room, often called the “Last Supper,” was the Passover meal during which the roasted lamb was eaten as commended in Exodus 12. The chronology of the Passion Week shows that the supper in the upper room was a Feast of Unleavened Bread meal eaten the night before the Passover meal with lamb, and that the memorial Passover meal with lamb celebrating the Exodus was eaten the following night while Jesus was in the tomb. The Last Supper did not cancel the observance of the Exodus Passover memorial which was commanded by God to be observed annually by Jews forever. It added the fact that Jesus is our Passover whose deliverance from the slavery of sin applies to eternity. The chronology of the Passion Week reveals the order in which these events happened. See http://www.prophecysociety.org/?p=500 for a full explanation that is too detailed to post here.

  2. REV says

    Dr Sauter wrote “Carthage began to assemble in the morning” but Tertullian did not say “began”. His words state their traditional practice from an unknowable time before. Jesus and His followers as pious people grew up always keeping the synagog services. Jesus could not have been considered a Rabbi unless He did so. Those services are the foundation of later development. The major change was the addition of the Eucharist to the service of the word. Acts 15 records a major discussion over minor items. The followers were faithful to what they received. The only person who could have authorized the change from Sabbath to Sunday worship was the Lord of the commandments. Reading back to the author of change means going back to the only one who could have made the change. Just because it is not recorded that Jesus said or did certain things does not prove He did not. If no one else could have, He must be the one who did.

  3. GENE says

    “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”—Luke 22:19.

    How often should the Memorial be observed in order to preserve remembrance of Christ’s death? Jesus did not specifically say. However, since he instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal on Nisan 14, the evening of the Passover, which the Israelites celebrated annually, it is evident that Jesus intended the Memorial to be commemorated in the same way. Whereas the Israelites annually celebrated their deliverance from bondage in Egypt, Christians annually commemorate their deliverance from bondage to sin and death.—Exodus 12:11, 17; Romans 5:20, 21.

    The concept of an annual observance to commemorate a significant event is certainly not unusual. Consider, for example, when a couple celebrate their wedding anniversary or when a nation commemorates an important event in its history. The commemoration usually takes place once a year on the anniversary of that event. Interestingly, for several centuries after Christ, many professed Christians were called Quartodecimans, meaning “Fourteenthers,” because they commemorated Jesus’ death once a year, on Nisan 14. “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”—Luke 22:19.

    How often should the Memorial be observed in order to preserve remembrance of Christ’s death? Jesus did not specifically say. However, since he instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal on Nisan 14, the evening of the Passover, which the Israelites celebrated annually, it is evident that Jesus intended the Memorial to be commemorated in the same way. Whereas the Israelites annually celebrated their deliverance from bondage in Egypt, Christians annually commemorate their deliverance from bondage to sin and death.—Exodus 12:11, 17; Romans 5:20, 21.

    The concept of an annual observance to commemorate a significant event is certainly not unusual. Consider, for example, when a couple celebrate their wedding anniversary or when a nation commemorates an important event in its history. The commemoration usually takes place once a year on the anniversary of that event. Interestingly, for several centuries after Christ, many professed Christians were called Quartodecimans, meaning “Fourteenthers,” because they commemorated Jesus’ death once a year, on Nisan 14.

  4. Johnie says

    I agree with Dan. The Last Supper was not the Passover meal. Jesus was sacrificed, as the Passover lamb is sacrificed, on 14 Nissan, but the Passover meal is not consumed until 15 Nissan (the evening after the lamb is sacrificed–remember, Jewish calendar days start at sundown). This means that the Last Supper occurred on the evening before, (still 14 Nissan, known as the Preparation Day). To sum up:

    14 Nissan–Last Supper occurred at the start of the day (evening time). Jesus was also arrested that evening, and was crucified the next morning, still 14 Nissan, when the Passover Lamb is also sacrificed. He was in the tomb before sundown.

    15 Nissan–Passover meal (Feast of Unleavened bread) is consumed that evening, the start of the calendar day 15 Nissan.

    17 Nissan–Resurrection

  5. John says

    The Gospel narratives tell us clearly that the Last Supper was the eating of the Passover:

    Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.
    (Luke 22:7-8)

    Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. (Matthew 26:17-19)

    And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. (Mark 14:12-15)

    There can be no doubt that the last supper was, in fact, the seder. The disciples understood that they were eating the Passover, The Lord had sent them to prepare the passover seder, and three of the Gospel accounts state that they were eating the Pesach (the lamb of sacrifice or Passover).

  6. REV says

    Many scholars who discuss the Last Supper and Seder focus on the fact the standard was the Seder on Passover, Friday that year. There is clear documentation that the Essene – Pious Ones – in keeping with their rejection of the leadership celebrated their Seder Passover the day before. Therefore there were Passover Lambs sacrificed and Seder meals on Thursday. Does that mean Jesus was Essene? No! His followers must have been extra exited knowing that their Master had something planned for Passover – revealing himself as Messiah? No one asks, wonders, how in the city packed tight with pilgrims there was a place for Jesus’ Seder. No one wonders how many were with him? It should have been all his followers at the time – 250 – 300. What great prophet of brotherly love could pull his closest disciples away from their loved ones for a private Seder? http://thesignofconcord.com/Fr_Seder_to_H.php

  7. Tom says

    The “Last Supper” had to have taken place on the lunar 13th, the day before the 14th when the lambs were slaughtered, as Yahshua the Passover Lamb was slain at the stake on the 14th. before sunset.
    And, as a side note, stop thinking and speaking “Thursday, Friday, Sunday” rhetoric, as these pagan named “days of the week” are never biblical, but are more recent manufactured measures of time, and do not fit with biblical chronology.at all. This is why there is so much division and derision amongst so many in the timing and consequent observance of the crucifixion, and subsequent defeat of death, of our Messiah Yahshua.
    Look into the biblical lunar calendar and you will know the true dates, including, especially, the true Shabbat.


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