Jesus Christ commanded two practices that should be part of the ongoing life-blood of His church, baptism and the Lord's Supper (or communion). These practices are often called "ordinances" (or sacraments for those who prefer that term). Jesus didn't simply establish these ordinances as mechanical motions to be observed, however. Instead, these sacraments help keep the gospel front-and-center in the life of a church.
In this post, I'll highlight foundational beliefs about the Lord's Supper—also called the Eucharist and communion. (A number of secondary things will be left unsaid—we'll see what comes up in the comments and leave that for potential future posts!) Click here to see a recent post where I looked more closely at baptism.
So let's dig in. What things should evangelical Christians "stack hands on" regarding the Lord's Supper? Here are four biblical and theological affirmations about the Lord's Supper that should lay the groundwork for any further discussion.
The Lord's Supper is an Opportunity to Look Back.
By this I mean the Lord's Supper is an opportunity to reflect on this historical reality of Christ's death and everything that means for us. This dimension of the Lord's Supper is highlighted in Luke 22:19 at Jesus' last supper, where he commands his disciples to reflect on his his body broken for us, "in remembrance of me [i.e., Jesus]." Or again in 1 Corinthians 11:26 we read the Apostle Paul saying that "whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (bold emphasis added).
In other words, the Lord's Supper is a chance to remember Christ's death and it's implications. I want to be quick to note, however, that this act of remembering isn't simply some cognitive exercise. Biblical remembrance has a much fuller meaning: “To recall in biblical thought means to transport an action which is buried in the past in such a way that its original potency and vitality are not lost, but carried over into the present” (Ralph Martin, Worship in the Early Church, p. 126).
The Lord's Supper is an Opportunity to Look Ahead.
The Lord's Supper also carries a dimension of anticipation, where we look forward in time with hope—to the day when Christ returns and fully restores us and His creation. As we see in 1 Corinthians 11:26, "whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (bold emphasis added). Observing the Lord's Supper should reflect an awareness that Christ is coming back, and bring a sense of joy and hope as we look ahead to that day.
The Lord's Supper is an Opportunity to Look Around.
In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 we see that the Lord's Supper includes a theological statement about the unity of the church—sharing in the "one loaf" demonstrates the unity of the church, and partaking of the bread is a participation in the body of Christ. We should also remember that 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (where we receive clear teaching from Paul on the Lord's Supper) is set within the context of division, and Paul trying to correct this issue.
The Lord's Supper, then, is an opportunity for us both to look around to those beside us as we observe this ordinance. It is an opportunity to appreciate the unity of the church and reflect on how we can increasingly pursue that unity—first within our particular local church, and then outward to appropriate unity with other Christian churches
The Lord's Supper is an Opportunity to Look Within.
The Lord's Supper also contains a dimension of introspection and repentance. We see this in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, where Paul warns against partaking of the Lord's Supper in an "unworthy manner." Taking the Lord's Supper means we must be pursuing the unity of the church and reconciling broken relationships, as the context of 1 Corinthians 11 indicates. But I also suggest there's a broader application here, to things besides just division and interpersonal relationships. Taking the Lord's Supper in a worthy way means we address anything in our lives that is inconsistent with or rebelling against the saving work of Christ—and its implications—taking shape in our lives individually and as the larger church. The Lord's Supper provides a rhythm that brings this opportunity for introspection and repentance in front of us, and allows us to hit the "refresh button" on our lives—freshly appreciating and living in light of the gospel and what it means for us.
In conclusion, then, the Lord's Supper is another way to keep the gospel front-and-center in the life of the local church.
The Lord’s Supper highlights truths that are at the core of the gospel and offers a rhythmic observance that encourages us to reflect on these truths repeatedly and consider their continuing implications for our lives. These truths include at least the following:
How would you communicate the importance and meaningfulness of the Lord's Supper to someone if you were asked? What questions about the Lord's Supper does this post bring up?
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