The Significance of the Lord’s Supper

The Significance of the Lord’s Supper


Text: 1 Corinthians 11


Today is Communion Sunday. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is something that we celebrate every month of the year. We see the importance of coming together as a community of faith to celebrate the Sacrament. However too often in this day and age we forget the real significance of the Lord’s Supper. So in order to attempt to overcome this would like to consider with you the significance of the Lord’s Supper on the communion Sunday. I intend to look at the significance from 4 areas: as a memorial observance, a symbolic observance, a continuing observance and a church observance. Then I hope to tie it altogether as we look at the Observance of the Lord’s Supper.


My prayer is that through the sermon that the Lord will give us a better understanding of the communion service and lead us into a more meaningful participation.


First of all, the Lord’s Supper should be a Memorial Observance. Beginning with verse 23 of 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul wrote as follows:


“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when he has given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of Me.’


“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, often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)


When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Table, he said, “this do in remembrance of me.”  Such a reminder hardly seems necessary – for us nor for the disciples. After all, they would be firsthand witnesses of those awful scenes leading up to and culminating in the crucifixion. How could they forget the agony of Christ in Gethsemane? The cruel treatment during his night of trial. His brutal scourging by the Roman soldiers? His journey to Golgotha under the weight of the cross? His wracking pain when the nails were driven through his hands and feet? Or his God-like conduct while hanging and dying on the cross?


Sorry to say, it would be all too possible even for his followers to forget. So preoccupied could they become with proclaiming the message of forgiveness, declaring the truth of the resurrection, and solving the problems in the churches they had founded that they might seldom reflect deeply upon that which they had witnessed in Gethsemane and at Golgotha.


And friends, we also need the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of what the Lord Jesus endured for us when he died to pay for our sin. It’s possible to become so busy in the work of the gospel, and so completely engrossed in contemplating the glory that awaits us, that we fail to reflect upon the awful price that was paid to make it all possible.


Remembering the Lord as we gather around this table fills our heart with gratitude. It brings to our minds those scenes of our Lord’s suffering portrayed in the gospels – the Saviour’s arrest in Gethsemane, the mocking, the scourging, the abuse at the trial, and the pain and the shame of his crucifixion. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is a touching memorial.


Second, the Lord’s Supper should be: a Symbolic Observance. The elements of the table of the Lord are symbols of what was involved in his sacrifice as the Lamb of God in providing our salvation.


The bread represents the body of Christ, which was broken for us. In 1 Peter 2, Peter had this to say about the Lord Jesus:


“He committed no sin, and no one ever heard a lie come from his lips. When he was insulted, he did not answer back with an insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but placed his hopes in God, the righteous judge. Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:22-24)         


Jesus, the sinless One, took our sins upon himself. Yes, he became our substitute, bearing our sins in his own body, which was broken for us. He died to provide forgiveness and life for a world of sinners. This is what we should remember when we partake of the bread as we gather around the table of the Lord.


The cup symbolizes the blood of the Lord Jesus, which was shed to pay for the sins of the world. In verse 24 of Mark 14, we are told that Jesus said at the Last Supper, “Then he took the cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them, and they all drank from it. Jesus said, ‘This is my blood which seals God’s covenant.” Therefore, in the communion service, as we hold the cup in our hands, we should thank God for the blood of Christ, which was shed to secure our redemption and to cleanse us from sin.


The bread and the cup are symbolic of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. They remind us of what he endured to provide salvation, pointing to that event upon which we base our hope for all eternity.


Some people claim that when the bread and wine are consecrated, they change into the actual body and blood of Christ. They object to our speaking of the bread and wine as symbols. To support their claim, they remind us that  Jesus said in reference to the bread and the cup, “This is my body”  and “This is my blood” He did not say, they argue, ‘This bread symbolizes my body’ or ‘This wine symbolizes my blood.’ We should remember, however, that the Lord Jesus on occasion used symbolic or figurative language. In John 15, for example, he referred to himself as “the vine”. I’m sure his disciples knew that he was speaking figuratively. They certainly did not look upon him as an actual vine! Rather, they recognized what he was saying to be symbolic. With Christ portrayed as a vine, and his followers as the branches, the truth of our union with and dependence upon him is taught in a forceful and unique manner.


