The Lord’s Supper: Introduction and the Synoptic Accounts

I was typing away on this series on moral and positive law and figured I needed to say something more specific about the Lord’s Supper. After all, if there’s any positive command that can be defended, surely it’s the Lord’s Supper. I mean, Jesus told us to have a weekly ceremony on each Sunday to eat a crumb of unleavened bread and drink a sip of grape juice, didn’t he?

So anyway, the post got just way out of hand. I mean as I got into the scriptures, it just got longer and longer … and now it’s its own series.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the communion. I probably enjoy writing the occasional communion meditation as much as anything I do here.

So even though I don’t toe the traditional line, don’t think I take the Lord’s Supper lightly. Indeed, to me, it’s a much bigger deal than for most people in the Churches of Christ. It’s not mere obedience; it’s passion. There’s something ineffable, something mysterious, something divine about the Eucharist — something that we miss by relegating it to a mere “ordinance” or “symbol.” Indeed, I cringe when we announce at the beginning of this special moment: “We’ve been commanded to …” No, it’s much, much more than that.

The Synoptic Gospel accounts

(Mat 26:26-29)  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.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 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.”

(Mark 14:22-25)  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

(Luke 22:15-20)  And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ commands are to the apostles regarding the meal being taken at that moment. There’s no indication that he is commanding something to be done in future meals except in Luke 22:19: “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Do” is present imperative, speaking of future, ongoing action.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at a meal on a Thursday night. He says nothing of how frequently to do “this,” and it’s less than clear whether “this” is just the bread and wine or a meal enjoyed with Jesus. He certainly doesn’t say, “Do this weekly on Sundays.”

And there’s this mysterious saying: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” But Jesus would have had to live on earth another year before taking the Passover again. It didn’t happen.

Or he could be referring to taking communion with the apostles in the future, but there’s no Eucharist recorded after the resurrection and before the Ascension. There are some meals, where Jesus ate with apostles, but none is quite like what we call the Lord’s Supper. Most nearly Eucharistic is Jesus’ visitation on the road to Emmaus —

(Luke 24:30)  When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

This is also in Luke and took place on the first day of the week. It seems very likely that Luke intends us to take this as fulfillment of 22:19 — but there’s no mention of wine. It’s a meal, and as was typical of a First Century meal, bread was served. This is evidently “this Passover” that Jesus referred to.

In short, although it’s obvious that Jesus’ placed special emphasis on the bread and the wine and clearly expected his disciples to continue to eat and drink in his memory, Jesus seems to have had something in mind other than an command to eat bread and drink Welch’s on each Sunday morning (Sunday night if Providentially hindered).

Advertisements

26 Responses

  1. I love that expression “providentially hindered”. Why would God “providentially” hinder someone from obeying a command?

  2. There are some who will probably give me a hard time about this, but I allow my unbaptized son–who’s almost 11–to take communion with us.

    Matthew has autism, and I decided several years ago that I’d rather allow him to eat the bread and drink the grape juice rather than have a fight with him every single week about why Mom and Dad can have it and he can’t. Because of the way his brain is wired, there is just no way he’s going to “get” that others can have it and he can’t. Not only that, I want his association with church services to be good ones, not a place where Mom and Dad always argued with him and told him to, “Be quiet!”

    What I do instead is tell him that communion is one way that we tell God “thank you”. He’s not going to understand all the theology behind communion (heck, *I* don’t understand all the theology behind communion!). So I figured the best way to explain “Do this in rememberance of me” was to say that we thank God for Jesus’ body and Jesus’ blood.

    Also, since he kept wanting to put an envelope in the offering plate (because he saw everyone else do it), I decided to use it as a teaching tool. Thus, he gets a dollar every week; we put it in the envelope, he writes his name on it, and we put it in the offering plate.

    We get a quarterly statement from church about our contributions for tax purposes. The first statement we got after Matthew started contributing his dollar not only included the contribution we made, but showed Matthew’s 1.00 contributions as well. 🙂

  3. Jay

    I love communion. It helps me focus on what Jesus did for me by his death. I need to for him continually offer me the cup and listen to him say…If you take this cup you will be my bride and I will be faithful to you until death. Will you do the same for me?
    To me communion is when I close my eyes I can see him with a cup in his outstreched hand.
    I am not worthy of the honor but I pray that I can take the symbolic emblems in a honorable manner. This relationship in worship, in home or in Church assembly is as close to being with Jesus as I know.
    We should take it daily, so we can be close to Him, even thought he is completely in us as His spirit.

