As we continue our discussion of the ordinances of the church, I’d like to consider with you the significance of the Lord’s Supper. This wonderful event in the life of a Christian should be:
• A Memorial Observance
• A Symbolic Observance
• A Continuing Observance
• A Church Observance My prayer is that the Lord will use this study to give us a better understanding of the communion service and lead us into a more meaningful participation.
First of all, the Lord’s Supper should be:
A MEMORIAL OBSERVANCE
Beginning with verse 23 of 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul wrote the following:
I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus 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; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:23-25).
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He said, “This do . . . in remembrance of Me.” Such a reminder hardly seems necessary—for us nor for the disciples. After all, they would be firsthand witnesses of those awful scenes leading up to and culminating in the crucifixion. How would they ever forget the agony of Christ in Gethsemane? The cruel maltreatment during His night of trial? His brutal scourging by the Roman soldiers? His journey to Golgotha under the weight of the cross? His wracking pain when the nails were driven through His hands and feet? Or His God-like conduct while hanging and dying on the cross?
Sorry to say, it would be all too possible even for His followers to forget. So preoccupied could they become with proclaiming the message of forgiveness, declaring the truth of the resurrection, and solving the problems in the churches they had founded that they might seldom reflect deeply upon that which they had witnessed in Gethsemane and at Golgotha.
And friend, we also need the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of what the Lord Jesus endured for us when He died to pay for our sins. It’s possible to become so busy in the work of the gospel, and so completely engrossed in contemplating the glory that awaits us, that we fail to reflect upon the awful price that was paid to make it all possible.
Remembering the Lord as we gather with other believers fills our hearts with gratitude. It brings to our minds those scenes of our Lord’s suffering portrayed in the Gospels––the Savior’s arrest in Gethsemane, the mocking, the scourging, the abuse at the trial, and the pain and the shame of His crucifixion. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is a touching memorial.
How fitting, therefore, is this hymn written especially for the communion service by James Montgomery:
Thy gracious word,
In meek humility,
This will I do,
my dying Lord:
I will remember Thee.
and all Thy pains
And all Thy love to me;
Yes, while a breath,
a pulse remains,
Will I remember Thee.
Then, too, the Lord’s Supper should be:
A SYMBOLIC OBSERVANCE
The elements of the Table of the Lord are symbols of what was involved in His sacrifice as the Lamb of God in providing our salvation.
The bread represents the body of Christ. In chapter 2 of his first epistle, the apostle Peter said this about the Lord Jesus:
Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed (1 Pet. 2:22-24).
Jesus, the sinless One, took our sins upon Himself. Yes, He became our substitute, bearing our sins in His own body on the cross. He died to provide forgiveness and life for a world of sinners. This is what we should remember when we partake of the bread in our observance of the Lord’s Supper.
The cup symbolizes the blood of the Lord Jesus, which was shed to pay for the sins of the world. In verse 24 of Mark 14, we are told that as Jesus and His disciples were eating the Passover meal He said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.” Therefore, in the communion service, as we hold the cup in our hands, we should thank God for the blood of Christ, which was shed to secure our redemption and to cleanse us from sin.
The bread and the cup are symbolic of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. They remind us of what He endured to provide salvation, pointing to that event on which we base our hope for all eternity.
Some people claim that when the bread and wine are consecrated, they change into the actual body and blood of Christ. They object to our speaking of the bread and wine as symbols. To support their claim, they remind us that Jesus said in reference to the bread and the cup, “This is My body” and “This is My blood.” He did not say, they argue, “This bread symbolizes My body” or “This wine symbolizes My blood.”We should remember, however, that the Lord Jesus on occasion used symbolic or figurative language. In John 15, for example, He referred to Himself as “the vine.” I’m sure His disciples knew that He was speaking figuratively. They certainly did not expect to see Him as an actual vine! Rather, they recognized what He was saying to be symbolic. With Christ portrayed as a vine, and His followers as the branches, the truth of our union with and dependence on Him is taught in a forceful and unique manner.
Our Lord also used figurative language when He said, “I am the door” (Jn. 10:9) and “I am the bread of life” (6:35). Now, no one in Jesus’ day believed that Jesus was claiming to be an actual door made of wood or an actual piece of bread. He was speaking figuratively. And when He referred to the bread and the wine, He declared, “This is My body” and “This is My blood.”We should understand that He was simply using figurative language.
I should also point out a serious error in doctrine related to the claim that the bread and the wine actually become the flesh and blood of Christ. Some who take this view go on to conclude that the Lord Jesus is crucified again every time the bread and the wine are partaken of.The Bible, however, makes it very clear that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was a once-and-for-all payment for sin. In the book of Romans, Paul said this about Christ:
For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God (6:10).
And we find these words in the book of Hebrews:
As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (9:27-28).
And Hebrews 10:12,14 says:
But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
Christ died only once. He arose from the grave only once. He ascended into heaven only once. He is now seated at the right hand of God, where He will remain until He raptures His saints, judges them, and returns to earth as its rightful king. He is in glory, exalted at the Father’s right hand—and He’s there in His glorified physical body. He is spiritually present everywhere, but in His glorified body He lives in heaven. The idea, therefore, that the bread and wine actually become the body and bl ood of Christ, that He is somehow crucified repeatedly, is completely foreign to the teaching of the Bible.
In addition to being a memorial and a symbolic observance, the Lord’s Supper should be:
A CONTINUING OBSERVANCE
The Lord Jesus Himself established this ordinance. Referring to Christ, the Gospel writer Luke told us:
When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Lk. 22:14-20).
Following the example of Christ, assemblies of believers from the earliest days of the church to the present time have observed the Lord’s Supper.We are told that the first company of believers, those 3,000 men and women converted on the Day of Pentecost, “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). And that practice continued. In Acts 20:7 we are told that “on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.”
In Paul’s first epistle to the believers in Corinth, he made it evident that the Lord’s Supper was still being commemorated. In fact, the apostle said:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).
And that is why believers everywhere continue to remember Jesus’ death through this ordinance.
Finally, the Lord’s Supper should also be recognized as:
A CHURCH OBSERVANCE
Communion should be observed in or under the supervision of the local church whenever possible. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a solemn matter. It’s rich in significance and awesome in what it portrays; so much so that carelessness in its practice among the Corinthian believers had resulted in illness and even death for some of them. Paul wrote:
He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (1 Cor. 11:29-30).
We must therefore be careful to make the observance of the Lord’s Table a meaningful experience. We must issue warnings against entering into it carelessly or irreverently. We must also realize that this can best be done under the supervision of the local church.
I’m not saying that the Lord’s Supper can only be observed in a church. There are times when believers might be isolated from an organized body of believers because of distance or circumstances. I’m thinking of Christians who are confined to homes or hospitals because of illness. These believers should not be deprived of the privilege of remembering our Lord’s death, though I believe they should be served the elements by a representative of the local church.
Before concluding, let me say just a few words about the frequency of observing the Lord’s Supper. Some believers “break bread” every Sunday, others do it monthly, and still others only once a quarter. The Scriptures give no command as to how often it should be observed.We therefore cannot dogmatically say that one is right and the others are wrong. Rather, “let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). Regardless of any differences we may have about the frequency of the communion service, we should all agree on this: It must be conducted with reverence and with a solemn reflection upon the great price paid for our salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ.
To summarize, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial observance, a symbolic observance, a continuing observance, and a church observance. It reminds us of the great sacrifice involved in providing for our salvation. The bread and the cup are symbols of the body and blood of Christ.We are to continue our remembrance of Christ “till He comes.” And, if possible, the observance of the Lord’s Supper should be under the supervision of the local church.