“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 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 show the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come” (1 Corinthians 11:23-34).
The foundation for what is known as The Lord’s Supper is found in the Passover celebration of the Old Testament. The day before His crucifixion, Jesus instituted a new level of understanding of what the Passover meal indicated and what it would mean for all believers from that moment onwards, Thus the communion service is a very important part of Christian worship, for through it we remember what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross and through His resurrection. Not only that, it points back to His first coming and forward to His second coming.
The Passover feast still remains the most important celebration in the Jewish religious calendar. It commemorates the final plague on Egypt when the Egyptians firstborn died (Exodus 12). Because the Israelites had placed lamb’s blood on their doorposts, they were not touched by the angel of death. The lamb was roasted and eaten with unleavened bread by the family inside the house.
During the Last Supper, this feast was being celebrated by Jesus and His disciples. Towards the end of the Passover meal He took unleavened bread and gave thanks. As He broke the bread and distributed it to the twelve, He said, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). He took wine and said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). It is after this supper that Jesus went out to Mount Olivet, was betrayed by Judas, and led away to be crucified on the following day.
The four gospel writers each give an account of the Last Supper, but it is Paul’s exposition of it that we usually familiarise ourselves with when celebration the Lord’s Table. He reveals who are not permitted to partake of the bread and cup. Those who are “unworthy” is likely to refer to believers who have unconfessed sin in their lives, but it must also include those who are simply performing a religious act and thus not truly appreciating the significance of the bread and the cup. Whichever way we take Paul’s prohibition, it must mean that the Lord’s Table is a sacred place that must not be celebrated lightly, ritualistically or sinfully. How can a believer worship the Saviour who paid such a high price for his salvation and thoughtlessly partake of the bread and wine? This is why each of us must examine ourselves prior to taking communion. In fact, we should really prepare ourselves at home before we come into Christian fellowship.
Jesus declared that the bread spoke of His body which would be broken. There was not a broken bone, but His body was so badly tortured that it was hardly recognisable (Psalm 22:12-17; Isaiah 53:4-7). The wine spoke of His blood, indicating the terrible death He would soon experience. He, the perfect Son of God, became the fulfilment of the numerous Old Testament prophecies concerning a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53). When He said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” He indicated this was a ceremony that must be continued in the future. It indicated also that the Passover, which required the death of a lamb and looked forward to the coming of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, was fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper. The New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant when Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), was sacrificed for us (Hebrews 8:8-13). The sacrificial system was no longer needed (Hebrews 9:25-28). The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of what Christ did for us and a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice.
Everything we do in the Christian life must be in or of faith. “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans14:23). This is absolutely relevant to the Lord’s table too, for through it we declare our faith in the sacrificial death on the cross of Christ for our salvation. That is, we believe that salvation is only possible through His shed blood. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). We are also professing that we believe that the same Jesus will return to this earth one day. Therefore in the communion service we are reiterating our faith in the Redeemer, Living Saviour and Coming Lord. All this is lost in every church were a corrupted version form of communion is celebrated.
Once priests got hold of this celebration of the Lord’s Table they ritualised it until nothing remained of what Jesus intended. Yet Jesus made it so remarkably simple it beggars belief that anyone could have invented an extensive set of religious ceremonies to enable believers to participate in it. He used bread and wine, two common substances to depict His body and blood. He could have carved His covenant on stone tablets, but instead He chose the simplest of elements to speak for Him. how far the church has gone for such simplicity! “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
No wonder therefore that Paul encourages his readers to understand the seriousness of partaking of the bread and cup. It is not a trivial or religious thing we do each Sunday, instead there are eternal implications for how we avail ourselves of this blessing. Should we take of it in a lighthearted, careless manner or ought we reflect on the significance of the bread and cup? It is not the elements that hold the blessing though, rather it is our faith in the power of the saving grace Jesus brought to the world through His body and blood, in other words, there is power in Christ alone. Let us never disrespect the Lord’s Table in any way but point to it as a symbol of what Jesus accomplished for us on Calvary, and may it ever remind us of these facts until we meet Him face to face.