The Westminster Confession presents the two sacraments of the church – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – under the heading of “The Means of Grace”. The sacraments do not impart salvation but are useful “as visual aids to assist human minds to know what is taught in the Holy Scriptures, and as a public testimony to the outside world of the meaning of faith in Jesus Christ” (Theology for Every Christian – Timothy Tow and Jeffrey Khoo). According to John Calvin, “the sacraments are mirrors in which we may contemplate the riches of grace which God imparts to us.”
As we mark the start of Passion Week, it is appropriate for us to consider the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The Gospel of Mark records an account of the Lord’s Supper which our Saviour celebrated with His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion: “And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. 25 Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. 26 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Mk 14: 22-26).
To help us understand the background and meaning of the Lord’s Supper, let us first look into the historical origin of the ordinance.
o The Feast of Unleavened Bread/The Feast of the Passover
One of the three feasts which God commanded the Jews to keep was “the feast of unleavened bread” (Deut 16: 16) – to commemorate God’s deliverance of the Jews out of Egyptian bondage: “And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever” (Ex 12: 17). In the New Testament, this feast is called “the feast of the passover” (Matt 26: 2; Mk 14: 1; Lk 2: 41; Jn 14: 1).
The feast “was kept in remembrance of the Lord’s passing over the houses of the Israelites (Ex 12: 13) when the first born of all the Egyptians were destroyed. It is called also the ‘feast of unleavened bread’ (Ex 23: 15; Mk 14: 1; Acts 12: 3), because during its celebration no leavened bread was to be eaten or even kept in the household (Ex 12: 15). The word afterwards came to denote the lamb that was slain at the feast (Mk 14: 12-14; I Cor 5: 7)” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary).
On the very night of God’s judgment upon “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt” (Ex 12: 12), He gave clear instructions to His servant Moses concerning the preparation, killing and eating of the paschal lamb (vv 3-11). To protect the first-born of the Jews from the destroying Angel, God’s people were commanded to “take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it” (v 7).
The blood “on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses” of the Israelites would be a token to the destroying Angel not to execute judgment on the inhabitants but to “pass over” them: “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. 14 And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever” (vv 12-14). This ordinance given by God through Moses to the Israelites is appropriately called “the Lord’s Passover”.
o Christ the Passover Lamb
Just as the blood of the paschal lamb on the door posts of the Jews’ houses ensured the safety of the occupants, the blood of Christ, the unblemished Lamb of God, “is the propitiation (covering) for our sins (I Jn 1: 2). This truth is reiterated in Hebrews 9: 22: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” The blood of Christ delivers us from God’s wrath and eternal damnation: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom 8: 1).
Similarly, as the Passover Feast signifies the Israelites’ deliverance from Egyptian bondage, the Lord’s Supper signifies the deliverance of God’s people from the bondage of sin and condemnation. Through Christ Jesus, the true pascal Lamb, we as believers have found grace and salvation: “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (I Cor 5: 7).
We thank God for the precious gift of Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6: 23). As the sacrificial Lamb, Christ came to give His life as a ransom for our souls (Jn 1: 29; I Pet 1: 19). May we remember the atoning work of our Saviour with a heart of faith and gratitude.
(… to be continued on 28th April 2019).