The Lord’s Supper, breaking bread, holy communion, the Lord’s table, the Eucharist or, if you’re Roman Catholic, mass; is where Christians take bread and wine (more often than not these days non- alcoholic grape juice) in remembrance of Christ’s death on the Cross. On the cross, Jesus’ body was put to death and His blood spilt to make a way for sinful humanity to be reconciled to a holy God.
The Importance of Christ’s death
Through putting your faith in Jesus, your sins (the things that offends God) are placed on Jesus [1 Peter 2:24]. He then takes the punishment for those offences and the believer receives the Father’s forgiveness [Eph 1:7], Christ’s righteousness [Rom 3:22] and the Spirit’s transforming power to start living for God as one of His now adopted sons or daughters [Rom 8:1-17].
The cross of Christ is the only way for men and women to get right with God as they put their trust in Jesus. Jesus makes this clear when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6. The Apostle Peter declared, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]. Right standing with God only comes through Jesus; salvation is in his name alone
We are born again (become a Christian), through faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. Christians continue on this journey dependent on that cross. This side of eternity Christians will regularly make mistakes and need to come back to God seeking forgiveness, the Apostle John makes clear [1 John 1:8-10]. The Lord’s prayer teaches us to daily pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” [Luke 11:4]. Indeed, Jesus resurrection body still bears the scars of the crucifixion [John 20:24-29] as he will for all eternity where his Saints will worship God and the Lamb – this name being given to Jesus because of his sacrificial death on the cross [Rev 21-22].
Thus, it is right that Christians live their life in the light of the cross, and as part of our coming together as the church of Christ, we give time to remembering, thanking and praising God for this event that enabled God’s grace to save a wretch like me.
Instituted by Jesus and practiced in the early church
To help us do this, “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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. 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Cor 11:23-26.
The account can also be found in Matt 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20. It is fitting to read it in the Corinthian account, however, as not only was it the first account written about the Lord’s Supper in the bible (1 Corinthians was written in about AD55 where as Marks Gospel wasn’t written until AD60-62), but 1 Corinthians’ instruction was given to a church made up of Jews and Gentiles in a Roman colony over 700 miles away from where Jesus instigated this sacrament in Jerusalem over 20 years earlier! This shows that right from the earliest times in the Church’s history, the expectation was that local churches would gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with the bread and wine as part of their Christian worship to God. Doing this in obedience to the command given by Jesus on the night he was betrayed.
The 5th century Church Father, Augustine Bishop of Hippo says:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ has placed us under a yoke which is easy and a burden which is light. Hence, he has knit together the society of his new people by sacraments, very few in number; most easy of observance, and most excellent in meaning; such as baptism consecrated by the name of the Trinity: such is the communion of the body and blood of the Lord.”Augustine of Hippo
The word ‘Sacrament’ comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word for mystery, it also carries the meaning consecrated or sacred, thus a sacrament literally is a sacred mystery. The famous 16th Century Reformer John Calvin explains a sacrament as, “A testimony of divine favour toward us, confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of our faith towards Him.” Or to put it simply the sacred mystery is an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. It is a physical act that reflects a spiritual reality that we have to do out of obedience to Christ.
Upon becoming a Christian and receiving the benefit afforded to us through Jesus death on the cross we out of obedience to his words in Matt 28:18-20 are baptised into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The outward act of baptism being an external sign of the inward spiritual reality of new birth (which we don’t have time to go into now), done out of obedience to Christ’s command.
As a Christian living our life for God in the power of the Holy Spirit thanks to the cross of Christ, we gather together as part of the church of God, as one body in our location, and take the bread and the wine out of obedience to Jesus. We remember the Lord’s death that saved us and brought us together as His new people – His Church. The church being made up of people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds, it is open to all who come to Jesus and they become a united people in Christ. God’s chosen people should take the Lord’s Supper often (how often is not stipulated in scripture) until Christ returns as instructed. Therefore, it is only appropriate for Christian’s to take the Lord’s supper (as it is only appropriate for believer’s to be baptised too), since it is an act for his chosen people to do in remembrance of what his death has won for them.
