The Lord's Supper (an 8-part study)

The Lord's time with his apostles was coming to an end, the fulfillment of his purpose on earth was fast approaching, and he still had much to share with them. Their last evening together would be memorable. "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.' 'Where do you want us to prepare for it?' they asked. He replied, 'As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, "The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?" He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.' They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover." (Luke 22:7-12)

Many of us look back on our school days and rate history as one of the more boring subjects we had to study. If you happened to be one of those unfortunates, could I ask you to indulge for a short time in a history lesson about the Passover? I think you'll be blessed since the institution of the Lord's Supper takes place within the context of a Passover meal.

Israel's deliverance from bondage in Egypt provides the backdrop against which the Lord's Supper was instituted: "While they were eating [the Passover meal], 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. When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." (Matthew 26:26-30)

According to the apostle Paul, the Sunday service in the first century church in Corinth was chaotic. Before we see why, let's be reminded about the origin of this particular church of God. This community came into existence through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.' So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God." Through his ministry "many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised." (See Acts 18:8-11) Though they were God's people, this was a church awash with problems; their carnal behaviour displayed itself when the saints assembled on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord's Supper. What should have been an occasion for holy communion, in every sense of that word, was anything but holy. One of the problems had to do with their previous practice of idolatry.

The behaviour of the believers in Corinth when they gathered on Sunday to worship the Lord was deplorable. Their "love feast" was anything but loving and their holy communion was anything but holy – so much so that Paul said, "your meetings do more harm than good." (1 Corinthians 11:17) There was division among the believers, the "love feast" (a shared meal) was not shared with everyone and, as a result, those who were poor were neglected. To make things worse, there were some who even got drunk! And these were the very people who had come to remember the most loving act the world had ever witnessed – the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for sinners.

"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53)

How are we to understand these words of Jesus? Controversy has surrounded our Lord's words: some hold that the words of Jesus are to be understood literally, while others hold that his words are to be understood figuratively.

See John 6:30-52.

The crowd asks Jesus, "What miraculous sign will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" (John 6:30-31) (Apparently the previous day's miracle of feeding 5,000 had not convinced them!) What they are saying is this: God met the needs of our forefathers; what are you going to do for us? Jesus picks up on their words and says, "It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he is come down from heaven and gives life to the world." (vs 32-33) Jesus, unknown to them, is moving the conversation in a particular direction that will allow him teach about his atoning death. Jesus personalises his comments about the bread of life. "For the bread of heaven is he who gives life to the world." This bread imparts life. "'Sir,' they said, 'from now on give us this bread. '" (vs 34) Did they really want what Jesus had to offer? No. They were misunderstanding Jesus and thinking he was offering to meet their physical needs, permanently. That's why they said, "from now on give us this bread."

See John 6:53-58

"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (John 6:52) Thinking Jesus was speaking literally, the crowd's question is natural. (Remember that they were already confused by Jesus' words that he came down from heaven when in fact they knew he came from Nazareth.) The theme of Jesus' teaching throughout this dialogue is the giving of himself as the perfect sacrifice resulting in eternal life for all who believe.