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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

The Lord's Supper

1st Corinthians 11:23-32

Lesson audio

1Co 11:23-32 NIV For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, (24) 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." (25) 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." (26) For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (27) Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. (28) A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. (29) For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (30) That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (31) But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. (32) When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

Symbolic Communication

Nature of symbolic communication

My wife is not a woman given to "water power."  She does not go into tears over the minor upsets of life.  She is not one of those women who use tears as a weapon to get what she wants.  When she cries, she means it.  When she cries, I pay attention.

So you can imagine that I was extremely concerned when I came home one day to find her hovering over our kitchen sink, bawling her eyes out.  She was clearly crying over something in the sink, and it wasn't onions.  It took some time for me to get her sufficiently calmed to find out what happened.
She was crying because she had lost the diamond out of her engagement ring.  It's interesting to see the difference in our reactions.  My first thought was, "You've got to be kidding?"  (If you knew how little that diamond cost -- and it was the biggest one I could afford at the time -- you'd understand my first reaction).  To me, it was a relatively inexpensive gemstone.

To her, however, it represented her marriage.  She had lost the symbol of something which (she tells me) makes her happy.  I began to think about it in a different light.

Isn't it interesting that the deepest form of communication in our species is symbolic communication?  It is the least precise form of communication, to be sure, because its meaning depends both on the one talking and the one listening.  For example, when I see an American flag -- a symbol -- it carries deep meaning to me.  For many of you it does also, but the meaning is somewhat different.  Yet we refer to these meanings by the same symbol.  The communication is not complete in what I say when I show the flag;  it needs your experience to be complete communication.  To my wife, that ring was symbolic communication from me to her, and it was very precious.
That's symbolic communication.  It needs a symbol, like the engagement ring.  It needs a sender, but it is not complete without the experience of the receiver.  The deeper the experience on both sides, the more meaningful the communication.

Communion is symbolic communication as well. For some who do not see the possibility, the elements of communion are “only tokens.” But perhaps there is more to it than that.

Wine and bread

If we consider the Lord’s Supper to be the food (symbolically) of the church, we find some interesting things:

  • Bread is made of many grains of wheat, crushed together – a symbol of the unity of the church.
  • It is unleavened bread.  The usual reference is to equate leaven with sin.  But may I also point out that it is “hasty bread?”  Bread baked in haste has no time for yeast.  Thus we should be prepared at any time for our departure (“sandals on your feet.”)
  • With bread we feed the hungry; with the Bread of Life we feed those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

 So it is with the wine. Most of us see in it the blood of Christ, but we might also see it this way:

  • Wine was used both as anesthetic and antiseptic – symbolizing the relief of our pain and the cleansing of our wounds.
  • Wine, too, comes from many – grapes, in this.  But do you not see that if grapes are to be suitable for wine they must be crushed?  We become what we eat;  the proud heart must be crushed, broken hearted, to be of service to the Savior.
  • In our own time there is another example.  Some of you have given blood at a blood drive.  You know that such blood saves the lives of those in surgery or injury. 

Taken together they are also symbolic:

  • They are taken separately – just as Christ’s blood was separated from his body at the Cross.
  • In Communion Christ’s body is seen in thousands of separate pieces – yet He remains whole and undivided.
The bridge

Perhaps one symbol of Communion as a whole will help us: we can see Communion as a bridge:

  • One tower – the bread – is on our side of the “great gulf fixed.” We can see “his body” as one thing he certainly shared with us, for he is fully human.
  • But he is also fully divine – and thus the tower on God’s side of the gulf. The blood is his new covenant, and that is given from God.
  • And the main causeway of the bridge? Christ himself – the way, the truth, the life.

Covenant

Much ink has been used to discuss the concept of a covenant; whole schools of Biblical interpretation have been formed to support one method over another. It is not my purpose in this lesson to give a definitive answer as to who (if anyone) has it right. We shall confine ourselves to that which is needful. Here is Luke’s brief account of the institution of the Last Supper:

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people. And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. They were glad and agreed to give him money. So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd. Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it." They said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare it?" And He said to them, "When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. "And you shall say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"' "And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there." And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.

(Luk 22:1-20 NASB)

Providence

It is important to note the introduction of the passage. It is not an accident, nor is it a coincidence. It is the providence of Almighty God.

There is a curious parallel to this section. Saul has an experience as foretold by Samuel.[2] It is God’s way of telling Saul that he is indeed king; that Samuel is not just some crazy old man but the man of God. Thus convinced, Saul proceeds to take the kingship in hand.

