Why is it Called the Lord’s Supper or Communion?
The Lord’s Supper is also called “the Lord’s table” (1 Corinthians 10:21), “communion,” “cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16), and “breaking of bread” ( Acts 2:42 ). In the early Church it was called also “eucharist,” or giving of thanks (Matthew 26:27), and generally by the Latin Church “mass,” a name derived from the formula of dismission, Ite, missa est, i.e., “Go, it is discharged.”
The account of when Jesus instituted this ordinance of communion is given in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:24-26.
What is the Purpose of Communion?
-To commemorate the death of Christ: “This do in remembrance of me.”
-To signify, seal, and apply to believers all the benefits of the new covenant. In this ordinance Christ ratifies his promises to his people, and they on their part solemnly consecrate themselves to him and to his entire service.
-To be a badge of the Christian profession.
-To indicate and to promote the communion of believers with Christ.
-To represent the mutual communion of believers with each other.
The elements used to represent Christ’s body and blood are bread and wine. The kind of bread, whether leavened or unleavened, is not specified. Christ used unleavened bread simply because it was at that moment on the paschal table. Wine, and no other liquid, is to be used (Matthew 26:26-29). This is a permanent ordinance in the Church of Christ, and is to be observed “till he come” again. (Adapted from Easton’s Bible Dictionary.)
The primary biblical text on the nature and meaning of the Lord’s Supper/Table and Communion is 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. Here are ten brief observations on what we see in this text.
1. It’s about remembrance
The Lord’s Supper is primarily (but not exclusively) designed to elicit or to stimulate in our hearts remembrance of the person and work of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25).
2. It’s a commandment
This remembrance is commanded. Participation at the Lord’s Table is not an option. Prolonged absence from it is spiritually unhealthy and willful neglect of it may be grounds for church discipline.
3. It’s tangible
This remembrance entails the use of tangible elements: bread and wine. It isn’t enough simply to say, “Remember!” The elements of bread and wine are given to stir our minds and hearts. The physical action of eating and drinking is designed to remind us that we spiritually “ingest” and depend upon Jesus and the saving benefits of his life, death, and resurrection. Just as food and drink are essential to sustain physical existence, so also the blessings and benefits that come to us through the body and blood of Christ are paramount to our spiritual flourishing
5. It’s confession
In this remembering there is also confession. In partaking of the elements we declare: “Christ gave his body and blood for me. He died for me.” This is one among many reasons why I reject the practice of paedo-communion (the giving of the elements of the Table to infants). If one cannot and does not personally and consciously confess that the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Jesus sacrificed for sinners, he/she should not, indeed must not, partake of them.
6. It’s a proclamation
In this remembering we also proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. This, then, is not merely an ordinance that looks to the past. It is an ordinance of hope that points to the future.
7. We are unworthy
To partake of the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner (v. 27) is to take it without regard to its true worth, not yours. To partake unworthily is to come complacently, light-heartedly, giving no thought to that which the elements signify. I. H. Marshall explains:
“In some Christian circles today the fear of partaking unworthily in the Supper leads to believers of otherwise excellent character refraining from coming to the table of the Lord. When this happens, Paul’s warning is being misunderstood. The Lord’s Supper is the place where the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed and offered to all who would receive it. Paul’s warning was not to those who were leading unworthy lives and longed for forgiveness but to those who were making a mockery of that which should have been most sacred and solemn by their behaviour at the meal” (116).
To partake in an “unworthy manner” thus entails at least three things: (a) calloused disregard for others in the body of Christ (see vv. 20-22); (b) an attempt to combine participation at pagan (demonic) feasts with participation at the Lord’s table (see 1 Cor. 10:14-22); and (c) flippant disregard for what the elements represent (vv. 23-26).
8. It is sacred
To be “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27) is to treat as common or profane something which is sacred. The Lord’s Supper is not just another meal.
9. We are to examine ourselves
Hence, we are to “examine ourselves” (v. 28). We are to test our motives and attitudes as we approach the table to be certain we are partaking for the right reasons and with the right understanding of what the elements represent. This is yet another argument against paedo-communion. If one cannot obey this Pauline command one is not prepared or qualified to partake of the elements.
10. Not taking communion may lead to divine discipline
Finally, failure to do so may lead to divine discipline (1 Cor. 11:29-34). Such chastisement from the Father is in order that believers may be spared the condemnation that comes to the unbelieving world. Some in Corinth had already suffered the discipline of God (“weak and sick”); some had even died physically (“sleep”). And this was an expression of God’s gracious commitment to preserve his people “so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32b).
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