Last week we surveyed the landscape of the Sacrament of Baptism. This week we’ll hike the terrain of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Cathedrals have the baptismal font at the entrance for good reason; Christ, and Baptism into Him, is the door. However, once you come through the door you are welcomed to the Lord’s banqueting table. Baptism is like birth, the Supper is the eating & drinking which brings about maturity & growth.
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.1 Corinthians 11:26
A Memorial Proclamation
This familiar passage packs a potent punch. The eating of bread and drinking of the blessed cup is a public display of the Lord’s death until His second coming in judgment. The traffic of this memorial proclamation runs in a few directions. First it is a testimonial from God to you–both as individuals and as the corporate bride of Christ–that His banner over you is love, and all the blessings of His covenant are extended to you. You are not cast off in disdain, but are welcomed in to partake of all He is and all He has procured for you in His death.
Secondly, it is a memorial from us to God. In partaking by faith of His body & blood, as signified by bread & wine, you are affirming before the Lord that as He has pledged to call you His own, so you shew that He is your God, even unto death (Ps. 48:14).
Third, just as Jesus was crucified publicly, so our partaking is a public memorialization of that death. In other words, what we testify here is that the Christ which the earthly rulers crucified and the heel which Satan bruised has become both Lord & Christ. This is one reason why private communion is a bit of an oxymoron.
And this leads a final point on the import of what it means for us to “shew the Lord’s death”. Our communion is not only with our Head but with His body. Our love for the Lord Jesus is displayed in our love towards each other (1 Jn. 5:1). This fellowship includes all baptized believers, regardless of age. Paul says earlier that all Israel partook of Christ in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Furthermore, the instructions regarding the Passover feast not only mandated the instruction of children, but presumes their participation in it (Ex. 12:26-27).
It’s worth inquiring as to what sort of bread should be used for the Supper. Some determine to use wafers. This stems from their belief that Christ is corporeally present in the bread. They want to avoid scattering crumbs of Jesus all over the floor. The Eastern Orthodox even gather up all the “pearls of Christ” and mix them in with the wine. The people aren’t permitted to eat the bread for fear of dropping crumbs. This isn’t merely getting to the same place by extra steps; both EO & RC views of the Supper lead us to see a re-sacrifice of Christ. Rather, Christ’s body is present in the meal by His Spirit, and we partake of Him by faith. The misinterpretation of Jesus’ phrase “this is My body” to mean a literal transformation of the bread into the actual substance of Christ’s physical body, leads to a superstition surrounding the actual bread used.
The Peace Offering required both unleavened & leavened bread (Lev. 7:11-14). The unleavened loaf was burned with the sacrificial creature for the Lord’s portion, the leavened loaf was waved before the Lord and both the priests & worshipper took a portion to eat. The celebration of Pentecost was marked by waving leavened loaves (Lev. 23:16-17). Amos rebukes Israel for offering the correct “sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven” in the incorrect place: Bethel & Gilgal (Am. 4:5). The early church partook of “the bread” together daily (Acts 2:42), and this was simply daily bread, bread on hand (άρτος not άζυμος).
Wine not Welches
Another common question worth answering is: why use wine? The concern is that it might cause someone who struggles with drunkenness to stumble. This argument doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Someone struggles with gluttony, so don’t have a potluck. The argument for concern for the “weaker brother” misses the fact that Paul teaches that the meat offered to idols is nothing (1 Cor. 8:4), and he’s persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there’s nothing problematic in eating that meat (Rom. 14:14). In other words, don’t be a jerk to the brother with an immature conscience, but the text of Scripture invites the immature brother into maturity. Not vice versa.
Wine takes time. Cultivating a vineyard, harvesting, crushing, fermenting grapes requires years of peace. Couple this with the earlier discussion of leavened bread and you see a pattern emerge. Passover required a haste, and thus unleavened bread. When Israel entered the land, the Lord was bringing them into a Sabbath Rest which would find its full meaning in Christ. Wine is potent, and so is grace. Wine gladdens the heart, and so does the good news of great joy. Dough slowly rises as the leaven works throughout, just as Christ’s Kingdom is filling the world. All of this because we have entered Sabbath Rest.
As Oft As You Drink
What does Paul intend by that line “as oft as you drink it (1 Cor. 10:26)”? While it isn’t wrong to think about Christ while enjoying your evening glass of wine, he is clearly referencing sacramental––not common––use. Does the NT indicate how frequently the Supper is to be taken? The “as oft as you drink” shouldn’t be interpreted as a “whenever you all feel like it”. So, does this often-ness imply a certain regularity? Yes.
We have two clues from elsewhere in Scripture. Acts 20:7 tells us that the Ephesian church gathered together on the first day of the week, and they broke the bread (Cf. 1 Cor. 16:1). In two passages in 1 Corinthians (11 & 14), Paul uses the phrase “coming together” (συνέρχομαι) to describe the assembled saints. In 1 Cor. 11 they are rebuked for coming together in such a manner that inverts the Lord’s Supper, greedily gobbling up the food with no regard for others; while in 1 Cor. 14 they are taught how to behave decently and in order in their corporate worship as they “come together.” There’s another instance of “come together” in 1 Cor. 7; but the context there is for a husband & a wife’s need for regular marital consummation. Their vows need regular memorialization. Taking all this together, the “ as often” in view by Paul seems to be the regular weekly “coming together” on the first day of the week.
The God Who Feasts
God is a God who feasts. He is a God of plenty. He is a God who makes gardens full of fruit trees for the free enjoyment of His image bearers. He is a God who gives the Israelites the bread of Angels in the wilderness. The sacrifices are spoken of as the Lord’s portion. When Jesus comes, he is accused by the religious hall monitors of too much feasting & drinking.
So, Jesus left us a feast. Promised in the Supper is the entirety of the blessedness of God the Father, Son, and Spirit. This feast is a declaration, until the world’s end, of Christ’s death. And what is Christ’s death? His death is the end of all your shame, guilt, and bondage to sin. His death severed you from the old man. His death destroyed the devil’s war machines. His death is the certain hope that the dragon has been cast down, and all the earth is the Lord’s. We feast because God, through Christ, is bringing us to an everlasting feast.
Charge & Benediction
One author makes an important point about the Supper. Just like it would do no good to put food & water in the mouth of a corpse, so to it does no good to take this Supper without true faith in Christ. This meal is for those who have been made spiritually alive.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:24-25