Our Lord also used figurative language when he said, “I am the door” (John 10:7) and “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) Now, no one, in Jesus’ day or today, believes that Jesus was claiming to be an actual door made of wood or an actual piece of bread. He was speaking figuratively. And when he referred to the blood and the wine, he declared, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  We should understand that he was simply using figurative language here.


I should also like to point out a serious error in doctrine related to the false claim that the bread and the wine actually become the flesh and blood of Christ. Some who take this view go on to conclude that the Lord Jesus is crucified again every time the bread and the wine are partaken of. The Bible, however, makes it very clear that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was a once-and-for-all payment for sin. In the book of Romans, Paul said this about Christ,


“For in that he died, he died to sin once; but in that he lives, he lives to God.” (Romans 6:10)


Christ died only once. He arose from the grace only once. He ascended into heaven only once. He is now seated at the right hand of God, where he will remain until he raptures his saints, judges them, and returns to earth as its rightful king. He is in glory, exalted at the Father’s right hand and he’s there in his glorified physical body. He is spiritually present everywhere, but in his glorified body he lives in heaven. The idea, therefore, that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, that he is somehow crucified repeatedly, is completely foreign to the teaching of the Bible.


In addition to being a memorial and a symbolic observance, the Lord’s Supper should also be: A Continuing Observance.


The Lord Jesus himself established this ordinance. Referring to Christ, the gospel writer Luke told us,


“When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table with the apostles. He said to them, ‘I have wanted so much to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer! For I tell you, I will never eat it until it is given its full meaning in the Kingdom of God.’


“Then Jesus took a cup, gave thanks to God, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I will not drink this wine until the Kingdom of God comes.’


“Then he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.’ In the same way, he gave them the cup after the supper, saying, ‘This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you!’ (Luke 22:14-20)


Following the example of Christ, assemblies of believers from the earliest days of the church to the present time have observed the Lord’s Supper. We are told that the first company of believers, those 3,000 men and women converted on the Day of Pentecost, “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayer.’ (Acts 2:42) And that practice continued. In Acts 20, verse 7, we are told that “upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them, ready to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight.”


Finally, the Lord’s Supper should also be recognized as: A Church Observance. Communion should be observed in or under the supervision of the local church whenever possible. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a solemn matter. It’s rich in significance and awesome in what it portrays, so much so that carelessness in its practice among the Corinthian believers had resulted in illness and even death for some of them. Paul wrote,


“For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to themselves, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this caused many to become weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” (1 Cor. 11:29, 30)


We must therefore be careful to make the observance of the Lord’s Table a meaningful experience. We must issue warnings against entering it carelessly or irreverently. We must also realize that this can best be done under the supervision of the local church.


I don’t mean to say that the Lord’s Table can only be observed in a church. There are times when believers might be isolated from an organized body of believers because of distance or circumstances. I’m thinking of Christians who are confined to homes or hospital because of illness. These believers should not be deprived of the privilege of remembering our Lord’s death, though I believe they should be served the elements by a representative of the local church.


After looking at the four ways of observance let us now turn and look at the actual observance of the Lord’s Supper. In many churches today, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is simply tacked on to the end of a regular service. It is almost an afterthought. A few verses of Scripture are quickly read, a brief prayer is offered, and the elements are distributed. In this kind of atmosphere it is doubtful that anyone can give much serious thought to the significance of the occasion. As a result, many worshippers leave their churches holding the same grudges and nursing the same hatreds they had when they entered.


Not everyone, of course, takes such an attitude toward the observance of the Lord’s Table. In fact, some go to the opposite extreme. They are so conscious of their imperfections, and so frightened by Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11 about eating and drinking ‘unworthily’ that they either take communion with great fear or stay away from the service altogether.


To help avoid these two extremes, I would like to suggest 3 characteristics of a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper. A correct understanding of its significance will not keep us away from the communion table; rather, it will draw us to it and encourage us to participate in a conscientious and meaningful way.


When the Lord’s Supper is observed properly, there should be:


  1. Sincere Appreciation
  2. Self-examination
  3. Brotherly/sisterly consideration


The first characteristic of a proper observance of the Lord’s Table is: Sincere Appreciation. The very sight of the bread and the cup should fill our hearts with thanksgiving and praise to the Lord. Referring to the Lord Jesus, Luke told us,


“Then Jesus took a cup, gave thanks to God, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I will not drink this wine until the Kingdom  of God comes.’