There has been some confusion and wrong understanding over whether the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus (Roman Catholic view) or whether they contain it (Lutheran View) after a prayer of blessing is said over it; rather than realising that they are symbolic, reminding us of Jesus sacrificial death for us. The twelve Apostles who were at the original Lord’s Supper could have only seen it as symbolic, for Jesus had not yet died and there is no mention over concerns about eating human flesh or drinking blood, something abhorrent in the law of God. For even the one time that Jesus implies about actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood in John 6:22-71 it is clear from the passage that Jesus is metaphorically speaking about spiritual truths, confirmed further by Peter’s response showing the disciples understood it as a non-literal metaphor about his words and who he was.
What does it remind us of?
The bread and the wine symbolise Christ’ body given for us and his blood shed for us on the cross. Each person having their own piece of bread or wine and consuming it reminding us individually of the love God has for us, that Jesus went to the cross for us [John 3:16] and the benefit we receive from Christ’s death, that all our spiritual nourishment is in him [Col 2:19]. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 10:16-17, “The bread we break is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Thus, as we take the bread it reminds us of the unity that we have in Christ, we are one body [1 Cor 12:12], one new man in Christ [Eph 2:14-16]. Finally, it reminds us that He is coming again for his people [John 14:1-7] as we are told to do it until he returns in 1 Cor 11:26. In Matt 26:29 after giving them instructions on the Lord’s Supper, Jesus points to His return with, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” Like Christ there may be trials, difficulties and sacrifice for the believer this side of eternity, but Jesus is coming back to be with his church and renew all things on a new and perfected world where we shall reign with Him [2 Tim 2:11-12].
How are we to do it and how often?
Whilst the Lord’s Supper reminds us of all those things, it is important to remember it is a command, an act of obedience to be taken often and thus an act of worship. How often is often enough? Well as this is not prescribed it is for each church setting to decide how regularly they want to do it. Likewise, how it should be administered is not detailed although clearly for the early church it was done as part of a meal, the first one being part of the Passover meal celebrations [Luke 22:15]. The meal is not commanded alongside the sacrament, it is just incidental in the passage. The key elements are that the bread and wine are taken by the assembled church in remembrance of Christ’s death and all that he achieved through it. When the church comes to take the Lord’s supper together it can be taken all at the same time, in groups or as an individual, or a mixture of the three. It can be taken in quiet thoughtful silence, with reflective worship happening so that people can still hear each other praying or as loud celebratory praise to “Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Rev1:5. The key thing is those gathered are taking the bread and wine as a worshipful act of obedience remembering and honouring Jesus for all he went through for His people on the cross.
The Lord’s Supper at ChristChurch
At ChristChurch we deliberately take the Lord’s Supper in a variety of ways to celebrate the variety of backgrounds that people have been called out of the world into Christ’s Church. When joining in the sacrament in a way that is not your preferred way of doing the Lord’s Supper, it is actually in itself an expression of unity in Christ, as there will be others who love fulfilling this sacrament that way! Soon enough the Lord’s Supper will come back round to being taken in a way that you find more helpful to remember the Lord’s death by. It saddens me greatly that this wonderful sacrament that should be taken often and expresses our unity in Christ is actually a cause of disunity for some not because of theological reasons but just because one’s preferred way of the Lord’s Supper being performed is not happening that time.
We also encourage small group leaders to have the Lord’s Supper together in their groups where it can be tailored to suit the individuals in the group further and in this setting, it is more practical to have a meal together as part of the process, if the group so choose. Finally, in this digital age where one can view services online for those who can not be one with the church physically due to illness, or a pandemic for example, taking the Lord’s Supper together each in our own homes as part of the meeting is one of the ways that we can express our oneness in Christ despite not being able to be together in one place. However, a word of caution on this; if one is watching online due to not wanting to be with a certain group/person or through not prioritising physically meeting together as Hebrews 10:25 commands us, then I would suggest based on 1 Cor 11:28-32 that you are not in the right place to take the Lord’s Supper, since you are not really valuing the unity and oneness of the body of Christ that the sacrament reminds us of.
Being able to take part in the Lord’s Supper as a church gathered together should never be seen as a religious duty, but a wonderful privilege to be enjoyed often. It reminds God’s chosen people of the extent of His steadfast love for them and the extreme cost of the salvation that we freely receive, thanks to the Jesus Christ’s body being given over to death and his blood spilt on the cross of calvary.