The Lord's Table, Communion and the Eucharist
This “sacrament” / “ritual” / “ordinance” is practiced in numerous ways by varying denominations and congregations throughout the Body of Christ. The New Testament teachings on this subject deal very little with the “practice”, and instead concentrate on the motive / purpose / principle of the celebration.
The End of Passover
The most complete teaching on the subject of “the communion” is from 1 Cor. 11:23–30. However, it is first demonstrated in the 4 Gospels, where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Table as a celebration to supersede the Passover.
The Passover, of course, was a festival of Israel that celebrated their deliverance from Egypt. However, it was not only the bondage of Egypt that God was teaching Israel about—it was the bondage of sin. Passover looked forward to a time when the “true lamb / the Messiah” would be slain to release mankind from sin and death.
Notice these “lessons” from Passover (Exodus 12):
1. The ritual, the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb was a lesson in mankind’s need for innocent blood to be shed for their sin. This ritual was very precise and was to be followed with the greatest of attention. Only “perfect fulfillment” would release them from the fear of death.
2. Only the “Blood of the Lamb” would protect them from death. Their own personal sacrifice, goodness, commitment, was not sufficient. Everyone needed a sacrifice—blood.
3. Passover was to be repeated year after year. The lamb (animal) that was offered was not sufficient to release man from death—something “better” was needed.
4. The meal was highly structured and filled with meaning. The children were to be taught the significance of every item of food, and the actual process and meaning of the meal. This was to show them that the “Lamb” was to be taken (eaten) individually for the “redemption" of each person. Everyone had to identify themselves with the need for the Lamb, and its death in their place.
The significance of this is seen in Luke 22:14–15.
14. When the hour came, He reclined at the table and the apostles with Him.
15. Then He said to them, "I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
The impact of these words is significant. Jesus had been with the disciples for two other Passovers, and Jesus, himself, had celebrated 32 Passovers, in his humanity. YET, this is the one he was looking for. Why? This is the cry of the heart of God down through time—not just from the time of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, but from the “fall of Adam”. The animal sacrifices were good to show mankind the need for redemption, but now, God would satisfy that need forever with the offering of His Son.
Hebrews 9:26 Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
1 Peter 1:18–20 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things, like silver or gold,
19. but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
20. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the times for you
John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
1 Corinthians 5:7 - …For Christ, our Passover has been sacrificed.
I present this material to lay the foundation for the fact that Passover is “over”! The ritual, the meal, the details, the repetition—all of it is finished. At the end of the “meal”, Jesus did something entirely new. It was not a part of the Passover, it was different. He instituted “the Eucharist."
Eucharist is a Greek word that means “thanks / thanksgiving”. It has been used through the Church Age (especially by the “liturgical” congregations) to refer to this celebration of the Bread and the Wine. The word comes directly from Paul’s use: 1 Corinthians 11:24“When He had given thanks…”. This is the verb form, "eucharisteo."
The Passover meal was concluded, and Jesus took the remaining bread and the final cup of wine (which, by tradition, had come to be referred to as Elijah’s Cup), and used them to institute this new ordinance. No longer would there be a necessity for the shedding of blood, the lamb, the bitter herbs, the intricate ritual—Jesus was the fulfillment of all that these represented. His death was “the sacrifice” that would redeem mankind from the bondage of sin!
In Remembrance of Me…
Notice the repetition of the phrase, “…in remembrance of me” in 1 Corinthians 11:23–25:
23. For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: on the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread,
24. gave thanks, broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me."
25. In the same way, He also took the cup, after supper, and said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
Passover was a solemn occasion. They killed a lamb—in the doorway of their own house. They spread its blood on the doorposts. They roasted and ate the lamb with bitter herbs. They ate hastily, leaving nothing, dressed to travel. And, they waited for the “passing over of the Lord” to deliver them from death. This is the way God commanded the people of Israel to practice this festival. (Exodus 12:1–28; 43–51).
In direct contrast to the Passover, Jesus wanted the Church to “remember what has been done”. The word used for “remember” means to bring something from the past into the present so as to celebrate it—make it as real today as when it happened. It is a word that implies a purposeful and deliberate recalling of the event / person. As they ate the bread and drank the wine, they were to “make themselves draw from the past” the memory and meaning of the sacrifice and death of Jesus, their Savior / Messiah.
This action of remembrance also, by necessity, implies the absence of the one remembered. Jesus, himself, would not be bodily present with them. His presence would be in the remembrance that they had within themselves. The broken bread and the wine would be “emblems” to stimulate their memory. This word “remember” is related to the Greek word that is also used to refer to a memorial or tomb. Just as a stone, a plaque, or a tomb may be used to “commemorate” someone, these emblems would be the physical representation of Jesus’ redeeming work for them (and us).
