The Lord’s Supper is a biblically ordained rite for the life of the church and a means by which God is worshiped (1 Cor 11:20). It is also called “communion” from the apostle’s reference to the cup and the bread as the “communion of the blood of Christ” and the “communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16). This ordained rite is also referred to by some as “Eucharist”*, “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42; 20:7) and the “Lord’s Table” (1 Cor. 10:21).
The Institution of The Lord’s Supper:
As with baptism, the Lord’s Supper was instituted by the direct command of Christ and, in this case, by His example as well. The night before His death Jesus gathered with His disciples to eat the Passover meal. The Passover meal had been a time of remembrance of God’s redemption of His people, Israel, from slavery in Egypt (See Exodus 12). Jesus took this occasion to institute a memorial to His own imminent redemptive death. However, this memorial rite does not look back on redemptive types, but on Jesus Christ who was the perfect and final sacrifice given for them. Accounts of this event are recorded in Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
The Practice of the Early Church:
The Lord’s table has played a significant part in the worship and edification of God’s people as they meet together from the very beginning of the church. Immediately after Pentecost they were “breaking bread” in remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice (Acts 2:42,46). This was practiced alongside learning the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship and prayers.
The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper:
The meaning of the Lord’s supper is primarily summed up in the command of Jesus, “This do in remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24,25). It is first and foremost a memorial rite of Christ and His redemptive death, even as the Passover was a remembrance of God’s redemption of His people from slavery in Egypt. Based upon a common participation in Christ and His salvation, there is also in the Lord’s Supper a communion of believers in the unity of His body (1 Cor 10:16). These two thoughts of the remembrance of Christ’s work on the cross and the fellowship with the members of His body are the focuses of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
The remembrance of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is threefold. First, it is a remembrance of His sacrificial death. The very elements of the rite and the words of institution emphasize the communion as a remembrance of the death of Christ. This is not to overlook the fact that it is a “remembrance of Me,” that is, of Christ Himself as the person of the Savior who gave Himself. However, it does point out the fact that the climax of His ministry and the foundation of salvation was the giving of His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The separate bread and wine, signifying His body and blood, speak of sacrificial death, for to the ancient Hebrew the body and blood already referred to the two component parts of the body of the sacrificial animal that are separated when it is killed. Jesus’ death is therefore the sacrifice which is the basis of the new covenant (Mark 14:24). The remembrance of His death is a remembrance of the event which brought the promised forgiveness of sins and the opportunity for reconciliation between God and man. Thus the rite is a proclamation of His death as the final salvation act of God. It is a reminder to the church that its salvation is in the redemptive death of Christ. This is why the command to “do this in remembrance of Me” is a proclamation of the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:25,26).
In this remembrance of the death of Christ there is no thought of a re-enactment of His death as in the sacrifice of the Roman Catholic mass and among some other groups. The sacrificial death in the Lord’s Supper, as in the Jewish Passover, has already taken place. The ritual and the explanatory words serve as a remembrance and a proclamation of what God has already done. Rather than any sacrifice to God, the rite is totally concerned with the movement of grace from God to man which flows from what Christ has already done. This direction is indicated in the Lord’s words over the bread and cup, “This is My body, which is for you,” and “This is My blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many” (1 Cor 11:24; Mark 14:24). The elements signify something that is done toward man. Christ has “died for sins once for all” and is now seated on the “right hand of the Father” (Heb 10:12). Therefore, in the Lord’s Supper, the actions of breaking the bread and pouring the wine do not represent Christ dying again as a sacrifice to God on man’s behalf. Instead, it is a memorial to the sacrifice He has already made on the cross.
Second, the Lord’s Supper is a present fellowship with Christ. In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the Christian shares in the “communion in the blood of Christ,” and in the “communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16). The word “communion” used here is the same Greek word that is also translated “fellowship.” There is a sense of being in fellowship with Christ. This is more than just sharing a meal with Him, for He gives Himself as the substance of that meal.
There are several views of the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholicism teaches that the elements of bread and wine turn into the literal body and blood of Christ once they have been consecrated by the priest. This view, called transubstantiation, means that those who partake of the bread and wine are literally eating the flesh of Christ and drinking his blood. This view requires that those who practice it will be doing what was and is considered an abomination by the Jews (Lev. 3:17; 7:26,27; 17:10-14). It is also a view that goes against the understanding the disciples would have had when Jesus instituted the rite. Jesus was present with them, so they could not have believed that they were actually eating him. This view also goes against the metaphorical language often used by Jesus and which was used in instituting the rite. For example, Jesus calls himself a “door” (John 10:2), a “true vine” (John 15:1), “living bread” (John 4:51-65). In regards to the cup, Jesus said, “this cup is the new covenant . . .” , yet the cup was not the new covenant itself, but only a symbol for it. These truths also show the fallacy of the Lutheran position of consubstantiation which the real presence of the body and blood of Christ are said to be present “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine when the are partaken. The view with the greatest biblical support is that the Lord’s Supper is a memorial with Christ being present is some real sense spiritually. The bread and the wine are visible symbols of His presence, and partaking in them visibly symbolizes spiritual participation in the salvation of His sacrificial death.
