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.
of symbolic communication
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
we consider the Lord’s Supper to be the food (symbolically) of the church, we
find some interesting things:
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
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
- 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
- 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
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.
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)
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
There is a curious parallel to this section. Saul has an
experience as foretold by Samuel. 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
- His covenants also deal with the
future. They look forward to a time when they will end, and a greater
covenant will be made.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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 –
- 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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
So then, what shall we do if we are to prepare ourselves for such
a great thing as the Lord’s Supper?
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.
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
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.
The Scripture is clear:
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
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
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.
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.
reader will note the extensive quotation from other lessons – just too much
good material to miss.)