The Bread and the Wine
Notice, also, in these verses that the emphasis is not upon His presence (His physical body), but upon the work that He was accomplishing:
1. My body broken for you… (1 Cor 11:24)
2. My blood shed for you… (Luke 22:20)
3. The “new covenant” in my blood… (1 Cor 11:25)
4. You “show forth” (proclaim) the Lord’s death… (1 Cor 11:26)
5. Until I come [again]… (1 Cor 11:26)
The remembrance/celebration was about what He had done for them—He suffered; He died; He arose; and He promised He would return. There is, of course, a solemnity to this occasion, but it is not about death only. He is risen! And, He is returning! The work is finished. He paid an awesome price. But, the “indescribable gift” of God’s grace proclaims the forgiveness of sin and the hope of life with Him. The bread is broken—not the body. The wine is consumed—not the blood.
In the verses that follow these points are well established:
1 Cor 11:26 – For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup…
1 Cor 11:27 - Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord…
1 Cor 11:28 - …in this way he should eat of the bread and drink of the cup…
Here we see that Paul repeatedly refers to the “bread” and the “wine”. It is not His Body that is broken, nor His Blood that is shed—that was done at Calvary! But, the purpose of the elements is not just to remind us of Him. We are called upon to “celebrate in remembrance” WHAT He did.
More Than Bread and Wine
Now, having said all that, it is not to be taken lightly. These “elements” are more than they appear to be. IF we are participating in the ordinance in a proper manner, then the bread and wine become more than bread and wine. A simple (though inadequate) illustration will serve us here.
In your pocket, purse, or billfold you have some paper made of threads and fibers of cotton and other elements. It is printed predominantly with black and green inks. And it has pictures, numbers, and letters printed on it. But, is it “just” paper? I think not. Depending on the order of the numbers printed on it, you hold it as quite valuable—some pieces more so than others. What has made it special? Is it only what is printed there? No! It has been “endowed” with a certain value that cannot be changed. It may be dirty or torn—for it is only paper. But, the value never changes: It is $20 or $50; $1 or $100.
In like manner, the bread and wine we are to solemnly receive has been endowed with a special value. Not because of how it was made, or who made it. It receives value, because of the way we receive it. Jesus took real bread—the same bread they had eaten at that meal and every one before it. It was just common bread. It was in His blessing that it received a “new meaning / value”. So also, the common wine they had consumed so many times before was suddenly endowed with meaning. He blessed it and “impressed” upon it a new value—the Blood of the New Covenant. These simple, common elements became something more.
Someone entering from outside would have seen nothing different. It was bread and wine—nothing special. But, to the disciples it was different. “This bread” and “this wine” had become a memorial—a celebration of what Jesus had done. I am certain the disciples didn’t see the reality of this that night, but after Pentecost, suddenly it all made sense.
When they gathered, they would celebrate His death, resurrection, and promise of return. Just as Jesus had done, and instructed them, they took the bread and the wine and blessed them—giving thanks (eucharisteo) for what God provided in Jesus Christ. They would reflect upon the meaning and value of His suffering and death as their substitute. They would rejoice at the provision of His abundant grace in forgiveness, restoration, healing, and deliverance. They would celebrate the promise of His soon return, and the consummation of all things. And, they would be “encouraged”!
Paul’s words to the Corinthian Church reflect this very attitude. It is our individual responsibility to “endow” the bread and the wine with the true value Jesus intended it to have. To treat them casually—lightly—carelessly is to partake unworthily. If we treat them in such a manner, we eat and drink judgment unto ourselves: we are not receiving the “life” from the value of the elements that we need. There is healing, forgiveness, restoration and deliverance in these elements—when properly received. But, it is not some “automatic” or “magical” blessing. These blessings are a result of our “remembrance / celebration” of His saving grace.
His Presence With Us
It is understood by some that the bread and wine are the way that He is present at the table with us. But, again, in reading the passages in 1 Cor 11:23–30, it is clear that the bread and wine are taken “in the remembrance” of Him. It is our responsibility to bring the reality of His presence to our mind. Jesus is always present with us—that is the promise he made to the disciples, to the church, and to the individual believer.
Matthew 28:20b - …And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Hebrews 13:5b - for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] [Amplified]
Matthew 18:20 - For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them."
Jesus has promised His constant presence. The passage from Hebrews reflects the emphasis of the Greek “triple negative” construction. That’s His promise! Is Jesus present at the “Table” when we partake of the bread and wine? Absolutely! That’s the very reason we take the elements—to remind us of His forever presence, and of the forever power of His saving work.