“Then he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you.  (Luke 22:17-20)


Please notice that we are told in verse 17, Jesus ‘took a cup and gave thanks.  And in verse 19 we read that he ‘took bread  and gave thanks.’ When our Lord gave thanks, he was not asking the blessing at a dinner. He and his disciples had already finished the Passover meal. What our Lord prayed over was only some unleavened bread and a cup of wine. He may have been offering thanks for what the bread and the wine offered – the sacrifice  that would provide redemption for humankind. Regardless of the subject of our Saviour’s thanksgiving, however, there should be sincere appreciation and thanks in our hearts as we partake of the elements.


The second characteristic of a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper is: Self-Examination. By looking within our own hearts and lives, we should make sure that there is nothing unconfessed and uncorrected which might result in our partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily.


In 1 Corinthians 11:28 the apostle Paul, having indicated the sad consequences of eating and drinking ‘unworthily’ went on to say,


“But let a person examine themselves, and so let them eat of that bread and drink of that cup.”


The word ‘examine’ in that verse can mean ‘to test’. As we gather at the table of the Lord, we have the obligation to test our lives. A good way to this is to ask ourselves some probing questions about our actions, our motives, and our relationships.


First of all, in reference to our actions, we might raise such questions as these: Are we conducting ourselves like Christians at home, at work, and in every contact with others? In our language is becoming to a Christian? What about our habits? Are we wasting time? Are we watching the wrong kind of television programs? Are we reading books that feed our souls? Are we faithful in our spiritual obligations.


Then, in reference to our motives, we can test ourselves by asking questions like these: Why do we go to church? Why do we give our financial support to it? Why do we teach Sunday school? Are we doing what’s right for the right reasons? Or are we doing what is good to boost our own egos or to impress our peers? Our service for the Lord and what we do for others ought to be performed because we love the Lord supremely and our neighbours as ourselves.


Finally, in reference to our relationships with others, we should ask questions like these: Are we kind, tenderhearted and forgiving? Do we owe anyone an apology? Do we have wrongs to make right? Are we harboring ill will or an unforgiving spirit toward those who may have wronged us?


Yes, as we anticipate eating the bread which represents the body of Christ, and as we drink from the cup which represents his blood, we must be sensitive to our sins, our faults, and our failures. We should see them in light of the tremendous price Christ paid to secure our redemption. And with that awareness, we must confess our sins and determine with God’s help to forsake them. Doing that we claim that wonderful promise in 1 John 1:9 which says:


“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


 The third characteristic of a proper observance of the Lords’ Supper is Brotherly/Sisterly Consideration.


The apostle Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 10 said, ‘


“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:16, 17)


Some believer that Paul’s words in verse 17 “we are all partakers of that one bread” may reflect a practice in the early church. A sheet of unleavened bread was passed through the congregation. Each believers broke off a piece for himself. The smaller portion denoted the truth that Christ died for each individual. And the larger portion spoke of the truth that they all shared a common salvation and made up one body. Yes, as we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ at the table of the Lord, we should be conscious of our oneness with those who partake of the elements with us. Although we eat only an individual piece of bread, we should keep in mind that as believers we are all members of one body – the body of Christ.


One of the glories of the Christian faith is that we are all made spiritual equals through salvation. Rich and poor alike become the children of God, members of his family. The millionaire and the pauper, when placing their trust in Christ, both experience the same new birth, are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, and share the same hope. How glorious, therefore, the truth of our equality in Christ!


Remembering our Lord as we gather for communion, we should be very conscious of our oneness in the Lord with our fellow believers. We should see them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we do, there is brotherly/sisterly consideration, another characteristic of a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper.


To sum it all up, the communion service should be an edifying and strengthening experience, but this can only happen if we are completely sincere in our observance of it. We must enter into it with sincere appreciate, self-examination, and brotherly/sisterly consideration. If these elements are present when we assemble with fellow believers to remember the Lord’s death, it truly becomes a life-transforming commemoration of our Saviour’s love and sacrifice for us.