Was struck by a thought during a church service recently. We read the familiar passage from 1 Corinthians 11 that talks about the Lord’s Supper:
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)
I was struck by the importance of the Lord’s Supper. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a profound thought to you, but it really hit me. I don’t know how much information Paul received directly from the Lord, but the account of the Last Supper was apparently part of it. And Paul understood that our responsibility was to repeat that act as part of our proclamation of faith.
In churches of Christ, we’ve often referred to the Lord’s Supper as the center of our worship time. We haven’t always practiced that, but we’ve preached it. Rightly so.
I don’t know if you read the article “He Didn’t Choose The Lamb that I mentioned the other day. The author made one of those simple observations that end up having great impact.
Basically he discussed why Jesus didn’t use the Passover lamb for the Lord’s Supper, why he chose instead the bread. Jesus had been called “the lamb of God” by John the Baptist. Paul would later refer to him as our Passover lamb. Wouldn’t it have made more sense if he had taken a piece of lamb and said, “This is my body…”?
But he chose the bread. The lamb was a symbol of the sacrifice. The bread was a symbol of liberation, a remembrance of the Exodus.
The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice. As John Mark Hicks eloquently says in his book Come To The Table, it’s not the altar of the Lord; it’s the table of the Lord. We gather not to offer again the blood of the Lamb but to celebrate the results of that offered blood. We remember his death; we do not reenact it.
Because he didn’t choose the lamb.
Yesterday I was talking about the connection in some people’s mind between sadness and holiness. As one brother in Guatemala said, the only things missing from some services are the candles and the casket. Why do we feel the need to create a funeral atmosphere in our church services, particularly during the Lord’s Supper?
Part of the problem, I think, is a misunderstanding of Paul’s comment that “…as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) I think we lose sight of the fact that proclaiming Jesus’ death is a proclamation of triumph. When we proclaim his death, we do so knowing that the tomb is empty. When we proclaim his death, we proclaim the fact that death could not hold him.
When I think of how to proclaim Jesus’ death, I turn to Revelation 5:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10)
We proclaim Jesus’ death in a song of triumph, not a funeral dirge. The meal we eat is not a wake; it’s a celebratory feast!
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5–6)
When we come together to eat the bread and drink the cup, let’s proclaim to the world the wondrous news: He has risen!
Photo by Benoit Rochon
The Lord’s Supper is a perfect coming-together time for the church. Yesterday, I talked about some thoughts I’ll be sharing on how Jesus tears down walls. These thoughts will be delivered as communion thoughts, which is highly appropriate.
Christians around the world join in this remembrance. Our songs may sound different, our prayers offered in different languages, but we all take bread and drink from the vine.
Our churches often end up segmented by age groups, but the Lord’s Table marks a coming together of all ages. Longtime members and first-time visitors are on an equal plane. Gender differences melt away. All walls are torn down.
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17)
That’s why we work to tear down walls as well. The wall of enmity between brothers. The wall of unfamiliarity. The wall of political disaccord. The wall of doctrinal disagreement. The wall of rivalry and power struggles. All walls.
Jesus set an example, tearing down that incredible wall that separated Jew and Gentile. Now his followers continue that task, attacking and destroying the walls that separate mankind, preventing them from infecting the church.
See a wall? Tear it down.
Continuing our discussion of the Lord’s Supper, I wanted to mention something that we did this past Sunday which I found to be quite helpful.
This was a service with the bilingual group at our church; there were somewhere between 50 and 70 in attendance. At the beginning of the service, I had told the story of my eating with a stranger one day at Taco Bueno. Because the restaurant was full, we had to share a table. Naturally, I introduced myself, and we chatted during the meal. That’s what you do when you eat with someone, I said… except at church. I told them that our focus that day was going to be on taking the Lord’s Supper as a body.
Before eating and drinking, we sang the song “Come To The Table of Mercy” (in English and in Spanish), which very much set the tone for what we were going to do. My wife, Carolina, had made the communion bread and had made quantity sufficient for everyone to have a cracker-sized portion. The grape juice was in pitchers, and we had small cups out on the table.
As we “partook,” I called people forward to the table, encouraging them to speak with one another along the way, shaking hands and embracing one another. For me, it was a beautiful time. I was one of those serving at the table, and I got to speak a word of greeting and of blessing to many of those that came forward, some of whom I hadn’t had a chance to greet yet.
It wasn’t perfect, but for me it was a definite improvement over the usual “sit in the pews and pass the trays” procedure. I hope we can do this more often.
Have you participated in unusual communion services which made the time more meaningful to you?