According to scholars from the protestant tradition of faith, it is ascribe to that, for the church the Lord has constituted us to just two forms of sacrament; baptism and the Lord ’s Supper/ Eucharist/ Holy Communion. Although we will not ravel ourselves with the arguments on why only two sacraments, our focus today is on the Lord’s Supper.Lets get some sense in understanding the Lord’s Supper.
Understanding the Lord’s Supper
Leonard J. Vander Zee in his book entitled “Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” gives us a comprehensive lens to help us understand the meaning of the Lord’s supper. (So the quotes I have taken from his book.)
OT Feast of the Passover
A Jewish meal- The invocations of “took the bread…blessed…and broke it,” significantly had Jewish elements to it, after all Jesus was a Jew. A typical Jewish meal experience looked like this:
Host took bread and said a brief prayer (berakah meaning blessing/thanksgiving). Bread broken by host and bread distributed, first for the host and then others. At the end of the meal, more extension of thanksgiving. Host took cup of wine, known as “cup of blessing” (1 Cor 10:16) and said similar prayer as the one when the meal started.
For Jews a meal had deep religious meanings and that among Jews “who you ate with was as important as what you ate and how you ate.” This should invoke in us the image that Jesus extends his invitation to us, sinners as we are to his table to feed on the living bread.
The understanding of the prayer said before the meal is more than just a simple saying of grace for the Jews. The prayer of blessing and thanksgiving “carried with it the idea that the bread was eaten as God’s gift”. “The whole meal was offered to God in thanksgiving, and then given back to them by God for their use. The bread becomes the locus of meaning for the whole meal. It was all consecrated in the bread.”
The meal also had strong communal perspectives- “So in blessed and broken bread the whole meal was consecrated, and in its sharing a community was formed.”
Connecting the significance of the meal to Jesus- Jesus himself takes the bread and pronounces a blessing and says “this is my body.” “Jesus thus links the bread and his own self. Just as the bread was received as God’s gift shared between them, so now, in his death, Jesus is given to them by God.” 143 Since the bread signified the whole meal consecrated, in a way the whole Christ takes place of the whole meal taken in as well. Christ’s whole person was now given to us, we take in us Christ’s whole life and in that we have fellowship with one another in taking the meal.
A Passover feast- The meal is also a special meal, which was the Passover feast. To signify that the actions of Jesus complied to this was his action of taking the bread, blessing it and distributing it. This shows that this could have happened at the beginning of the meal, just after the Haggadah (explanation of the meal).
There were four cups of wine drunk during the supper. Taking Luke and Paul “say that these words came with the cup “after the supper” and Paul calls it “the cup of blessing.” This then points to the third cup-cup of blessing which came after the meal.
The Passover sacrifice- Jesus’ words “This is my body and blood, given, poured out for you” is rich with sacrificial meaning. These word’s are in rich connection with Isai 53:12 “…he poured himself out to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many.” Paul in 1 Cor 5:7-8 claims that Christ is the Passover sacrifice and in 1 Cor 10:16-17 places the cup and the lord’s supper side by side- “sharing the blood of Christ” and “sharing in the body of Christ.” Paul further stresses that Israel, in eating the sacrifice made them “partners in the altar” (10:18) which in turn means that participants share in the sacrifice and in the benefits of that sacrifice.
Passover and remembrance- Often times we hear the call to remember when we participate in the Lord’s supper. More is at the heart of what it means to remember. “The Passover rituals were not merely recalling an event, they were a “re-presentation, making present the past which can never remain merely past but becomes effective in the present.” When the Israelites remember the Exodus, they were participating in it.” “Remembrance means I participate in his death and resurrection as I receive the bread and the wine.”
Passover and longing- the setting of the Passover helps us grasp the eschatological character of the supper. The meal at the time of Jesus has been connected to a feast longing for the Messiah. Mk 14:25 & Lk 22:15 talks about the meal as a farewell meal, a last supper with the disciples. But in it also was the a meal in which Jesus anticipated a future fulfillment where he says in Luke “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Paul echoes this in 1 Cor 11:26. At the Lord’s supper we long and anticipate the coming of Christ which has a future dimension and with that in a strange way imply that Christ is absent. In it we pray that the one present with us in spirit will be present with us in his glorious kingdom.
Eating his flesh and drinking his blood- “Jesus wants us to receive the bread and wine, which are his body and blood, as powerful symbols that carry with them the redeeming power of his death and resurrection that brings us into eternal life, and as personal confirmation of his presence to us…Eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood is the most vivid imaginable way of being both participants and beneficiaries of his death on the cross and the resurrection by which it won the victory over sin and death.”
Blood of the covenant- “…when Jesus refers to his blood as the blood of the covenant, he is telling his disciples and us that he will keep the blood covenant by the shedding of his own blood as the covenant representative, the one who comes to stand for all Israel, the Christ, the anointed.” … “the saying over the cup directs attention to Jesus as the one who fulfills the divine will to enter covenant fellowship with his people on a new and enduing basis.”
Concluding Reflection: The significance of this understanding gives rich meaning to how we are to position our understanding on the significance of the Lord’s Supper as we participate in it. It is a meal which we are invited to not by our own merits, a meal where we participate in the whole nature of the saving life of Christ (encompassing his life, death and resurrection), which connects us who partake in it in the fellowship of the body of Christ. In it we remember which invokes the vivid memory that we are participants in his death and resurrection. In it informs us now of the benefits we have now in our walk with Christ, to reinvigorate and sustain our devotion in our living presently in him. We also long or anticipate for the future, when Christ will come again. In the meal is the encapsulation of the gospel message not in words but in participating in a meal.
One aspect of the Lord’s Supper that gets put on the sidelines is the community aspect. We mostly stress on introspection of the personal self on whether we have lived our lives in faithful obedience to Jesus. But it seems, the overemphasis on whether I have displeased Christ in my personal life has removed the community dimension and importance that the Lord’s Supper points to. The participation in the Lord’s Supper can be a good reminder to the church why it is the community of believers who share in a common bond in Christ. The meal we partake together reemphasizes that we are one body who are brought together by the bond of being in Christ, though his body and his blood. There is a strong sense of belonging that it creates.
“For Paul the Lord’s supper binds the participants together with Christ and with each other into a single body. This bond is not a mere symbol but actually points to the deepest reality of community. The one loaf which is Christ, and the one cup which is the sharing in his sacrifice binds us together so powerfully that breaking the bonds through carelessness or lovelessness has demonstrable physical effects.” So what if the stance of introspection of personal walk is combined by how we have daily lived out the communal aspect of being the body of Christ? How have we disrespected the body of Christ by our actions and thoughts? Are we faithful to the implication that lies in the practice of partaking in the shared body of Christ and his blood?
Some other questions that we should consider also which i found interesting for our reflections as well are:
1. Should we revert back to how the supper was practiced in the NT; a love feast, rather than just ding it like how we have always done it; a symbolic meal?
2. Who should partake of the Lord’s supper? Is it for only those who have been baptized?
3. Can we ascribe to a teaching that says that healing can come by taking in the Lord’s supper? (This question might seem odd but many point to a supernatural blessing that derives from taking it which some have attested to. But personally I am inclined myself to teach according to this belief.)