Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. And He [Jesus] sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.” So they said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare?” And He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters. Then you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready.” So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.
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.”
Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The Lord’s Supper, also called communion or the eucharist (meaning “thanksgiving” in Greek), holds deep significance for a believer and should not be underestimated. More than just a memorial to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Lord’s Supper is also a declaration of one’s continual dependance upon Christ’s life and a regular reminder of His soon return.
“do this in remembrance of Me”
Communion is about remembrance, about looking back to Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, which in turn reminds us to be thankful for the sacrifice of his body and the shedding of his blood. Important as this is, there is no special “sacrament” here. Rather, the talk is of “ordinance”. We take Communion together regularly because Jesus told us to, “in remembrance of me”.
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
The presence of Christ takes on a special nature when “two or three” gather around this meal. It is a celebration and time of union of individuals as the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:26
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
The Apostle Paul talks of communion looking forward in anticipation. Communion anticipates the return of Jesus. This adds a richness of hope and expectation to an event which doesn’t need to be only a sombre recollection of sacrifice.
Communion, then, is about remembering, anticipating and celebrating what God has done, will do and is doing. The ritual itself isn’t the sacrament. The bread and the wine have no unique quality. They are significant because they are part of a bigger mystery in which God reconciles us to himself, to each other and to the whole of creation. The “sacrament” is in the gathering. This is an event about which we should have no uncertainty or ambivalence.
Read Exodus Chapter 12
Lord’s Supper Instituted
Observance of the Lord’s Supper began when Jesus initiated it at His last meal during Passover before His death with His disciples. It was a revelation of what the Passover foreshadowed. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in:
I Corinthians 11:23-26:
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament [covenant] in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”
Thus, the Lord’s Supper involves partaking of two elements, bread and grape juice (or wine) and is preceded by a blessing or prayer of thanksgiving.
The Two Elements
I Corinthians 10:16
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
1) The Bread, Representing the Body of Jesus
Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, who brings bread up from the earth.
By partaking of the bread in communion, we acknowledge that Jesus is our source of life. Indeed, He is the Bread of Life whereby we may satisfy our spiritual hunger. He said,
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”
Bread signifies the body that was broken, so when Jesus broke the unleavened bread and gave it to His disciples, He illustrated that His body would be broken in order that our body may be whole both now and completely so in the Resurrection.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
1 Peter 2:24
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.
Also, the broken body of Jesus ushered in the new covenant, signified by the temple veil tearing in two.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh
This “new and living way” is by His Spirit, allowing us to approach God with a heart made pure by the blood of Jesus. Furthermore, the resurrected body of Jesus validates the new covenant, because the same Holy Spirit that raised up Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit dwelling in the children of God, Who will raise them, too, at the last day!
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
Finally, the breaking of bread with other believers signifies fellowship within the Body of Christ and unity by the Holy Spirit.
Then those who gladly received his [Peter’s] word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The Body of Christ is strengthened and Jesus is glorified when the Body serves one another in humility and shares blessings in selfless love.
I Corinthians 10:17
“For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread [Jesus]”
2) The Cup, Representing the Blood of Jesus
Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
The symbol of a cup represents a measure or portion, and blood signifies suffering and death. Blood is the life of the body. The wages of sin is death. Jesus’ blood was poured out to make atonement for our sin.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
The Father gave Jesus a cup of suffering to drink, requiring Him to be the sacrificial Lamb of atonement for sin and to pour out His sinless blood through a torturous death; for only the shed blood of Jesus can cleanse and make permanent atonement for all sin (see I John 1:7).
Jesus cried out in Gethsemane, “Abba [Daddy], Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). Later, Jesus said to Peter, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). Jesus submitted Himself to His Father’s will and drank the dark and terrible cup of wrath for our sin. “For he [the Father] hath made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (II Corinthians 5:21).
By partaking of the communion cup, we are remembering the atonement that Jesus purchased for us and committing to follow Jesus no matter the cost. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for our sin, and we partake in His sufferings for righteousness’ sake. Jesus said, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Paul knew from experience that all who “live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). And Peter encouraged believers to respond to persecution even as Christ did:
I Peter 2:21-23
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously”
The Lord’s Supper gives believers the opportunity to identify themselves with Jesus, Mediator of the new covenant, and show that they are willing to experience both His life (power) and death (suffering) in their daily walk. The apostle Paul said it best: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Just as the Passover was a symbol of the old covenant, so the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the new. Christians remember the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God for their sin (bondage) while anticipating the consummation of their salvation in the Kingdom of heaven (Promised Land). King David knew only the old covenant, yet by faith he declared, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:13).
Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
The Lord’s Supper should be taken seriously, with respect and introspection.
Conduct at the Lord’s Supper
I Corinthians 11:17-22
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
I Corinthians 11:27-34
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[d] 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. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
Because of the significance of identifying with Christ in communion, unbelievers and hypocrites (those who profess to be Christians but live according to the world) should not participate. Everyone else should examine his own heart prior to partaking the Lord’s Supper to be certain of a pure conscience toward God.
