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As referred to variously by different groups of Christians as the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table, the Breaking of Bread, and the Holy Communion, this is one of the two external practices that Jesus has prescribed for us Christians. (Some add ‘washing of feet’ – Jn.13:1-20 – also to this list. But since this has not been seen to have been practised in the Acts of the Apostles or elaborated further in the epistles in the New Testament addressed to the churches, most Christians believe that it was only something that Jesus did in order to teach the idea of servant leadership.) The initiation of the practice of the Lord’s Supper was made by Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed and arrested, and it is described in Lk.22:1-22 and taught later in 1Cor.11:23-34.
To understand the significance of this, we must look back to the night the children of Israel left Egypt after their years of slavery there. The tenth plague that God brought upon Egypt before they were willing to let Israel leave was the killing of the first born in all the families in Egypt. God preserved the Israelites from this calamity by preparing them through a solemn ceremony that later became a festival known as the Passover. Each family in Israel was to take and kill a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the two posts and lintel of the door of their house. When the Angel of Death went through the streets of Egypt, he would pass over the houses that had this blood on their door. Afterwards, the Israelites were to celebrate a Feast of the Passover on the same day every year.
The lamb of the Passover pointed to Jesus, God’s first-begotten Son, who would one day be killed for the sins of the whole world, and those who put their trust in Him would be spared from the judgment that was to come on the rest of the world. Jesus actually died on the Day of Passover in that year, and when He had supper with His disciples on the previous night, He was taking part in the Feast of the Passover.
Now when we take part in the Lord’s Supper, we remember the death of Jesus on our behalf and the new covenant that He brought out for us through that death. The bread represents the body of Jesus that was broken for us and the wine (or grape juice that some substitute for wine) stands for the blood He shed for us that ratified the new covenant He brought in. Every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper, it is an opportunity for us to remember what Jesus has done for us, to give Him thanks for it and to rededicate ourselves with repentance to walking in faith before Him.
It will be also good for us to think of the Body of Christ which is the universal church and see if our relationship with the other members of this body is right. This gives us an opportunity to decide to set things right at the earliest opportunity if the Lord reminds us of any existing tension in this area. Jesus told us to do this in connection with making an offering to God when we remember that we have to set things right with a brother whom we have wronged (Matt.5:21-26).
Some Christians tend to think of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament, as a religious ritual that imparts a certain blessing from God. There is no blessing from God if we take part in this as a mere ritual. The blessing comes when we remember what Jesus has done for us and then respond to it. There is no forgiveness of sins that anyone can get just by eating the bread and drinking the wine, as some people assume who give Communion to those who are facing death. Forgiveness comes only when someone repents from their sins and puts their trust in Jesus. It is also true that when someone who has no personal relationship with Jesus takes part in the Communion he does not receive any blessing.
On the other hand, there could be serious discipline from God if someone takes part in the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” (1Cor.11:27-30). This could range from taking part in a casual or careless manner without thankfully remembering the death of Jesus and responding to it, to taking part when continuing in deliberate sin without repentance. Therefore it would be right to ‘examine oneself’ honestly and sincerely before the Lord as we take part. If we find there are things that need to be attended to in our life, we can confess them to God, repent, and if it would take more time, make a decision to set things right as soon as possible, and then take part.
Some Christians seem to be taken up with the external form of breaking bread than with the transactions that go on between our heart and God when we take part. Some argue that it should be done every Sunday, quoting Acts 20:7. But remember, in the beginning days of the church, they used to break bread every day (Acts 2:46)! When Paul writes down instructions for the church in 1 Corinthians 11, he does not lay down any rule regarding the frequency of breaking bread but only about doing it in the right way. We should not miss the forest for the trees, as they say.
Some others point out that the way Jesus broke bread with His disciples was suitable for the Jewish culture of that time and that it might look ‘foreign’ to other cultures. Their focus now turns to adapting the procedure to be in line with the local cultures where it is to be practised now. Many times this only ends up in some confusion which is quite unnecessary. Christianity is very much linked to the Jews and Jewish culture in its origin and history, and instead of trying to eliminate the connection, giving appropriate explanations and pointing out the links may be more meaningful.
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