the Lord’s Supper very often we have a low view of the significance of Holy Communion in evangelical circles, we have tended to reduce it to a memorial meal which does not feature strongly in our worship. Many Christians come to the Communion Table not knowing what the Scriptures teach about it. Sometimes a very casual approach is taken, and the Communion service is marginalised, this is very sad and very different from the early Church. We therefore need to look at the Scriptures again and see what they really say.
It is important to realise that the Communion service has as its background the Passover meal which celebrated the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt, we must notice first of all that is a people that are saved, but the exodus itself demonstrates the need for the application of the blood of the lamb on individual households, the Lord makes this very clear when he says,
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
This gives us some insight into the significance of the Passover for our understanding of what Holy Communion is. Here, we see the importance of individual faith even in the salvation of a nation. We see here the necessity of accepting the gift of salvation for ourselves, we know that without the act of faith the gift of salvation is not received.
Jesus instituted Holy Communion: The Synoptic gospels all record this as does Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:20-34. Let us look briefly at the gospel accounts.
Matthew records the Last Supper in these words,
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’ ” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
And Luke says,
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
These three accounts are very similar, but Luke alone tells us that we are to do this in remembrance of him, it is interesting to note that Luke in the book of Acts mentions the breaking of bread as one of the marks of the early church.
It is important to note that it is obvious by the way the Lord speaks that his body and blood are represented by the bread and wine. It is by the means of these elements that we know the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. We are new covenant people, and we celebrate the new covenant of God’s grace every time we come to the Lord’s table. When we realise the vastness of God’s promises contained in the new covenant it will cause us to treasure the communion table because here we can meet with the Lord in a unique way.
In 1Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul gives the church the most clear instruction about Communion, he says,
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
And when I come I will give further directions. (1 Co 11:17–34).
In these verses we see how Paul regarded the communion meal and its importance We are called to come to the table as repentant sinners relying on the grace of God for salvation. Paul stresses that receiving communion unworthily can cause sickness and indeed many of the Corinthian believers were weak because they had not discerned the body of Christ. Many people have discussed what discerning the body means some have contended that it means having faith in Christ as we approach communion and having a right relationship with him. Other people have said that the body mentioned here is the church and the need to have right relationships within it. some of us believe that it is not an either/or situation but rather a both/and situation. If we are ina right relationship with the head of the Church we should also be in a right relationship with the members of the Church. It is vital that we approach the table as repentant sinners, but we must not become introspective because the moment we descend into introspection the focus turns from the Lord to us. some believers avoid communion because of a sense of their own sin, but the communion table is a place for forgiven sinners. If we come with repentant hearts and our trust is in Christ, we are welcome to the table.
Some other passages:
1 Corinthians 10, here the apostle teaches us about the Lord’s supper in a slightly different context, here he is discussing the problem of idolatry and the need to be separate from it, this is what he says,
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Co 10:14 –22).
Notice how Paul says that “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” here, Paul clearly states that our unity with Christ should be reflected by our unity with one another, communion is participating in the fullness of what Christ has done for us. Paul states here that by partaking in communion we partake of Christ, this is the mystery and sublime truth of the Communion meal because it is here that we feed on Christ by faith, and our faith is nourished by him.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me. 39, And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:25–63).
Although John does not record the institution of the Lord’s supper, he does include this story with its profound teaching which sheds a lot of light on the Communion service, for once again we see that it is by faith that we feed upon Christ, he tells us that his body is real food and his blood real drink, when we come to communion although we taste bread and wine, at the same time we encounter the Lord Jesus by faith. At communion the elements become channels of God’s blessing to us. John shows here that all who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ have eaten the body and drunk the blood of Christ therefore we must state that all have done so are invited to the communion table.
Final observations: When we come to the Communion Table we need to remember three vital aspects of the teaching above.
1 We look back to all that Christ achieved on the Cross for us, we celebrate his victory over sin death and hell. We see here Christ willingly laying down his life so that we might receive forgiveness and a new life that we could only receive from him. This time looking back to what Christ has achieved is a strong motivation to live for him in the present. He conquers the powers of evil by dying as our substitute. This shows the centrality of the cross for the Christian Faith. The cross of Christ is the source of all our spiritual blessings. The Lord’s table underlines the fact that salvation is all of grace.
2 We receive the benefits of the atonement as we commune with the risen Lord, this includes forgiveness of sins,the knowledge that we are members of God’s family and any other blessing flowing from the atoning work of Christ, for instance this can include physical healing. The Lord’s Table is a place where we can bring all the needs of the fellowship to God. We see at the communion table the amazing love of God towards us and we may therefore realise that all his promises are ones given in love and therefore we can come to the table knowing that God will keep his word, therefore we should look up to the Lord and receive the gifts of his grace that he has for us.
3 We look forward to the return of Christ and the new creation when we will experience perfection for the first time, we look ahead to the day when we will glorify God as he should be glorified without any taint of sin. The bread and wine also remind us that God does not despise his creation, but rather has come to redeem it. We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth
At the Communion Table we find illustrated to us the amazing grace of God at the same time we experience that grace touching our lives through the power of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.