    Bob

  4. For many years, I have felt that we pay more attention to the physical side of the Lord’s Supper than we do to its spiritual meaning.

    I also find that we shift the emphasis from remembering Jesus to remembering the blood and gore of the cross, but He distinctly said, “Do this in memory of me.”

    To me this means that we are to remember everything He is to us – who He is, why He came, what He did while He was here, what He taught us to do and to be, the gift of His life, His resurrection, ascention to glory, His gift of the Holy Spirit for us, and His promise to come again.

    Nothing in the entire Christian “system” is “separate and apart from” the Lord’s Supper! If our giving is not a response to His gift, it is given for the wrong purpose!

    The Lord’s Supper is the family meal – and one of the important parts is that we “discern the Lord’s body” (i.e., the church – not just His physical body hanging on the cross, though that is what purchased the church).

    I am convinced there is more “authority” for having the Lord’s Supper daily than there is for having it only monthly or less frequently. But in a loving family, one’s presence at the family table does not have to be “commanded.”

    When I began blogging several months ago, I determined to have at least a weekly communion meditation – taken from all parts of the Scripture. My first meditation series was a meditation from each of the 28 chapters of Matthew. These are brief, mostly under 300 words, meditative thoughts that I publish in our local bulletin. I am currently doing some meditations from the Pentateuch.

    I have also had some Mini-Meditations that serve as bulletin fillers or “starters” for fuller meditations.

  5. Great observations. II have made these arguments before in discussion only to be rebuffed back to “tradition”.

    I also struggle with the inevitable opening prayer that says “this bread REPRESENTS Jesus’ body” Clearly not what Jesus said. Not saying I belive the idea of transubstatiation, but do wonder if there is something more spiritual going on there that we give credit for.

    Also agree that we should probably do this daily.

  6. On John Mark Hicks blog there was a series on the Lord’s
    Supper and he talked about children being a the table. I think you would find it interesting and edifying. I will include the link to the first and I think you can find the other two posts if you are interested.
    http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2009/03/24/children-at-the-table/

    Blessings,
    Randall

  7. John

    I never say the cup and bread represents. It is the body and the blood. In what way I do not know.

    allynsally

    Your autistic son is probably more blessed by taking communion than most of us. God surely understands and perhaps smiles.

    Bob

  8. Good stuff. I always love a good study on the Lord’s Supper (just look at the tag cloud on my blog!), and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

    Your comment about squirming when someone says “We’ve been commanded” makes me think about the “We’ve been commanded to lay by in store each first day…” statement you often hear. I always wonder if those people think the collection should be held until Paul comes and gets it to send to Jerusalem.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  9. When the disciples wanted to banish the children from His presence and blessing, Jesus said, “Do not forbid them.”

  10. I recently heard someone ask, “What if you were born and raised in the artic circle where you had no bread?”

    Hmmm, ???

  11. Dwayne

    Blubber and ice water would work. It would for me. It’s the thought that counts.

    How about sand for baptism rather than water? It would work for me. Of course my old COC friends have me labeled as different especially because I think outside the box.
    I no longer believe that Foy Wallace and Batsell Barrett Baxter have define the matter of “Who are the Churches of Christ”.

    Bob

  12. OOPs

    In the desert sand for water.

  13. Jcjohnson,

    It’s an interesting bit of psychology to ponder why we feel compelled to require that one be providentially hindered to justify offering them a second communion on Sunday night.

    If the idea is that God himself kept the member from attending, surely that’s an excuse altogether!

  14. Allynsalley,

    Absolutely let him participate. Children shared in Passover. If Jesus came to your home to eat, would the children get to eat with him?

    (Rev 3:20) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

  15. Jerry,

    Most excellent. I’ve set a goal of writing 52 meditations myself. There seems no end to the depth and meaning of the communion.

  16. Randall,

    John Mark Hicks material (and book) on the Lord’s Supper is excellent.

