Tonight we observe the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This text is typically the one that is read at the table, and is the only scripture passage we have outside the gospels that gives instruction for observing what we also call Communion. Let’s look to it for our enlightenment tonight.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…
Whatever Paul means by receiving these words from the Lord, he makes clear that they are not from his creative planning, but bear Christ’s authority.
…that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed…
This phrase keeps before us the historicity of the sacrament and of our religion. Our faith is based on historical events. The Lord’s Supper originated from the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples. Secondly, he reminds us of the context for the first supper. Jesus spoke these words and administered these elements on the eve of his crucifixion, his sacrifice for his disciples and all disciples to come. He spoke these words of love in the midst of betrayal, conspiracy, and desertion. The Supper comes to us out of troubled times, and so it is all the more fitting to observe it in the midst of our troubles.
… 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.”
The first element given is bread to represent Christ’s body. Some focus on the word “broke” when administering the sacrament. The King James and the New King James Bible have the word “broken” in the quote: “This is my body which is broken for you.” Thus we are to think of Christ’s body broken when we see the loaf of bread broken in two.
The Scriptures, however, teach that Christ’s body was not broken. In the gospel of John, we read:
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:32-37).
Why, then, does the KJB have “broken”? The translators at that time relied on manuscripts that included the word. Since that time, other manuscripts have been discovered that are older and more reliable, so that no translation done since the turn of the last century includes the word other than the NKJB which tries to remain faithful to the KJ.
When ministers speak of Christ’s body being broken, they mean that it was sacrificed. But I do think the significance of breaking the bread lies in Jesus having his disciples eat from one loaf of bread. Paul says in 10:17: Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. The focus, then, is not the brokenness of Jesus’ body, but that his body is given for us all: “This is my body which is for you.”
All the presentations of the Lord’s Supper include the reference to Jesus giving thanks or saying the blessing. It seems important to note that he did so and thus important that we do so as well. Despite the evil context surrounding the supper, what was being celebrated was the victory of righteousness. At all times we are to give thanks to God for what he provides – the food on the table and especially the salvation of our Lord. Just as the Last Supper was not about bemoaning the hour to come, so the Lord’s Supper is not to be a time of focusing on our trials but for giving thanks to God who provides and gives us victory in our trials.
We will come back to the statement, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Let us move on to the next element. 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Let’s consider the phrase, This cup is the new covenant in my blood. The gospels of Matthew and Mark say the same thing: “this is my blood of the covenant.” This same language was used by Moses when establishing the old covenant made at Mt. Sinai. After writing and reading the law to the people, and they in turn vowing to keep the law, Moses spread the blood of sacrifices first against the altar and then on the people, saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:3-8). The writer of Hebrews describes this very scene in chapter 9, where he makes the point that Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, just as Moses mediated the old covenant.
What then is the significance of this covenant terminology? For one, it means that we look to the work of Christ, not the law of Moses for salvation. The law points to the work of Christ. Secondly, it means that our righteousness rests not on our keeping the covenant, but on Christ keeping the covenant. Christ did not merely broker a deal between God and us; he, as God the Son, made a covenant with God the Father on our behalf. He fulfilled the conditions, and we reaped the benefit. Further, it signifies that his work was for a people, not merely a collection of individuals. Jesus’ work of redemption is more than getting you saved and me saved. It is about creating a “holy nation,” a “people for his own possession.” It is about bringing individuals together into the one body of Christ, into the one kingdom of God. That’s why we observe the sacrament together and do not have our private sacraments with God. We express our covenant bond when we participate.
This covenant is obtained and sealed by the shed blood of Christ. As the writer of Hebrews says in 9:12, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Thus, the cup signifies the covenant sealed by Christ’s blood.
Again, we have the refrain, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is clearly an important exhortation. Paul is reminding the Corinthians not to lose sight of the purpose of the Supper. They have remembered the tradition but have forgotten the meaning behind it. It has become a tradition without meaning.
“Remember,” Paul says, “Remember what it is about. You are to receive the bread and the cup as receiving the body and blood of your Lord. Remember what he has done for you.” Remember that Jesus gave his body on the cross for us. He gave of himself for us, for our benefit. He has shed his blood to mediate a new covenant for the forgiveness of our sins. Together, we belong to our Lord.
He then adds his own words of application: 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
They are to understand that their participation in this rite is a proclamation, a testimony by them of the Lord’s saving work on the cross. It is not a statement merely that Jesus died, but that he died victoriously; for he is alive and will return in glory. Until he comes, they will continue to proclaim what he has done.
As we come to the Table tonight, we would do well to follow Jesus’ instructions to partake of the elements “in remembrance” of him.
Remember his circumstance of the first supper, that he shared the bread and the cup in the midst of great trial and sorrow. If you have griefs to bear, this supper is for you. He shared the bread and the cup with the very men who would betray, deny, and desert him. He shared the elements with sinners. If you grieve over your sins, this supper is for you. Remember that the Lord’s Supper is given because you are weak, and Christ gives himself to strengthen you.
Remember that the bread is the body Christ gives to you and for you. Remember that he gives himself to you in the bread and the blood. The sacrament, which means mystery, is not a mere memorial service for us to remember a sacrifice made long ago. It is a visible sign that Christ abides in us and we in him; it is a means of grace through which he communes with us; through which he nourishes us spiritually.
Calvin eloquently expresses his own heartfelt belief in this matter:
Now, should anyone ask me as to the mode, I will not be ashamed to confess that it is too high a mystery either for my mind to comprehend or my words to express; and to speak more plainly, I rather feel than understand it. The truth of God, therefore, in which I can safely rest, I here embrace without controversy. He declares that his flesh is the meat, his blood the drink of my soul; I give my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his sacred Supper he bids me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I have no doubt that he will truly give and I receive.
Remember that the bread signifies that together we belong to Christ; that the blood signifies the covenant to which we all belong. That is what the Corinthians had forgotten – how the Lord’s Supper testifies to the unity of the church. We have communion not only with Christ, but with one another in Christ. As we partake of the bread, we acknowledge that we belong to one another; as we drink from the cup, we express that we are one people identified by the blood of Christ.
Remember and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Jesus Christ died for you. The Son of God became the sacrificial lamb for you. He offered his body to be crucified and his blood to be shed to atone for your sins. He bore the wrath of God to reconcile you to God. He died that you might live; he was cut off from the “land of the living” that you might become one people united under God.
And then remember your hope. Remember that someday you will not live by faith; you will not have to remember that you are forgiven for your sins; you will not have to remember that you belong to the body of Christ, that you are united with your brothers and sisters; you will not have to remember that Christ is present with you. Remember that you partake of the Lord’s Supper only until he comes; for he will come. He who died for you rose again. He ascended into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. And he will return in glory. He will raise us from the dead, and he will transform our perishable bodies into imperishable.
We have a lot to remember, don’t we? Don’t worry; there is no test, just an invitation from your Lord and Savior. Come, take, this is my body and blood given for you.
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