The institution of the Lord’s Supper is recorded in the three synoptic gospels (Matt 26: 26-27; Lk 22: 19-20; Mk 14: 22-26).
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 96, “The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, His death is shewed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.”
Just as the Passover Feast signifies the Israelites’ deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Ex 12: 12-14), the Lord’s Supper signifies the deliverance of God’s people from the bondage of sin and condemnation. Through Christ Jesus, the true paschal Lamb, we as believers have found grace and salvation: “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (I Cor 5: 7).
The Lord’s Supper is sometimes known as “the Communion” – “a term which indicates at once our participating in the benefits of grace, Christ’s work, and our fellowship one with another as His children” (The Presbyterian Standards by Francis R Beattie). In the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper was commonly referred to as the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2: 42 cf v 46).
Our Saviour celebrated the paschal meal with His disciples on “the same night in which he was betrayed” (I Cor 11: 23b). “It was thus instituted by Christ to take the place in the New Testament of the passover in the Old. It is a sacramental ordinance to be observed in the church till the end” (ibid). Thus, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we remember the Lord’s atoning sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. When we partake of these emblems in faith, we receive special grace and blessing for our souls.
o Bread and wine
The two elements of the Lord’s Supper are the bread and wine: “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. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it” (Mk 14: 22-23).
The bread represents our Saviour’s body which was crucified – “broken” for us that He might atone for our sins. Paul reiterates this truth in his epistle to the Corinthians: “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you” (I Cor 11: 24b). Thus, the broken bread is an appropriate emblem to remind us of the sufferings and death of our Saviour at Calvary.
The wine, on the other hand, represents the shedding of Christ’s blood “for the remission of sins” (Matt 26: 28). When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said: “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many” (Mk 14: 24). Here, our Saviour was referring “to the old covenant which was ratified and confirmed by the blood of bulls, and which was called ‘the blood of the covenant’ Ex 24:8” (John Gill).
The new covenant was established with Christ’s own blood which was symbolised by the wine. “Now this is said to be ‘in the blood’ of Christ; that is, it is ratified, and all its blessings and promises are confirmed by his blood: hence his blood is called ‘the blood of the everlasting covenant’, Heb 13:20, pardon and righteousness, peace and reconciliation, and entrance into the holiest of all, all come through this blood, and are secured by the same; and to which the faith of the saints is directed in this ordinance, to observe, receive, and enjoy for themselves” (ibid).
o “This do in remembrance of Me”
Knowing that we are a forgetful people, the Lord has appointed this ordinance to remind us of His redeeming grace: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (I Cor 11: 24-25).
The observance of the Lord’s Supper by believers points to the Lord’s death (the past) as well as His second coming (the future). It is to continue till His return: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (I Cor 11: 26).
o “Let a man examine himself”
According to French Reformer John Calvin, the Lord’s Supper is not just a commemoration but also a spiritual exercise to be observed with reverential fear.
The Corinthians believers had abused the sacred feast and taken it carelessly. For this reason, the apostle Paul issued strong warnings against those who partook of the Lord’s Supper in an irreverent and profane manner (I Cor 11: 20-32). The believer who “eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (v 29). Consequently, “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (died)” (v 30).
God’s warnings through the apostle are very clear. Those who partake “unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (v 27). As believers, we are to examine ourselves before approaching the Lord’s Table: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (v 28). This explains the faithful reading of the Corinthian passage (I Cor 11: 23-32) by the minister each time he conducts the Lord’s Supper – lest we partake unworthily and face the judgment of God: “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (v 31).
We thank God for instituting the Lord’s Supper for our observance “till he come” (v 26). As we partake of the communion bread and wine, let us remember our Saviour Who loved us and “gave himself for us” (Tit 2: 14). Let us also examine ourselves that we may approach the Lord’s Table with reverential fear and a properly-prepared heart.