  17. One reason I started writing Meditations for our bulletin (which I also put on my blog now) is that I get so tired of hearing the same stale, thoughtless comments at he Table. We might be better off if we had a liturgical prayer book to read meditations from! At least there would be a year’s worth of material cycled through instead of the same Scriptures and almost the same comments every Sunday!

  18. Jerry, I’m of the same mind. There is nothing so spiritually retarding as listening to spiritual cliches over the table. I’m beginning to think you’re right about the prayer book.

    People in AA have such a book for when they do their daily devotions. Actually, they’re not half bad…..

    But, back to the table. Since I am forced to sit in a row and look at the back of the head of the saint in front of me, what shall I do? I would rather this be a communion meal as Jay has described on many occasions, but what can I do?

    I close my eyes and immagine that I am there with my Lord having the meal with him, worshipping Him, listening to Him, being close to Him.

    I can hardly wait!

  19. @allynsalley,

    I’m glad you allow your child to participate in communion. Randall has already posted above a link to John Mark Hicks’ thoughts on children and communion and I find them very compelling.

    I have also seen John Mark make the observation that if we were having a meal at home, we would not deny a visitor because thy had not been born into our family. So why would we deny someone the opportunity to participate in our feast to remember our Lord?

  20. Jay,

    Something I had not thought about until reading this post. If we wanted to be truly legalistic about communion, we should observe that the command “do this in remembrance of me” is given after distributing the bread. The second cup of wine, which Jesus says is the blood of the new covenant, is given after the command and no similar command is given for the wine. One could plausibly make the argument that we are only commanded to take bread as a way of remembering him and the wine is an addition.

    Just a thought.

  21. Actually, if we REALLY wanted to be legalistic about communion, we should be taking it on Wednesday evenings.

    There is speculation that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, rather than a Friday, and I tend to agree with that speculation because no matter how you do the math and no matter how you define a “day”, there is no way you can make “three days and three nights” fit into a Friday evening, all day Saturday, and an early Sunday morning unless you do some very convoluted mental gymnastics.

    Therefore, the first communion service was offered on a Wednesday evening, and if we really wanted to be following Jesus’ example, shouldn’t we be offering communion on Wednesdays instead of Sundays?
    😀

  22. A few weeks ago, we had some fun pointing out that whenever the location or time is specified, the Lord’s Supper is taken in an upper room and at night. Seems to me we lack authority for any other practice.

    Therefore, we should take communion at the Sunday night service — unless Providentially hindered — in an upper room. All else damns as we have two examples of nighttime, upper room communing, and no authority at all for any other practice.

    Under the clear dictates of God’s Law of Generic and Specific Authority, the result is certain.

    Of course, what we don’t say is that the LGSA only applies when confirmed by the Patristics or 19th Century tradition. (But we don’t really need to go there.)

    But as I’ll be explaining the Lord’s Supper series, the Patristics confirm the nighttime part (not the upper room). So LGSA only really applies if confirmed both by the Patristics and Campbell. Not that we’re Campbellites!!

    Now all the readers know how to interpret scripture — which is so clear that anyone with a good heart and common sense will reach the very same result as me.

  23. Jay, I started blogging 52 Weeks at the Table last year and got up to 32 before I hit the wall. I’ve been trying to re-format it all as a book manuscript and work up the gumption to write the remaining 20.

    Maybe you and I should partner with five other authors to write “365 Days at the Table”!

    We could draw straws to see who gets to write the 365th one.

  24. Can I play???

  25. Hi Jay, help me understand why you think Jesus’ reference “eagerly desired to eat this Passover” is not a statement about the meal he’s sitting at in Luke 22. Why do we need to assign the reference to Luke 24? Why can’t “this Passover” mean the table presently in front of him when he makes the remark? Thanks in advance. Terri

  26. Terri,

    It’s the second part of the sentence that creates the mystery: a”For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

    “It” refers to the Passover, which was an annual celebration. And there’s no record of Jesus participating in another communion — as we define communion. Rather, we only have him eating meals with his disciples.

    And so evidently Jesus saw these meals where he broke bread with his disciples as Eucharistic. And this inclines me to doubt that Jesus meant by “do this” to ritualistically eat a crumb and sip a sip.

    Maybe it’s something like “eat a meal together, in my name, with me.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: