The Lord’s Supper

I Corinthians 11:17-34

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2011

Let’s begin by reading I Corinthians 11:17-34. We have a very important topic for tonight. Tonight, we want to look at the topic of communion.

Names of the Ordinance

There are different names in Scripture for it. It is called communion or κοινωνία in Greek (10:16). Some churches call it “Holy Communion”. It is also called The Lord’s Supper (11:20). Another name for it is the Eucharist.  It comes from the Greek word ευχαριστία, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.”

The word ευχαριστία is a really old term for communion that goes all the way back to back to the first or second century (Ignatius, Justin Martyr). It has been called “the love feast” or “agape feast” (Jude 12) and “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).

It is  a very controversial topic, which is ironic. An ordinance, which was intended to be a source of unity, has become a source of division in the church. It has become the meal that divides rather than unites. Communion is something that was institutes by Christ Himself. He was the one who started it with his disciples and then He said, “This do in remembrance of me” (11:24, 25).

That is a command. Every branch of the Christian Church, every single denomination (liberal or conservative) practices communion. They call it different names, do it in different ways and for different reasons but they all do it.

If you want to learn about communion, where do you go? There are four accounts of communion in the NT. It is mentioned in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and in I Corinthians 11. Each of the accounts adds different details about the ordinance.

If we just had Matthew and Mark, we would not know that this was something that we are supposed to do today but in Luke & I Corinthians we have the words, “This do in remembrance of me” which show that what Jesus did on that Thursday night, the night before he died, was something that was to be repeated over and over again by his followers as a memorial.

Purpose of the Ordinance

What was its purpose? It was not to save people or to infuse grace to people but to be a remembrance (11:24-25). It is a remembrance of what? Jesus’ violent death on the cross for us, His blood that was shed and His body that was broken for us. Why do we need to remember? Apparently, we have a tendency to forget.

The Lord’s Supper is one of the two ordinances in the church. The other is baptism. It is an ordinance (expression of faith and obedience), not a sacrament (means of grace). The word sacrament has a connotation of something that is magical and has some special power.

The Roman Catholic Church believes in something called transubstantiation. It comes from a Latin word. When Jesus said, “This is my body,” Roman Catholics take that absolutely literally.

According to Roman Catholic theology, when the priest holds up the bread and says the words “This is my body,” the bread and wine BECOME the literal body and blood of Christ. They cease to be bread and wine. The bread and wine become transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ.

Problems with Transubstantiation

What would the disciples have thought? How would they have interpreted it? When Jesus held up a loaf of bread and said, “This is my Body”, would they have thought it was his literal body? No, His physical body was standing right in front of them. Would they have thought the cup contained his literal blood? That would be absolutely ridiculous for several reasons.

1. There was absolutely no change in the cup and bread.

It stayed exactly the same after he said these words. When Jesus turned water into wine, it changed composition. They did not stay the same. The bread and wine did not change.

2. That was specifically forbidden in the OT.

It was a violation of Levitical Law. The OT said that you were NOT to eat blood (Leviticus 17:12). God would be commanding his people to do something that He has already forbidden. Jesus would be instruction his disciples to break the commandments of God.

That commandment is actually repeated in the NT (Acts 15:29). The RC interpretation is nothing but cannibalism. They believe they are eating the literal body and blood of Christ. That is why Martin Luther called transubstantiation “a monstrous word for a monstrous idea”

3. Communion is pattered after Passover.

Passover or pesach is the oldest and most important Jewish festival. The Lord Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples when he gave us this ordinance. To understand the Lord’s Supper, you have to understand Passover. One of the reasons people are so confused about communion is that they do not understand the Jewish background of the ordinance.

Passover commemorates how God went through the whole land of Egypt and killed the first born son at midnight (Exodus 12:29) but passed over the passed over the houses of the Hebrew slaves.

Similarities Between Passover and Communion

1) Both were memorials.

Passover is called a memorial in the OT (Exodus 12:14 KJV, ESV, NASB). A memorial is what we do to preserve the memory of something or someone. We have memorial services to honor the departed. There was a recent memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims. The Lord’s Supper was to be in remembrance of Christ.

2) Both used symbolic food.

The bread and the wine are symbolic like the other food at Passover was symbolic. Passover lasted a week long but it began with a meal called the Seder. The Passover Seder contained all kinds of symbols to help retell the story of the Exodus. Everything on the menu was symbolic. What was on the menu?

  • Unleavened Bread (which is like saltine crackers without salt). It is even called in the Bible “The Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Exodus 12:17). Jews had to eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15, 19-20; Leviticus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:3). The main ingredients of bread are flour and yeast. Unleavened bread is bread without leaven or yeast which made the bread soft and allowed it to rise. It is just made of flour, oil and water. Does anyone know why? The Jews were in such a rush to leave and escape before the Pharaoh changed his mind yet again, that they couldn’t wait around for the bread to rise (Exodus 12:33-34; Deuteronomy 16:3). It is quick bread.
  •  Bitter Herbs. This symbolized the bitterness of slavery.
  •  Lamb. This reminded them of the Tenth Plaque. The lamb could not be boiled but had to be roasted (Exodus 12:9).
  •  Wine. They drank four cups of wine. Jews did this and still do based on the four statements found in Exodus 6:6-7. (1) “I will take you out of Egypt”, (2) “I will deliver you from Egyptian slavery”, (3) “I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power”, and (4) “I will acquire you as a nation”.

Jesus took two of the elements from the Passover meal (bread and wine) which were already symbolic and gave them a new meaning. Like Passover, Communion is a symbolic reenactment of a historical event.

By eating and drinking the bread and cup, you announce or proclaim what Jesus did on the cross (11:26). By doing this, you are commemorates an even greater deliverance than Passover.

Instead of commemorating a political liberation (deliverance from Egypt), it commemorates a spiritual liberation from sin and Satan (different type of slavery).

Like Passover, involve substitution. In the Passover, a lamb died in the place of the firstborn son. In Communion, Christ’s body is broken for us. He dies in our place. That is why the NT calls Christ our Passover Lamb (I Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29).

Questions About Communion

1)  Should the congregation eat both the bread and juice or just the bread?

Some churches only let people eat the bread (RCC). Other churches let the congregation eat both the bread and the wine or juice. Which is right?

Jesus gave his Apostles both bread and wine and told them to eat and drink. He did not just give them permission to drink the cup, he COMMANDED them to drink it (Matthew). After giving them the cup, Jesus said, “Drink ye all of it” (KJV). All refers to the disciples, not the wine. The NIV is a better translation. It reads, “Drink from it, all of you” (Matthew 26:27).

Jesus did NOT forbid his disciples to drink the cup and he said that we were to do what he did in remembrance of him. No one has the authority to change the ordinance. It was given by Jesus himself. No church or individual has the right to change what Jesus said.

2) What kind of bread should be used?

Some churches use unleavened bread (Catholics and Lutherans). That is what Jesus used but he was also observing Passover at the time. We are not. We are celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The bread does not have to be unleavened bread. Jesus does not say that it has to be a particular kind of bread.

3) What kind of drink should be used?

Should we use real wine in communion or grape juice? Some churches use wine for communion, because that is what Jesus drank (Matthew 26:29). The Primitive Baptist Church is one of them. Passover Wine is called ‘fruit of the vine’ in the Mishnah & Talmud (Berakoth 6:1).

Jews drank wine at Passover and they drink read wine.  In fact, they drink four cups of wine at Passover. There is a Jewish prayer of thanksgiving for wine which says, “Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.” Some would say that this is what Jesus did and, if it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for them.

Others say that we should NOT use wine today in our services for a number of reasons. It would be a stumbling block for ex-alcoholics in the service and may not be the best drink for kids or pregnant women. We know that historically Jesus drank wine at Passover but he does not say that you have to use wine and only wine at communion.

Paul says, “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying…” but he doesn’t say what was in the cup. We see the words “the bread” and “the cup” four times in the text (11:23, 25, 26, 27, 28), instead of “the bread” and “the wine”. Incidentally, Jews today have wine for the adults at Passover and grape juice for the kids.

4) How many cups should be used?

Some use individual cups to drink out and some use a common cup. Which is right?  The individual cup is probably what Jesus used in the first Lord’s Supper. A common loaf of bread was distributed to them all, as well as a common cup. (Mark) and some churches believe it expresses unity better if we all drink from the same cup.

If it seems unsanitary, The American Medical Association did a study of the Common Cup decades ago and concluded that the alcoholic content of the consecrated wine and the practice of wiping the Cup after each communicant receives prevented the spread of germs.

