Lord’s Supper. The words which thus describe the great central act of the worship of the Christian Church occur but in a single passage of the New Testament—1 Cor. 11:20.
1. Its institution.—It was instituted on that night when Jesus and his disciples met together to eat the passover, Matt. 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13 (on Thursday evening, April 6, a.d. 30). It was probably instituted at the third cup (the cup of blessing) of the passover [see on Passover], Jesus taking one of the unleavened cakes used at that feast and breaking it and giving it to his disciples with the cup. The narratives of the Gospels show how strongly the disciples were impressed with the words which had given a new meaning to the old familiar acts. They had looked on the bread and the wine as memorials of the deliverance from Egypt. They were now told to partake of them “in remembrance” of their Master and Lord. The words “This is my body” gave to the unleavened bread a new character. They had been prepared for language that would otherwise have been so startling, by the teaching of John, ch. 6:32-58, and they were thus taught to see in the bread that was broken the witness of the closest possible union and incorporation with their Lord. The cup, which was “the new testament in his blood,” would remind them, in like manner, of the wonderful prophecy in which that new covenant had been foretold. Jer. 31:31-34. “Gradually and progressively he had prepared the minds of his disciples to realize the idea of his death as a sacrifice. He now gathers up all previous announcements in the institution of this sacrament.”—Cambridge Bible. The festival had been annual. No rule was given as to the time and frequency of the new feast that thus supervened on the old, but the command “Do this as oft as ye drink it,” 1 Cor. 11:25, suggested the more continual recurrence of that which was to be their memorial of one whom they would wish never to forget. Luke, in the Acts, describes the baptized members of the Church as continuing steadfast in or to the teaching of the apostles, in fellowship with them and with each other, and in breaking of bread and in prayers. Acts 2:42. We can scarcely doubt that this implies that the chief actual meal of each day was one in which they met as brothers, and which was either preceded or followed by the more solemn commemorative acts of the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. It will be convenient to anticipate the language and the thoughts of a somewhat later date, and to say that, apparently, they thus united every day the Agapè or feast of love with the celebration of the Eucharist. At some time, before or after the meal of which they partook as such, the bread and the wine would be given with some special form of words or acts, to indicate its character. New converts would need some explanation of the meaning and origin of the observance. What would be so fitting and so much in harmony with the precedents of the paschal feast as the narrative of what had passed on the night of its institution? 1 Cor. 11:23-27.
2. Its significance.—The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of the leading truths of the gospel: (1) Salvation, like this bread, is the gift of God’s love. (2) We are reminded of the life of Christ—all he was and did and said. (3) We are reminded, as by the passover, of the grievous bondage of sin from which Christ redeems us. (4) It holds up the atonement, the body of Christ broken, his blood shed, for us. (5) In Christ alone is forgiveness and salvation from sin, the first need of the soul. (6) Christ is the food of the soul. (7) We must partake by faith, or it will be of no avail. (8) We are taught to distribute to one another the spiritual blessings God gives us. (9) By this meal our daily bread is sanctified. (10) The most intimate communion with God in Christ. (11) Communion with one another. (12) It is a feast of joy. “Nothing less than the actual joy of heaven is above it.” (13) It is a prophecy of Christ’s second coming, of the perfect triumph of his kingdom. (14) It is holding up before the world the cross of Christ; not a selfish gathering of a few saints, but a proclamation of the Saviour for all. Why did Christ ordain bread to be used in the Lord’s Supper, and not a lamb? Canon Walsham How replies, “Because the types and shadows were to cease when the real Sacrifice was come. There was to be no more shedding of blood when once his all-prevailing blood was shed. There must be nothing which might cast a doubt upon the all-sufficiency of that.” (Then, the Lamb being sacrificed once for all, what is needed is to teach the world that Christ is now the bread of life. Perhaps also it was because bread was more easily provided, and fitted thus more easily to be a part of a universal ordinance.—Ed.)
3. Was it a permanent ordinance?—“‘Do this in remembrance of me’ points to a permanent institution. The command is therefore binding on all who believe in Christ; and disobedience to it is sin, for the unbelief that keeps men away is one of the worst of sins.”—Prof. Riddle. “The subsequent practice of the apostles, Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, and still more the fact that directions for the Lord’s Supper were made a matter of special revelation to Paul, 1 Cor. 11:23, seem to make it clear that Christ intended the ordinance for a perpetual one, and that his apostles so understood it.”—Abbott.
4. Method of observance.—“The original supper was taken in a private house, an upper chamber, at night, around a table, reclining, women excluded, only the ordained apostles admitted. None of these conditions are maintained today by any Christian sect.” But it must be kept with the same spirit and purpose now as then.