What is the significance of the Lord's Supper?
Celebrating the Lord's Supper is deeply significant and full of meaning. First held when Jesus kept the Passover feast with His disciples on the evening before He was betrayed, the Lord's Supper, or Christian Communion, looks back to the death of our Lord and ahead to His victory over death at the resurreciton, as well as His coming again to earth at the end of the age.
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Among the yearly feasts commanded by God to the Jewish nation, the Passover was the most important. This feast was a time of remembering the freeing of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt, brought about by a terrible plague sent from God on the Egyptians. Following nine other plagues God sent his death angel to kill all the firstborn of the Egyptians. The firstborn of the Jews (Israelites) were saved because Moses (through God) instructed them to kill a lamb for the Passover and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Then death "passed over" the houses that had the blood (Exodus 12). To keep this miraculous and historical event always in their memories, the Jews were commanded by God to celebrate the Passover every year.
The Passover celebration that Jesus kept with His disciples is referred to as the Last Supper. The apostle Paul describes it like this: "the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). All four Gospel writers also give us the details of this all-important event (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:7-22; John 13:21-30). After they had finished eating, Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn and made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, where His disloyal disciple Judas was waiting to betray Him into the hands of His enemies (Matthew 26:30). On the following day Jesus underwent trials and suffering, after which He was crucified.
Not found in the gospels, but emphasized by the Apostle Paul, is a warning about eating the Communion elements (bread and wine) in an unworthy manner. "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Some examples of eating and drinking unworthily are lack of appreciation for the depth of suffering Jesus endured to save us, or being unwilling to confess sins, or to look upon the Lord's Supper as only a rite or ritual. In order not to eat unworthily, Paul tells us to examine ourselves prior to coming to the table.
Paul also reminds us that there is a time limit on this ceremony. He says, ". . . you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). From that first Lord's Supper in the upper room until He returns to earth, we are to repeatedly memorialize His death by means of the humble symbols of bread and wine, rather than by stately memorials of marble or gold.
Fittingly, Jesus broke the bread before He gave it to the disciples. This brokenness of the bread foreshadowed the brokenness of His body due to His flogging and cruel nailing to the cross. King David, in Psalm 22, and the prophet Isaiah (chapter 53) had both prophesied of the great physical and mental suffering that He would endure. And the poured-out wine which Jesus and His friends drank that night was a fitting symbol of the blood that would be shed the following day. As the Jews were to choose a perfect lamb for the Passover meal (and their means of redemption) so Jesus, the perfect Son of God—"the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," as John the Baptist called Him (John 1:29)—became the means of sinners' redemption. In doing so, He fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, including Genesis 3:15. And since this was to be a feast of remembrance, it was to be carried out into future generations.
Finally, Jesus speaks of a New Covenant (Luke 22:20). The sacrifice of a lamb, required by the Old Covenant, was terminated, having fulfilled its purpose (Hebrews 8:8-13.) The one-time sacrifice of Christ, God's Passover Lamb, established a New Covenant. This new covenant, in which we receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Christ's shed blood and broken body, is celebrated as we remember Him in the Lord's Supper.
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