God works like that. Here, the details of “finding” the upper room are laid out in advance, so that the disciples will know that the small things are in God’s control. They will need this; the next few days will be a horror to them.

It is a curious thing: many Christians will acknowledge God’s control over the large developments of history, but not the small things. But His eye is still on the sparrow; even in the ordinary things of life we detect his hand. Now sheltering, now disciplining, He is always there. If he controls the great, is he so limited that he cannot control the small?

The Passover as image

One way in which we see the providence of God is in this: he provides for us pictures – images – of that which is to come. The Passover itself is such an image. We see the sacrificial lamb – which was to be without defect. This is the image of the coming Christ, the sinless sacrifice. Those who accept that sacrifice – by painting blood on the lintels – are passed over by the angel of death. It foreshadows how the blood of Christ is our security against the angel of death; we are to live eternally.

Consider well the prophecy in the Bible. Is it not the case that, having seen the fulfillment in part at the first coming of Christ, that the rest will be fulfilled at his return?

Concept of Covenant

Christ here institutes a new covenant. The word is a “church word” for the most part; at one time it had a legal meaning as well. That usage has died out (it was used to restrict the future sale of homes by race), so we are left with the Biblical meaning.

First, rid your mind of the notion that a covenant is the same thing as a contract. It is not, though the word is often used for agreements between men. A contract is between equals (in theory). A contract requires the exchange of valuables; what valuable do you have that would place the Almighty in obligation to you?

Rather, it is a “take it or leave it” offer from Almighty God to us. There are four common elements which we will take as instructional:

  • Covenants carry with them some form of sign. For example, the state offers you license plates for you car – on the state’s terms, take it or leave it. When you take up their offer, you put the sign of that on your car in the form of the plates. What would otherwise remain unseen is now proclaimed.
  • God’s covenants (we shall look at historical examples) deal with the problem of sin and guilt. That’s because He loves us – but sin stands between us and our heavenly Father.
  • His covenants carry with them a present blessing. God knows we would “leave it” if there were only blessings in heaven. Therefore he provides us with blessings in this life.
  • His covenants also deal with the future. They look forward to a time when they will end, and a greater covenant will be made.
Examples

Noah

  • Sign: One of the most common of images in Christian children’s literature is a picture of Noah’s Ark. You usually see it on the waves or the mountain top, and often you see with it a rainbow. That’s the sign God gave to Noah in his covenant: the rainbow.
  • Sin: As Bill Cosby might have put it, He “drowned it right out.” It is a simple method; get rid of the sin by getting rid of the sinners.
  • Present blessing: Noah and his family were saved by being in the Ark.
  • Future blessing: no more floods like that one.

Abraham

  • Sign: God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, Sarai’s name to Sarah. Beyond that, God ordered that circumcision be implemented. (The implications of that are rather lengthy; we will slide over them.)
  • Sin: God tells Abraham to make a sacrifice – of his own son. It shows that Abraham truly keeps God first. It also sets the groundwork for Moses and the Levitical system of sacrifices.
  • Present blessing: At an age of 99, Abraham gets to worry about whether or not Medicare covers pregnancy – for Sarah gives birth to a son, Isaac.
  • Future blessing: God tells Abraham that his descendants will be incredibly numerous and that one of them (the Messiah) will bless all the nations of the earth.

 

Moses

  • Sign: The various feasts of the Levitical law, especially the feast of the Passover.
  • Sin: the system of sacrifices for sin and atonement.
  • Present blessing: God will call them his own people, take them out of slavery and by his mighty hand give them the inheritance of the land promised to Abraham.
  • Future blessing: the covenant would be kept forever – IF the Jews would be obedient.
The New Covenant

We may now understand a little more clearly what Christ did at the Last Supper. He proclaimed the covenant under which we live – the covenant of the church age

Sign

The sign of this covenant is given here: the Lord’s Supper. Like the others, it is a simple thing. It has two elements:

  • Bread – usually unleavened – symbolizes the body of Christ. In the early days of the church it was a common loaf; anyone could see that it fed the body of Christ on earth – His church.
  • Wine – in those days, white wine was rather difficult to produce. Most wine was red – the color of blood, which it symbolizes.

You confirm your acceptance of the covenant when you take communion; you also proclaim to all who might be watching that you are a Christian. It is a sign for you; it is a sign for the world.

Sin

Of all things most powerful, the sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary is the greatest. You can see its image in the Passover: the spotless, unblemished lamb slaughtered, portraying the Lamb of God to come.

It is the atonement, though, that makes this covenant unique. The covenant with Noah destroyed sin by water; Abraham appeased God with animal sacrifices; Moses brought forth God’s law in detail for those sacrifices – but this sacrifice actually atones for sin, cleansing us from it.

What makes this all the more powerful is this: Christ died for us willingly. His life was not taken; he gave it up.

Present blessings

Christians are often accused of thinking of “pie in the sky” as our blessings in return for a dull life here. It is not so.

  • We have within our souls the Holy Spirit. As the work of our days becomes more complex, the Holy Spirit guides us in the simple truth.
  • We have the power of prayer. No longer do we need a priest to mediate between us and the Father; the door is open. The light is on.
  • Indeed, on this earth we have the church, designed by Christ and bought with his blood, which is both comfort and guide.

Future blessing

  • Compare these blessings to those of the older covenants:
  • At the return of our Lord we will see the resurrection of the dead. Those in the ground will return and walk again.
  • When he returns, he will bring justice with him. Rewards for the faithful; final justice for the wicked.
  • Perhaps greatest of all is this: no more death. No more sin, no more death.

We are indeed the recipients of the greatest of covenants.

Preparing ourselves

So then, what shall we do if we are to prepare ourselves for such a great thing as the Lord’s Supper?

Self-examination

Self-examination is the main reason we like music during communion – it keeps our mind on the hymn and not our sins.

  • We should be aware that our suffering is meant to prompt self-examination. So don’t come to communion to complain – but to seek repentance.
  • Also, our self-examination should be real – not just hedging our bets. Anyone can confess generic sins.
  • Note, fishermen, that there is no lower size limit on sins. Christ wants to catch them all.
Reconciliation

Permit me the story of the death of Richard the Lionheart:

In 1199, in a dispute over treasure, he laid siege to a castle in Chaluz, France.  He was wounded in the shoulder by an arrow.  Gangrene set in, and he knew that death was at hand.  He arranged matters in accordance with the principles by which he had lived, dividing his belongings among friends and charity.  The archer who shot him was now a prisoner, and Richard pardoned him, and gave him a gift of money.
The thing that interests me most is this:  for seven years prior to his death, Richard had not been to confession (he was a Catholic, as were all Christians in Western Europe at that time) nor taken communion for that seven years.  Why?  Because he knew that at confession he would be obliged to admit his hatred for Philip, the King of France -- and would then be compelled by his faith to be reconciled to his mortal enemy.

Christ reconciled us to God by the Atonement; we too must be reconciled as brothers.

Proclamation

The Scripture is clear:

1Co 11:26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

You proclaim his death (and thus the Resurrection). But as those who share this meal, do we not also proclaim brotherhood? Permit me another story:

The year was 1866;  the place was Richmond, Virginia.  The citizens of the capitol of the defeated Confederacy were still trying to recover from the devastation of war.  Among many other problems, they were struggling with the question of the role and relationship of the newly freed slaves -- a struggle which is not yet done.

In a fashionable church in Richmond the minister was offering Communion.  In this particular house of worship Communion was offered somewhat differently than we serve it.  When the time came, the minister would stand at the front of the church, behind an altar rail.  Those wishing Communion would rise from their seats, a few at a time, come forward and kneel at the altar.  The minister would hand them Communion.  Usually those in the front came forward first, but it was not uncommon for some to remain longer than others, deep in meditation.  One rule was observed:  Communion could not be given to a solitary person -- at least two must be at the rail.  This was to preserve the spirit of Matthew 18:20.

In the middle of this procession, from the back of the sanctuary, a former slave stood up and strode forward.  The minister was taken aback.  This was a "white" church;  racial separation was the firm belief of virtually all the members.  This was also the Lord's Supper.  The minister hesitated.  The man was at the rail alone;  he was not obliged to serve Communion to a solitary worshiper.  What was he to do?  All eyes in the congregation were on him.

At this moment another worshiper rose from his seat.  He was an elderly man, with gray hair, but tall and erect in his bearing -- military, we would say.  He walked down the aisle and without a word knelt by the "man of color" (as the phrase is today) to take Communion.  His example decided the minister's action;  Communion was served to both men together.

The man? Robert E. Lee. Sometimes doing what’s right takes courage – and sometimes it takes even quiet, private courage to bring yourself to the Lord’s Supper, and there repent.

(The reader will note the extensive quotation from other lessons – just too much good material to miss.)

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