Is there any essential importance or even spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper either to a Christian or the church? Is it only a church ritual, or is it really a means of grace? The Lord Jesus Christ gave His church two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism signifies our spiritual union with God through Christ’s death and resurrection, that we might walk in the newness of life. The Lord’s Supper is the ordinance of communion with God by continuance in the grace that we received from Christ by faith. It also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist. But a preferable designation is “the Lord’s Supper” since that name separates it from all other meals. It is the supper of Christ with His bride, the church while here on earth.

Christ instituted it by giving us its menu—that is, the elements of the bread and the cup, with the former signifying His body and the latter His blood. It is the Lord’s supper, because the Lord commanded its observance (Matt. 24:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:14–20). He commanded that we eat and drink it in His remembrance.

The Lord’s Supper is important because it is:
  1. The Lord’s meal: It belongs to the Lord. Paul says that what he “received from the Lord” is precisely what he also delivered to us (1 Cor. 11:23). It is the Lord who instituted and commanded its observance by His bride, the church, until He comes. All Christians are individually invited to this meal by the Lord to benefit our souls as we learn to live on Christ in all our bodily senses.
  2. A communion meal: We are to be in communion with the triune God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We also commune with one another in the church. This communion/fellowship meal shows that all hostility and enmity between an infinitely holy God and totally depraved sinners has been removed and peace with God given. We are now His children and He is our Father. We are also brothers and sisters in the Lord as His bride.
  3. A thanksgiving meal: “And when he had given thanks, he broke it. . . . In the same way [of thanksgiving] also he took the cup, after supper” (1 Cor 11:24–25). For each of the elements, the bread and the cup, there is thanksgiving. We thank God for giving us His only Son to die for us. We thank the Lord Jesus for dying in our place. We thank Him for His righteousness to us. We thank God for pouring out His Spirit on us. The church is a thankful community for the salvation we have by grace.
  4. A church’s regular meal: This ordinance is something that we are to participate in regularly together as a local church. The context of Paul’s mentioning “as often as you drink it” implies that frequency is preferable to infrequency. It is not to be shared with nonbelievers, or privately, or even with our biological families or Christian friends. Rather, it is corporately celebrated where a local church assembly is involved. For the Bible says: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ. Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16–17, emphasis added).
  5. A memorial meal: “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is a statement the Lord repeated in commanding the observance of the supper. We eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of the Lord. That is to honor Him who loved us and died for us. It is a meal that helps us keep the person and the work of Christ at the heart of the church life and worship, even as we fix our eyes on Christ who is the author and the perfecter of our faith. It reminds us of the means of our salvation—Christ. It speaks to all our senses that Christ is our all in all, in our remembrance of Him.
  6. A covenantal meal: The Lord said that the cup is the new covenant in His blood. Here is a contrast with the old covenant, which established laws and ceremonies separating the Jews from the gentiles. It was faulty as it did not guarantee anything since the blood of bulls and goats could not atone for anyone’s sins and so even the Jews did not continue in it (Heb. 8:9). The new covenant predicted in Jeremiah 31:31–33 is a better covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:13). Jesus is the Great High Priest and the perfect sacrifice for our sins in the new covenant. The new covenant is based on faith in the shed blood of Christ to take away sin, for the blood of Christ is able to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  7. An eschatological meal: We read that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). This communion meal is meant to prepare us for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev.19:9). The Lord said, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29; see Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).
This communion meal is meant to prepare us for the marriage supper of the Lamb.
How Is the Lord’s Supper a Means of Grace to Believers?
  1. Christ is spiritually present. Christ is not present in a physical way, which is a teaching that contrasts with both the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation and the Lutheran teaching of consubstantiation. Although the bread and wine are not changed, Christ is physically present “in, with, and under” the elements in Lutheranism and “as” the elements in Roman Catholicism. The Reformed, biblical view is that in the same way that the elements are present to our outward physical senses as we see, touch, and taste them; so Christ Himself as represented by the elements is present to our spiritual senses.
  2. Christ is received by faith. Because Christ is only spiritually (but truly) present, only faith can receive Him and the benefits of His death. We must believe that the elements are not just food (the Corinthians believed them to be merely physical food) but that they represent the Savior. Whenever we exercise faith in obedience to Christ, we receive His blessings. The Lord’s Table is an especially helpful way to spiritually feed on Christ. The same language is used in John 6:53–58 (explained to be spiritual)—that is, by faith (see John 6:29, 35, 40, 47; see John 6:64, the language of coming to Christ equals faith in John 6:35, 37, 44–45, and the contrast between flesh and spirit in John 6:63). The physical action of eating is an act of appropriation (to take to be one’s own). Food benefits the body if it is eaten. Christ profits us only if He is appropriated by faith.
  3. The benefits of receiving Christ. “Let a person examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28). Self-examination is one indicator that a person received Christ (at conversion) and is continuing to walk with Him. At the Lord’s Table, the same Word—Jesus—is in symbol form. What are “the benefits that accrue from Christ’s death”? Justification, reconciliation, adoption, sanctification, redemption, and glorification. To know that we have received such benefits through Christ’s death is to strengthen our faith and increase our humility for we do not deserve anything. This should bring us joy, assurance, and zeal.

The risen Lord designs and institutes the habits and conduct of His body, the church, to remind us constantly of what is most important. At baptism, we are grafted into His body, initiated into His community, and welcomed into His family. At the Lord’s Table, we commune to remember the gospel and its work in us. This good news is better than the Passover, the old-covenant memorial meal for the nation of Israel to ceremonially remember their great deliverance from Egypt, so we in the new covenant have the Lord’s Supper as a ceremonial reminder of our own great redemption and exodus in Christ from sin and death to life, to paradise, and to the eternal kingdom of God where righteousness dwells.

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