Lenten Day 38: [HOLY WEEK] THE LORD’S SUPPER
TOPIC: THE LORD’S SUPPER
TEXT: LUKE 22:7-33
THE LORD’S SUPPER: This term has two different but related meanings. First, it refers to the meal Jesus shared with His disciples a few hours before His arrest, trial, and death. Second, this term refers to the ceremony in which Christians eat bread and drink wine in memory of that event. The name “Lord’s Supper” comes from 1ST Corinthians 11:20. Other names for the ceremony include “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, NRSV), “Holy Communion” (based on 1st Corinthians 10:16, KJV). The two senses of the term are related to one another because the Communion ceremony looks back to the Last Supper. At that final meal, which was connected to the Passover feast, Jesus gave His disciples bread to eat and wine to drink.
He compared the bread to His body and the wine to His blood, both of which He was about to offer in a sacrifice for sinners. He also asked them to repeat the ceremony in later times, remembering Him as they did so. For Christians today, the Lord’s Supper continues to perform a valuable service in helping us again and again to think about what is at the very center of our faith: the crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. And in the process it connects us with the ancient Hebrew roots of our faith (the Exodus) and causes us to look toward the future (the second coming of Christ). We could not do without the Lord’s Supper and what it represents.
JESUS’ WORDS AND ACTIONS AT THE LORD’S SUPPER
To understand the full significance of the Lord’s Supper, we must carefully examine what Jesus said and did in that final meal with His disciples. And as we do so, one of the things we notice is that the Old Testament provides a rich source of meaning for the event.
“THIS IS MY BODY”
The biblical sources all agree on what Jesus did when He started the Lord’s Supper (see Mat 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:23-24). He did three things: 1. He took the bread; 2. He gave thanks to God; 3. He broke the bread. Interestingly, as we see in Mark 6:41 and Mark 8:6, he performed the same three actions at the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand. According to all four accounts of the Last Supper, what He said when He took the bread was “This is my body.” Christians have differed in their understanding of the precise meaning of those words. But what is certain is that Jesus was indicating that He would give His body as a sacrifice so that we might have life. This comes out most clearly in 1st Corinthians 11:24, where His words are recorded as “This is my body, which is given for you” (or, in some early manuscripts, “This is my body, which is broken for you”). This bread that was given for us is given to us to be food for our souls, for nothing can be more nourishing and satisfying to our souls than the doctrine of Christ’s making atonement for sin, and the assurance of our interest in that atonement; this bread that was broken and given for us, to satisfy for the guilt of our sins, is broken and given to us, to satisfy the desire of our souls. And this we do in remembrance of what He did for us, when He died for us, and for a memorial of what we do, in making ourselves partakers of Him, and joining ourselves to Him in an everlasting covenant; like the stone Joshua set up for a witness, Jos 24:27.
“DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME”
On its face, this instruction would seem to be Jesus’ way of telling His followers to repeat His actions as a religious ceremony, throughout time. But since this instruction is found only in Luke 22:19 and 1st Corinthians 11:24 and not in the other accounts of the Lord’s Supper, some have argued that the Lord did not intend for what He did at the Last Supper to be repeated. Is that argument right? Probably not. In biblical thinking, “remembrance” often involves making real in the present what was done in the past (see Psalm 98:3; Ecclesiastes 12:1).
“THIS CUP IS THE NEW COVENANT”
Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and handed it to His disciples for them all to drink. That is the same pattern He followed when giving out the bread.
But in the words Jesus spoke over the wine, He introduced a new concept into the discussion – that of covenant. Matthew and Mark record the words of Jesus as “This is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24, NIV). Luke 22:20 has “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (NIV) and 1st Corinthians 11:25 is similar to this. All of these references to “covenant” hark back to the Old Testament ritual of making a covenant (an agreement or treaty) with a sacrifice, as in the covenant between God and Israel after the Exodus (Exodus 24:1-8). They also suggest that the hope of a new covenant, described in Jeremiah 31:31-34, was fulfilled in Jesus. It commemorates the purchase of the covenant by the blood of Christ, and confirms the promises of the covenant, which are all Yea and Amen in him.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
The Lord’s Supper reminds us that Christ Died for us: The Lord’s Supper (1Cor 11:20) is a visible representation of the Good News of the death of Christ for our sins. It reminds us of Christ’s death and the glorious hope of His return. Our participation in it strengthens our faith through fellowship with Christ and with other believers.
The Lord’s Supper commemorates the New Covenant: What is this New Covenant? In the Old Covenant, people could approach God only through the priests and the sacrificial system. Jesus’ death on the cross ushered in the New Covenant or agreement between God and us. Now all people can personally approach God and communicate with him. The people of Israel first entered into this agreement after their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 24), and it was designed to point to the day when Jesus Christ would come. The New Covenant completes the Old Covenant, fulfilling everything the old covenant looked forward to (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). Eating the bread and drinking the cup shows that we are remembering Christ’s death for us and renewing our commitment to serve Him.
The Lord’s Supper is remembering. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” How do we remember Christ in the Lord’s Supper? By thinking about what he did and why he did it. If the Lord’s Supper becomes just a ritual or a pious habit, it no longer remembers Christ, and it loses its significance.
The Lord’s Supper is a Holy act. Paul gives specific instructions on how the Lord’s Supper should be observed. (1) We should take the Lord’s Supper thoughtfully, because we are proclaiming that Christ died for our sins (1stCor 11:26). (2) We should take it worthily, with due reverence and respect (1s Cor 11:27). (3) We should examine ourselves for any un-confessed sin or resentful attitude (1st Cor 11:28). We are to be properly prepared, based on our belief in and love for Christ. (4) We should be considerate of others (1st Cor 11:33), waiting until everyone is there and then eating in an orderly and unified manner.
THE LORD’S SUPPER IS NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY.
When Paul said that no one should take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, he was speaking to the church members who were rushing into it without thinking of its meaning. Those who did so were “guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.” Instead of honouring His sacrifice, they were sharing in the guilt of those who crucified Christ. In reality, no one is worthy to take the Lord’s Supper. We are all sinners saved by grace. This is why we should prepare ourselves for Communion through healthy introspection, confession of sin, and resolution of differences with others. These actions remove the barriers that affect our relationship with Christ and with other believers. Awareness of your sin should not keep you away from Communion but should drive you to participate in it.
At Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before His death, the disciples got into a lively discussion about who would be greatest in His upcoming kingdom. Why did they jockey for position at a time like this (Luke 22:24)? Did they simply not want to believe the bad news, or didn’t they care? Capitalizing on their self-centeredness, Jesus explained that to be great they must serve others (22:25-27). It’s easy to criticize the disciples for their self-centeredness, but that’s the way we are, too. Sometimes we have great concern for our own ascent to greatness, wealth, and prestige. But Christ commands us to do as He did by serving others. About what desires for career advancement, better reputation, or public achievement do you dream? Rather than just serving your ambitions, look for opportunities to serve others.