The word “discern” in this context means to make a distinction or set apart the holy from that which is common; it means to not regard “the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing”
Although you should certainly rejoice and celebrate the finished work of Christ’s death and resurrection, be sure you also
I Thessalonians 2:12
“walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory”.
Eating and drinking unworthily has to do with trying to identify with Christ but elsewhere living like the world (a hypocrite). We are warned to turn from sin before identifying with Christ so as not to come under judgment. Paul said,
I Corinthians 5:6-8
“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”.
Paul gave some additional warnings about the right approach to the table of the Lord. The Corinthian church had divisions over their communion meal because some people were selfish and overindulgent while others left hungry. Paul corrected them sternly, saying that this was not the Lord’s Supper at all. He said,
I Corinthians 11:33-34
“Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry [wait] one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation”.
Paul understood that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper was to remember Christ and His example of love and servanthood, not to feast and indulge. One interpretation of Paul’s correction here is that whenever the Body of Christ comes together, there should be unity in eating and drinking; if everyone is not eating, then no one should eat. If anyone is hungry, Paul said, let him eat at home – instead of eating, for example, while the rest of the Body is worshipping the Lord.
Bond of Fellowship
Communion illustrates fellowship with the Lord and with His Body. We read:
* Our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus (I Corinthians 1:9, 1 John 1:3).
* Our fellowship is through the Holy Ghost (II Corinthians 13:14, Philippians 2:1).
* Believers fellowship in the Gospel. We all are partakers in the saving power and message of the good news (I Corinthians 9:23; Philippians 1:5).
* Those who walk in the light have fellowship with each other (1 John 1:7).
* Some may break fellowship with the Body, as one who betrays a brother (Leviticus 6:2, John 21:20).
* If we say we have fellowship with Jesus Christ, but walk in darkness, we lie (I John 1:6).
* Righteousness and unrighteousness cannot walk in fellowship together (Psalm 94:20, I Corinthians 10:20, Ephesians 5:11).
So precious is the bond of fellowship portrayed in communion that it cannot be shared with other “gods.” Paul said,
I Corinthians 10:21
“Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils”
No one can serve two masters (see Luke 16:13), neither can a person keep idols in his or her heart while fellowshipping with the Lord. Some may pretend to do so (as a hypocrite), but the Scripture says,
“Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God”
Last but not least, the Lord’s Supper is a time to anticipate the day when we will see our Lord and King face to face. He will drink of the fruit of the vine for the first time since His death, just as He said: “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
There will be a great marriage supper of the Lamb and judgment on the wicked (see Revelation 19:7-18).
In that day, those who do not share in the cup of the Lord will have their own cup of judgment to drink (Psalm 75:8, Revelation 14:9-10)
Questions and Answers
Here are a few questions that some may ask about the Lord’s Supper.
Q: How often should communion be observed?
A: There is no biblical guideline for how often a group of believers should observe the Lord’s Supper. In light of Jesus’ instruction to do it in remembrance of Him as well as Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 11, communion should be held periodically as a reminder of believers’ mutual fellowship (koinonia in Greek) with the Lord and with one another. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16). A general guideline to follow would be to not take communion so often that it becomes ritualistic and routine, but often enough that believers benefit from the reminder.
Q: Does the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of the Lord, as some churches teach?
A: Certainly not! This is a perversion of the spiritual truth Jesus taught in John 6:53-56 about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The Catholic church has built a whole doctrine called transubstantiation on this one passage, ignoring the fact that just a few verses later, Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). In addition, God forbids the practice of eating blood and would never command His children to do something He had already forbidden: “But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat” (Genesis 9:4, see also Deuteronomy 12:23). Those who teach this unscriptural tradition would rather have you eating Jesus than placing your faith in Him. If that weren’t enough, Catholic priests allegedly have the supernatural power to turn the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is blatant idolatry, for they are exalting themselves to the position of God. The Bible teaches that all spiritual life comes through faith in Jesus; for He said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus is not physically with us now; our communion with Him is by His Spirit.
Q: Is it okay to use alcoholic wine in communion?
A: The biblical mandate here is this: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Romans 14:21). While some believers have the liberty to drink wine on occasion (we are not to be drunk with wine – see Ephesians 5:18 and I Timothy 5:23), other believers count it as sin. Let every one be convinced in his own heart, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). A believer who has the liberty to drink wine with a pure conscience should “take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” (I Corinthians 8:9). In Christ there is liberty, but the Body of Christ is not to use that liberty as an occasion to the flesh (see Galatians 5:13). We are to consider others ahead of ourselves and honor the Lord in everything we do. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). Those who prepare the communion elements should be sensitive to the weaknesses of those they serve; for example, if there is a new believer who has forsaken alcohol with his old life, it is probably not a good idea to serve him alcoholic communion wine.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the new covenant we have with God by Christ Jesus. This covenant is the “new and living way” whereby we follow God’s law written on our hearts by the power of His Spirit. The next time you participate in the Lord’s supper, remember not only Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also reflect on the deeper meaning that He is your continual source of spiritual life.