Friday, November 9, 2018

The Lord’s Supper

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed 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.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

As Jesus established His church, He appointed two ordinances (some groups call them sacraments) for the edification and encouragement of His people. The first is baptism, in which we as believers demonstrate our joining together with Christ. The waters of baptism are a symbol of the earth that covers the old body from which that same body is now raised to newness of life. It shows in an unmistakable way, how our old self is buried with Christ in His death, and a new self is raised to newness of life (Romans 6:1-4).

The second of these ordinances is the Lord’s Supper. In it, the body of believers joins together as one organism to remember and give thanks for the prize that was paid for us on Calvary. The Lord’s Supper represents the body of Christ in the bread and His blood in the fruit of the vine. These emblems remind us that the body of Christ was broken for us and the blood was given for our redemption, freely and unencumbered. This then is the only ordinance that the body practices on a regular basis as a community of believers. It is here that we come together as one church to break the bread and to drink the cup. As Paul reminded the same Corinthians he wrote the words at the top of this article, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16)

There are many arguments about how often and under what circumstances the supper is to be observed. The early disciples observed it on a daily basis and they made it a part of what was then termed an “agape feast” or a feast of love. Unlike our present custom, the early disciples did not separate a specific time to have the supper, making it instead a part of their fellowship meal. It is the abuse of this practice that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians. The meal had become so disorganized and fragmented, that many were eating at different times and others, who had less means, were going hungry. In this context, Paul admonishes and reproves the Corinthians, finally telling them that they were better off eating at home separately and coming together to eat the supper without continuing their usual, but now abused, custom.

Unfortunately, as we humans are wont to do, we go from one extreme to the other. Eventually the eucharist (a word that means simply “giving of thanks”) came to be seen as some sort of magical ceremony that meant much more than its original Designer intended it to mean. You know about the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, perhaps the most egregious example of how the supper and its meaning were grossly perverted. But we have also devolved to the point where we often do not partake of the supper because we do not feel ourselves “worthy” to partake. Let me say here that I do not judge people’s motivations. If they abstain from partaking of the supper because they truly feel they shouldn’t partake, I’m not going to be the one that tells them they’re sinning and that they should partake anyway. Each individual has to be persuaded in their own mind as to what exactly they should or shouldn’t do. My concern is not what people’s intentions and convictions are, but rather ensuring that they truly understand why they do or do not partake.

It is imperative to understand that Paul did not tell the Corinthians that they should examine themselves and be careful about how they partook to discourage them from partaking. Rather, the point of his admonition was to ensure that they understood the solemnity and seriousness of the activity. It was not to discourage them from partaking that Paul said what he said, but to help them see the supper for what it is and to give the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup the respect that it deserves. Notice what he says subsequently in the same passage: “And so let a man examine himself and let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). The obvious implication being that it is not to abstain that we examine ourselves, but in order that we may partake in a worthy manner. We should not be intimidated or cowered into thinking that we better abstain because we don’t feel ourselves worthy of the elements. None of us is worthy and it is only through the grace of Christ that we can even come to the table in the first place. Thus, Paul’s reprove is with a view to rectifying the problem and not to instill an unhealthy, misguided fear in the disciples.

The next time you come to the Lord’s Supper, do examine yourself and do meditate deeply on what the ordinance means and why you’re doing it. And then, eat of the bread and drink of the cup with the joy of knowing that Christ has shed the blood that is represented in the cup for your sins. That is something worth celebrating!

1 comment:

  1. Spot on all. I know this much - if self "worthiness" were the door to the Supper, we would all be passing.