Third, the Lord’s Supper is an anticipation of Christ’s return. In the remembrance of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, there is not only a looking back at the sacrifice of Calvary and a fellowship with His risen person, but there is also a forward look in anticipation of His return. This hope is expressed by Jesus when in the institution of the supper He said, “Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25; cf. Matt. 26:29; Luke 22:16,18). This same sense is expressed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 11:26 when he says that the Lord’s Supper is a procl
amation of Christ’s death until He comes. The Lord’s Supper is anticipatory to that day when we will have direct fellowship with Him in the Kingdom of God.
The Efficacy of The Lord’s Supper:
The Lord’s Supper was designed to be a blessing to the church whereby believers might partake and thereby be nourished and strengthened in the life of God. The efficacy of the rite is not concerned so much with a special presence of Christ but with the further enjoyment of His continual presence in the believer’s life. Christ’s spiritual presence in the Lord’s Supper brings the blessing of a fresh awareness of His continual presence within the believer, for the believer already has Christ in his heart (Eph. 3:17). The Lord’s Supper is not a special means of saving grace in itself as within Roman Catholicism, but a blessing received by faith as the participant remembers the redemptive work of Christ.
Participants of the Lord’s Supper
The rite was given to the disciples and the church. Only believers who are a part of the body of Christ are entitled to partake of it. Paul adds that the believer must also have examined himself in order to participate in the rite in a worthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27,28). Communion is also a time for fellowship with Christ and with other believers. Many of the Corinthians had turned what was to be a love feast (Jude 12) into a time of division and thus they were not eating the Lord’s Supper properly. This resulted in some being sick while others had died (1 Cor 11:20-20). The Lord’s Supper is both a joyous time of celebration in communion with Christ and with other believers, and a solemn time to think seriously about the sacrifice Christ made and how He wants the believer to live.
The Mode of the Lord’s Supper:
While the early church often observed the Lord’s Supper in connection with a meal (1 Cor. 11:17-22; Acts 20:7,11) the elements of communion itself were distinguished from the meal itself. Over time, as there were problems with the way some celebrated the meal and with the rise of a sacerdotal spirit in which the memorial supper was turned into a mysterious priestly sacrifice, the connection of the Lord’s Supper with the love feast ceased.
The essential elements of the supper, as instituted by Christ and practiced by the church, include:
1. Prayer over the elements, setting them apart as symbols of the body and blood of Christ’s sacrificial death. These prayers consisted of thanksgiving and praise for Christ’s sacrifice and the fruits of salvation which flow from it.
2. The distribution of the bread and cup to all. The manner in which the bread is broke and the wine is poured do not have a special symbolism, but are only involved in their distribution.
3. The recalling of the words of Jesus explaining the bread and cup as representative of His body and blood in sacrifice for His people and inviting them to “take” and “eat.” The differences in the wording of the Biblical accounts would indicate that the exact wording was not considered essential.
4. Eating and drinking the elements in signifying the reception of Christ and His sacrificial death for the spiritual nourishment of His people. In order to truly celebrate the supper the entire person must be involved in the performance of these acts. Unless the spirit is involved in appropriating in faith the realities symbolized in the elements and actions, it is not only a meaningless ritual, but also brings down judgment upon those who participate in such a superficial manner.
Jesus and the early church used Passover bread and wine for the elements, but the emphasis was upon the symbolic significance of the elements and not on the nature of the elements themselves. Both elements, the bread and the cup, were given to all the people.
There is no specification about who should administer the Lord’s Supper, but in that the command to continue the observance was given to the disciples, it is logical to assume that it would be recognized leaders of the church that would administer it. However, the lack of specific Biblical instruction implies that this is not reserved for a distinct class of clergy.
The Lord’s Supper seems to have been celebrated frequently by the early church. Acts 20:7 indicates that at least in Troas it was celebrated weekly. Acts 2:46 may indicate that it was celebrated more often by the early church in Jerusalem. In either case, Paul’s comment in 1 Cor 10:26 that as “often as you eat . . .” indicates that it is observed on a frequent basis, though exactly how often is not indicated.
* Some churches use the term eucharist, from the Greek word for giving thanks – eucharisteo which is given before partaking of the elements (Matt 26:27; 1 Cor 11:24).
Excerpts taken from The Church in God’s Program, by Robert L. Saucy
PLEASE NOTE: Because transubstantiation is not true, and out of love for those that have allergies, we do make avaiable communion bread that is gluten free, soy free, nut free, egg free and dairy free.