But many churches use grape juice and, even if they used wine and there is someone in the church coughing or sneezing, I personally wouldn’t want to take the chance of getting hepatitis or the swine flu or pneumonia. While it may be what Jesus did in the first communion that does not mean that we have to do that today.

If we have to copy everything Jesus did, we would have to recline, rather than sit while we eat. Leonardo da Vinci depicted everyone sitting at a long table in the 15th century. His “Last Supper” is one of the most famous paintings in the world but it is historically inaccurate. Instead of sitting in chairs, Jesus and the Apostles reclined on cushions (Matthew 26:20; John 13:23).

Instead of eating with a fork and a spoon, we would have to eat with our hands. We would all celebrate the Passover and eat unleavened bread as well. At the time of Jesus it was apparently the custom to use one cup at Passover. Now individual cups are used . Eating simultaneously is another way you can express unity with individual cups.

5) How often should we take communion?

Passover was celebrated only once a year. Communion is observed a little more often. Some churches have communion every single Sunday. A lot of them do. Others have it once a month or just a few times a year. Whose right?

There is good reason to observe it every Sunday. The early church did but on the other hand, there is no command to do it every week. It should be something that we do regularly and, in my opinion, it should be something that we do more frequently, rather than less frequently.

6) Who is eligible to take communion?

Requirements for Communion

Salvation

The first requirement is salvation.You don’t have to be baptized to take communion. You don’t have to be a member of a church to take communion. Roman Catholics practice closed communion. Protestants are not allowed to take communion in a RCC. The Lord’s Supper is a family meal. It is intended for every member of the family, not just members of our church. You don’t have to be a certain age.

You also don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be saved. Communion symbolizes your participation in the death of Christ. When we take the bread and the cup, it symbolizes that we share in the benefits of Christ’s sacrificial death. If you are not saved, you should not take communion. The Lord’s Supper is always taken by believers in the NT or was it?

Was Judas Present When Jesus Gave  Communion?

None of the Gospels say for sure but if you read the Gospels carefully and pout two and two together, you can figure out the answer to that question. Matthew and Mark mention four things which happened at this meal in the following order.

1. A warning that one of the Twelve would betray Jesus (Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:18).

2. A question by the disciples, “Is it I?” (Matthew 26:22-25; Mark 14:19).

3. Jesus answers the question (“The one who dips bread into the bowl with him” in Matthew 26:23-29 & Mark 14:20.

The KJV calls it a “sop”. A sop is a piece of bread soaked in a liquid, like a broth (e.g., an Italian Beef Sandwich). At the close of the meal, it was traditional for the host to take a bit of bread, sop up the last bit of gravy and put it in the mouth of a friend. Jesus gave Judas the sop, even though he knew that he would betray him. It was an act of love and friendship.

4. Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25).

5. Jesus concluded the Lord’s Supper with a hymn (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26).

The Gospel of John does NOT mention Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper but it does give a very important detail that is not mentioned in the other three Gospels. John tells us what happened immediately after Jesus gave Judas the sop.

John tells us that AS SOON AS he took the bread Satan entered him (13:27) and he left (13:30). That is when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Judas would not have been present at this point.

Self-Examination

The second requirement for the Lord’s Supper is self-examination.  This is an important requirement. It is serious business to take communion. Some people in the Corinthians Church were taking communion incorrectly and God was judging them. How you treat the symbols is a symbol o how you treat Jesus himself.

How you treat the American flag is a sign of how you treat the country (e.g., step on it, spit on it or burn it). Some were getting weak. Some were getting sick and some were dropping dead (11:30). They were doing it in an unworthy manner. Unworthy is an adverb, not an adjective. It is not talking about who you are but how you do it.

Wrong Ways to Take Communion

1. Some take it IGNORANTLY

We do this by not realizing what the symbols stand for, not discerning the Lord’s body and blood which the symbols represent.

2. Some take it CASUALLY

We do this by not taking it seriously or by thinking about other things. We should meditate on the death of Christ when we are taking communion. The whole point of communion is to remember Christ and to center our minds on Him.

3. Some take it IRREVERENTLY

We do this when the symbols are not respect but belittled or mocked. We also do this when we live in unconfessed sin.  That is why we need to examine ourselves (11:31-32). This was to be personal.

Paul says, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (11:28). He does not say that “the Pastor or Elders” ought to examine you but everyone ought to examine THEMSELVES.

 

 

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