For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that 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." 1 Corinthians 11v24-25
Today, we're taking a brief look at the Lord's supper. We'll be considering it in more depth next week.
1. At this supper, we remember the Lord. Jesus tells his disciples to share the bread and wine "in remembrance of me". But how do we do that today? How do we remember someone we've never met?
Note first what Jesus doesn't say - he doesn't say anything about his physical appearance. If I wanted someone to remember me, I might tell them to look closely at my face, or at my overall appearance, or take a photograph. In the case of a very famous person, we might consider making a statue. But Jesus doesn't tell them to remember how he looks, nor to use pictures or images as an aid to remembering him.
What is his reason? I believe it's because he wants to be remembered in his glory (John 17v24), and glory cannot be captured in a copy. Where do we see his glory? By faith, we see it at the cross.
This revelation of glory at the cross is intimated by Jesus in John 12. As he approaches the hour of his death, he says: "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? "Father, save me from this hour"? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." (v27-28)
Jesus' intention was to reveal the glory of God through his death. His Father's answer confirms this: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." (v28)
What does Jesus receive for this obedience? In heaven, the angels cry "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!" Jesus receives glory because he is the slain Lamb. So the author of Hebrews writes that "we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death" (Heb2v9).
The glory of Jesus is most visible in his death on the cross. This is how we remember a person we've never met. We remember Jesus time after time as, by faith, we see the glory of Jesus in the simple symbols of his sacrifice for us.
2. The bread reminds us of the death that takes away our sins. Peter writes: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." (1 Pet.2v24). Christ dies to take away our sin and guilt - to remove the barrier between us and God. By his death, we are restored to a right relationship with God - by his wounds, we are healed (1 Pet.2v25).
3. The wine reminds us of the death that promises the undying love of God. Jesus speaks of a "new covenant" - a new relationship with God based on promises. By his death, we can come into the presence of God. We can be His people, and He can be our God.
A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the role of Jesus in heaven as our high priest. In the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, the place where God dwelt among His people. So in Hebrews we read that "the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people." (9v6-7).
But Jesus came to be our high priest! "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" (9v12). Jesus secures a redemption that lasts forever through his death.
With this eternal redemption comes eternal life and eternal sonship. The death of Jesus promises the undying love of God.
Finally, how are we to practice the Lord's supper? We'll consider this in more depth next week, but here are some brief points:
a. It is for those who believe. The Lord's supper is for those who are able to remember the Lord - for those who, by faith, see the glory of Jesus in his death for their sins.
b. We are to acknowledge each other. The issue Paul deals with in his letter to Corinth is that people weren't waiting for each other! Clearly, a group was arriving later than others, but the others weren't willing to wait. Instead, they ate and drank, and left little or nothing for the rest!
What is Paul's response? "It is not the Lord's supper" (1 Cor 11v20) and those who do not wait "despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing" (v22). What should they expect? Judgment (v29)! So Paul's answer to this issue is simple - "wait for one another" (v33).
We are to recognise the church community at the Lord's supper. We are to acknowledge those who sit with us at the Lord's table. We are to "discern the body" (v29) or it is no longer the Lord's supper, but a profanity (v27).
One simple way of encouraging that acknowledgment is by sitting around a table and looking at each other, similar to what the disciples did at that first supper. Another way is for people to all move to the front rows and sit together. (That is what we did last Sunday - we also had the rows in a semi-circle, so that we could see each other more easily.)
c. We are all equal at the Lord's supper. No one takes the place of Jesus at the table. I do not take the place of Jesus as I break the bread. I am not the mediator between you and God - I am not the high priest. Jesus is our high priest, and he is not absent from the table. He is present by his Spirit. Only 2 or 3 of us have to gather under his authority and he promises to be present (Matt 18v20).
As believers, we are all equal at the Lord's supper, because we share equally in the blessings that come from his death for us.
Next week, we'll return to this topic, and consider the answer to the following question: What could be so special about a meal?