Imagine for a moment what life would be like without the many little things we do that give life extra meaning and value.
- No birthday parties,
- no weddings,
- no holidays,
- no receptions,
- no anniversaries,
- no handshakes,
- no honorific greetings.
Nothing to demonstrate and understand “specialness”.
N.T. Wright asked,
“Why do we do all this? Different traditions grow up in different countries, but there seems to be a universal desire to make things special. It’s built into us. It’s just the way we are. It goes back to some of the oldest stories about the human race; about people who know in their bones that they are made for each other, made to celebrate good things of life, and made to do all this to the glory of their maker.”
You and I were designed for the sacred.
- Humanity was created in the sacred image of God (Genesis 1:26).
- Human life is sacred (Genesis 9:6).
- Human sexuality is sacred (Genesis 1:27).
- The marriage union is sacred (Genesis 2:24).
- We treat our birthright inheritance from our fathers and mothers as sacred (Genesis 25:33-34).
We’re designed to place extra value in things we understand to be special. And that’s what it means to be “sacred”; to set something apart as special (i.e. – to make something holy). And when something becomes sacred, it is assigned extra value and given deeper meaning than it would otherwise have.
Think about a firecracker. By itself, there is no meaning. But attach it to something sacred, like the birth of a nation (American 4th of July) or the beginning of a new-year (Chinese New Year), and it becomes something more than a firecracker; it becomes a symbol.
The Power of Symbols
Symbols represent things that mere words can’t easily communicate; identity, commonality, hope, inspiration, and truths too big for mere words. They communicate ideas in ways that transcend words and have the power to inspire hope, strike the heart with fear, and bring tears to your eyes.
Symbols also rapidly absorb meaning, which is why the sacredness of the symbol must be closely guarded so that they do not begin to take absorb additional and unintended meanings because once a symbol takes on extra meaning it is very difficult to divest that symbol of its newly acquired meaning.
Symbols invite us to see the sacred intersection between our past and our future as reality right now; we see what “was” in light of what “will be” right “now”.
And that “vision” is very sacred. It is special to those of us who believe.
The background for the Lord’s Supper runs all the way back to the Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
The Passover feast was held every year in Israel to commemorate their deliverance from the House of Bondage (Egypt) by God’s mighty outstretched arm (Ex. 12:17).
God told them to change their calendar so that the month of their deliverance became the first month of the year (Ex. 12:2), symbolizing Israel’s “new beginnings”.
They were told to sacrifice a lamb and mark the doorposts and lentils with the blood of the lamb (Ex. 12:7), symbolizing that they were covered by God’s designated sacrifice marked with blood (Ex. 12:13).
At the end of the Passover festival, Israel held the “feast of Unleavened Bread” to commemorate the day they left Egypt in haste, eating only the unleavened “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3), symbolizing Israel’s deliverance through affliction.
These symbols were observed every year by looking back at God’s deliverance and looking forward to the consummation of God’s kingdom in the present new-beginnings of the promised land; it was the fullness the “past”, meeting the hope of the “future”, in the new beginnings of the “present”.
From Passover to the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper has been known by various names:
“Bread-breaking”: early Christians came together to ‘break bread’, and this was done in remembrance of Christ.
“The sharing”: the English translation of a Greek word koinonia. Another translation of this word would be “communion”, which means that we are communing, or sharing, in the death and risen life of Jesus Christ. Some, therefore, call this “holy communion”.
“Thank-you meal”: because Jesus gave thanks to God. The Greek word for “thank you” is “eucharisto”, and this is translated into Latin as “Eucharist”.
“The Lord’s Supper”: this simply reflects the event and time in which Jesus Himself shared this meal with the disciples.
“Mass”: this name came into existence much later from Rome when at the end of the meal the priest would say “go- you are sent out”. Thus the term “mass” is derived from a Latin phrase that means “sending out with this commission.”
Just like the Passover remembers their deliverance from Egyptian bondage in light of the promised land, so also the Lord’s Supper remembers our deliverance from sin in light of the coming Kingdom of God.
Jesus is the realization of the Passover’s symbols:
He stands before the disciples as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).
By the blood of His cross the wrath of God is satisfied (Colossians 1:19-23).
In Him we are set free from sin’s bondage (Romans 6:6, 14).
In Him we are delivered from oppression into the promised Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
In Him we have our new beginnings (Galatians 6:15).
He is the King of the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven (Daniel 7:14).
A Brief Church History
Because symbols rapidly absorb meaning, we shouldn’t ignore the history of the Lord’s Supper because our history exerts a great deal of influence upon how we view and understand these symbols and their meaning:
Schaff (History of the Christian church, Vol. 1, p. 473):
In the apostolic period the eucharist was celebrated daily in connection with a simple meal of brotherly love (agape), in which the Christians, in communion with their common Redeemer, forgot all distinctions of rank, wealth, and culture, and felt themselves to be members of one family of God.
The focus was on a union of fellowship between believers and their Redeemer; the world faded away and the Kingdom of Heaven grew more pronounced.
By the 1,600’s, the communion service had become highly formalized.
Schaff (History of the Christian church, Vol. 8, p. 61):
The communion service was to be held four times in the year,—at Easter, Whitsunday, autumn, and Christmas. It was preceded by preparatory devotions, and made a season of special solemnity. The [daily] mass was prohibited at first only in the city, afterwards also in the country.
What once had been about common unity between believer’s and their redeemer was now a serious point of contention over which some people were killed. Their major points of contention was over whether or not the sacraments were “material” or “spiritual” representations of Christ.
These points of contention multiplied over the years as various traditions became highly formalized and regulated.
The symbols of the Lord’s Supper that were meant to unify believers with their Redeemer as they personally remembered their deliverance from sin and eagerly looked forward to their inheritance in the Kingdom of God gradually took on additional meaning that divided believers into different tribes and created serious contention in the Church.
Our goal is to divest the sacraments of their historical meaning (conflicts/strife) and invest them with as much Biblical meaning as we can.
VERSE 26: The Bread of Christ’s Body
As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is my body.”
The first symbol of the Lord’s Supper is the unleavened bread, representing Christ’s body.
The Unity of One Body: by offering his own body, Christ established one unified body that we call The Church:
Ephesians 4:4, 11-16 (CSB) There is one body… 11 And [Christ] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. 16 From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.
The primary mission of the work of ministry is to build up the body of Christ until we reach unity in the faith and knowledge of God’s Son. That is the mission that each individual part of the body – you and me – must work to accomplish.
“This is my body”: when Jesus broke the bread – as his body was about to be broken – he gave it to his disciples:
Isaiah 53:5 (CSB) But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds.
1st Peter 2:24 (CSB) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed.
Think about those sins that you are most ashamed of, and those that were so small in your sight that you’ve forgotten about them; Christ voluntarily surrendered his body to be pierced, crushed, and broken in order to show us the love of God by which our sins – both great and small – are erased from history in the victory of Christ’s resurrection!
Christ voluntarily spread out his arms on the cross and received our sins upon his body so that we might be healed by his love.
Through Christ’s love on the cross we die to sin so that we might live for righteousness.
Colossians 1:13-23 (CSB) He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 14 In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. 18 He is also the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. 22 But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him—23 if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.
VERSES 27-28: The Cup of Christ’s Blood
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
The second symbol of the Lord’s Supper is the cup, which represents Christ’s blood of the new covenant.
Atonement: God told Moses that life is in the blood, which is why blood is the required payment for sin:
Leviticus 17:11 (CSB) For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.
Romans 6:26 (CSB) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Death is God’s punishment for sin because sin is the pursuit of things that separate us from God, from whom life comes.
The Love of Christ: Christ demonstrated God’s love by voluntarily giving his life for our sins so that we could know the goodness of God and be radically transformed from the inside out by his love:
John 19:33-34 (CSB) When they came to Jesus, they did not break his legs since they saw that he was already dead. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.
The Bible describes the believer’s realization of God’s love as “light dawning in our heart”; the darkness of our heart’s that produces selfishness, anger, wrath, unforgiveness, greed, disloyalty, hate, and every evil thing, is displaced by the light of God when we first realize the incredible love of Christ that was shown on the cross.
In talking about how Christ’s love was demonstrated in the cross, the author of Hebrews says,
Hebrews 9:14 (CSB) how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?
Once the light of God dawns in your heart, you will see life in a radically new light; your conscience will be radically transformed so that it operates from the perspective of “love” rather than “self”.
The New Covenant: the blood of Christ offers humanity a new way of life:
Hebrews 10:12-25 (CSB) But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God., 13 He is now waiting until his enemies are made his footstool. 14 For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified. 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. For after he says: 16 This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, the Lord says, I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds, 17 and I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts. 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus—20 he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)—21 and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, 25 not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.
1st Peter 1:18-19 (CSB) For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb.
Ephesians 2:13 (CSB) But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Those who were separated from God by sin are forgiven and brought into his presence by his grace and shown the path of eternal life.
VERSES 29-30: The Expectation of Christ’s Kingdom
But 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 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
These two symbols explain the reality of our new life in light of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and his return to consummate the Kingdom of God.
Hebrews 9:28 (CSB) so also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
When we take these symbols, we are not only remembering Christ’s past, but we are also looking forward to his future!
1st Corinthians 15:50-58 (CSB) What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. 54 When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting? 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Even while the light of God that is now shinning in our hearts constantly shows us our imperfections and convicts us that we ever need the purifying sanctification of the Holy Spirit in our life, we also see by this light our everlasting future in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven!
VERSE 31: Strike the Shepherd
Then Jesus said to them, “Tonight all of you will fall away because of me, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.
The disciples have stumbled every time Jesus predicted his crucifixion; his death simply wasn’t in their template for understanding the Kingdom of God. And, once again, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be struck down and they will be scattered.
VERSE 32: Go to Galilee
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
The disciples were all from Galilee, so as they scattered and began to return home – defeated and discouraged – Jesus told them that he would go ahead of them to Galilee:
Matthew 28:5-10 (CSB) The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you.” 8 So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news. 9 Just then Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
Matthew 28:16-17 (CSB) 16 The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.
VERSES 33-35: Before the Rooster Crows
Peter told him, “Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to him, “tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 “Even if I have to die with you,” Peter told him, “I will never deny you,” and all the disciples said the same thing.
This pericope prepares the remaining narrative as the disciples grapple with unfolding events that they do not understand. Peter is prepared to fight and die for his King, but he is not prepared to stand by his King as he is crucified on the cross; he is ready to fight, but he is not ready to suffer.
When we approach these sacred symbols – sometimes called “sacraments” – we approach in the present the sacred intersection between what Christ did in the past and what he is going to do in the future.
This should not be done with a common attitude, but in holiness of heart with careful self-examination:
1st Corinthians 11:17-22 (CSB) 17 Now in giving this instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 Indeed, it is necessary that there be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 When you come together, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For at the meal, each one eats his own supper. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk! 22 Don’t you have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you in this matter!
1st Corinthians 11:27-32 (CSB) So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. 31 If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, 32 but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world.
1st Corinthians 5:6-8 (CSB) Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new unleavened batch, as indeed you are. For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old leaven or with the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
The Lord’s Supper is a unified celebration of our past, present, and future in Christ. This is a love-celebration. And we should examine ourselves to see that we are sharing this celebration with the right heart.
Let us examine ourselves:
- Let us recognize the unity of the whole body
- Let us clean away all malice and evil
Let us observe the feast with sincerity and truth