What is the Lord’s Supper?
We know that it is important, but do we understand what it means to Christ and to Christians?
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:16-17)
The Old Testament Passover feast (Exod. 12) foreshadowed the Lord’s Supper. Before their exodus from Egypt, Israelites sacrificed a Passover lamb, an unblemished, male, one year old sheep. God told them that the lamb’s blood on the doorpost “shall be a sign” that death may pass over your house. The first born child of the house was saved by this sign. They would then roast the lamb and eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Many of the details of the feast emphasized that they were a people ready to leave. With loins girded, sandals on, and staff in hand, they would “eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover” (Exod. 12:11). No leaven could be found in houses whatsoever (Exod. 12:15,18). It was a “memorial day” and a “feast to the Lord” (Exod. 12:14).
The Passover is fulfilled in Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), whose blood saves us from death. The Lord’s Supper is the new memorial feast. As the Israelites remembered their deliverance from slavery, we remember our deliverer.
Each week, we repeat a rite that first took place on the Thursday night our Lord was betrayed. The house was furnished and prepared when the disciples gathered in an upstairs room with his best friends for an intimate observance of the Passover (Mk.14:12-16). Knowing he was near the end, he promised not to drink of it again until he drank it anew in the Kingdom (Matt. 26:29, Col. 1:13)—so it was not a “Last Supper” — He shares in it with us today!
He said “This do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). Rather than giving a detailed command, He gave a simple command and a detailed account. Do THIS (what He did). We participate in this supper in the same simple way Jesus did: giving thanks for the bread, breaking the bread to share it, eating the bread, then giving thanks for the cup, dividing it among ourselves, and drinking it (1 Cor. 11:23-26, Luke 22:17-20).
Jesus “gave thanks” (Matt. 26:27, 1 Cor. 11:24), or a “blessing” (Matt. 26:26 —which means “to consecrate a thing with solemn prayers…” —Vines). We do this for all food, which is sanctified & acceptable because of our thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5). As we imitate Christ in HIs supper, the focus of our prayers is on giving thanks for the bread and the cup.
It is called the “Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), “breaking bread” (Acts 2:42, 20:7), and “love feasts” (Jude 12—most likely referred to the Lord’s supper at this time). Feasts were often part of Israel’s worship (Lev. 23). Jesus’ body and blood are food & drink for our souls (John 6:48-56), and the bread and fruit of the vine parallel this spiritual nourishment.
“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” It is communion, fellowship, partnership. This is not an individual activity, it is a sharing in the Lord amongst His family, so it is always in the assembly of the church (Acts 2, Acts 20, 1 Cor. 10, 1 Cor. 11). “On the first day of the week they came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7) The Lord’s Supper is central to the purpose of our gathering each Sunday.
“Do this In remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24). What an honor to remember Jesus in His appointed way. Like the fruit of the vine we drink, the Lord’s sacrifice is both sweet and bitter to us. Some Christians pursue a “spiritual high” every time they take the Lord’s Supper, but the purpose of this meal is simply to remember. It may bring us sadness to think of His sacrifice, we may celebrate with joy, but the measure of our sincerity is not the emotion. It is whether or not we focus our hearts and minds to remember and “discern the body” as we partake.
To eat it in an “unworthy manner” makes us guilty (again!) of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27ff). The Corinthians sinned in their thoughtless irreverence (11:17-22, 30-34), eating without one another, turning the Lord’s Supper into a common feast, and turning the assembly into a common social activity (“Have you not homes to eat & drink in?” vv. 22, 34).
Examine yourself when you partake (v. 28) — not to see if you’re worthy, you’re not — but to see if you’re in a frame of mind to partake in a worthy manner. Understand what you’re doing, consider the Lord as you eat & drink, be thoughtful and reverent as you “judge the body rightly” (1 Cor. 11:29).
It is a declaration, a statement to all. He shed his blood and sacrificed His body. We remember Him (1 Cor. 11:24) and all that He did—coming, living perfectly, teaching, and raising from the dead — but the central statement of this act is that Jesus died for us. “For as oft as you eat…you proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Cor. 11:26).
We keep this supper “until He Comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Just like those partaking of the Passover, we look forward to leaving. Upon his return, this proclamation will be made no more. It connects Christ’s betrayal with his coming, in an unbroken chain of memorials each first day of the week.