How Did the Lord’s Supper Come About?
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper the night before he went to the cross. Matthew 26:26-29 says: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”
In addition, Jesus calls his followers to “do this in remembrance of me” showing that it was intended to be done after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we see Christians, such as the church in Corinth, doing this very thing (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
What is the Meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
The Lord’s Supper is a Reminder
One of the functions of the ongoing practice and participation in the Lord’s Supper is to recall the event and significance of Christ’s sacrifice “for us.” “And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; eat it in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
The Lord’s Supper is a Symbol
The Lord’s Supper is also a symbol of the Christians commitment to Christ and to his body. It proclaims the Gospel message of Christ’s death and of his nourishing of the Christian life. As a repeated practice, it should remind the believer of these significant truths. In the same way, He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; drink it to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
The Lord’s Supper is a Statement of Faith
In the Lord’s Supper “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper is not a perpetual rite. It is a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the messianic banquet to come at the marriage feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), when our faith shall become sight. The Lord’s Supper therefore looks back to the past in remembrance, at the present in fellowship with other believers, and to the future when the promises shall be consummated. “For whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes back” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The Lord’s Supper is a Picture of the Unity of Believers
When Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper together, they give a clear sign of their unity with one another
. Paul instructs believers not to take the Lord’s Supper without “discerning the Body” (1 Corinthians 11:29), which I interpret as instruction to individual believers to make sure that they are doing all within their ability to maintain unity within the church (‘the Body’).
How is Christ Present in the Lord’s Supper?
When speaking of the Lord’s Supper, there have been different views about Christ’s relation to His Supper. The words “This is my body” are perhaps the four most disputed words in the Bible. It all depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.
With respect to Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper the debate is between those who argue that “is” means identity and those who assert that “is” means resemblance. Here are the different views put forth for the elements in the Lord’s Supper:
Transubstantiation – Roman Catholics teach this view, which asserts that the bread and wine actually become in their essence the body and blood of Christ. At the moment in the mass when the priest says, “this is my body,” the bread becomes the literal, physical body of Christ. For Roman Catholics, ‘is’ connotes identity, and so they understand the Lord’s Supper to be a physical re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ.
Consubstantiation – Marin Luther put forward this view and many in the Lutheran church still adhere to it. This view teaches that although the bread and wine do not actually become the literal body and blood, the physical body of Christ is literally present “in, with and under” the physical bread and wine. The analogy here is kind of like water in a sponge, the idea being that Christ’s body is somehow “contained” in the elements. This view arose from Luther’s perception of a requirement to take the “this is my body” statement, in some sense, literally.
Spiritual Presence, Symbolism – These are the views held by the rest of Protestant churches. The bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ. They give a visible sign of the fact of His true, though spiritual, presence.