“Lord’s Supper Holy Communion”
LORD’S SUPPER OVERVIEW
This term has two different but related meanings.
First, it refers to the meal Jesus shared with his disciples a few
hours before his arrest, trial, and death.
Second, this term refers to the ceremony in which
Christians eat bread and drink wine (or juice) in memory of that event.
The name “Lord’s Supper” comes from 1 Corinthians
11:20. Other names for the ceremony include “the
breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, NRSV), “Holy Communion” (based on 1 Corinthians 10:16, KJV),
“the Eucharist” (the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” Mark 14:23), and “the
The two senses of the term are related to one another because the Communion
ceremony looks back to the Last Supper.
At that final meal, which was connected to the Passover feast, Jesus
gave his disciples bread to eat and wine to drink. He compared the bread to
his body and the wine to his blood, both of which he was about to offer in a
sacrifice for sinners.
He also asked them to repeat the ceremony in later times, remembering him as
they did so. The apostles faithfully passed on this tradition. The Apostle
Paul wrote of handing on what he had “received from the
Lord” concerning the origin of this supper “on the
night when he was betrayed” (1 Corinthians 11:23, NRSV).
Like Luke, Paul recorded the Lord’s command to his disciples:
“Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians
11:24; Luke 22:19). According to Acts 2:42, Christians met
regularly for the breaking of bread from the very beginning of the church.
For Christians today, the Lord’s Supper continues to perform a valuable
service in helping us again and again to think about what is at the very
center of our faith: the crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.
And in the process it connects us with the ancient Hebrew roots of our faith
(the Exodus) and causes us to look toward the future (the
second coming of Christ). We could not do without the Lord’s Supper
and what it represents.
ACCOUNTS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Three Gospels and one New Testament letter provide all the direct information
we have about Jesus’ establishing of the Lord’s Supper ceremony. While all
four Gospels describe the Last Supper, only the first three record Jesus’
words about the occasion (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26;
The Gospel of John tells us many things Jesus said and did at the Last Supper
(John 13:1), but it does not say anything about the special meaning he
gave to the bread and wine on the table. Some see the Lord’s Supper reflected
in John 6:35 where we read about the feeding of the five thousand and
about Jesus calling himself “the bread of life.”
This, however, is open to question. Meanwhile, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
gives us Paul’s version of the event. There the apostle speaks of having
“received” from the Lord (we don’t know how) the
tradition of what occurred that night in the upper room. He also speaks of
passing on that tradition to the Corinthian Christians.
The four accounts of the origin of the Lord’s Supper (the
first three Gospels plus 1 Corinthians) are quite consistent with each other.
There is a point, however, at which Luke’s account appears to differ from the
others. It has to do with the order in which Jesus distributed the food.
Matthew, Mark, and 1 Corinthians all describe Jesus as
passing out bread, then wine.
But in Luke 22:17-18 Jesus is said to have passed the
cup to the disciples before giving them the bread. Further confusing the
situation, most early copies of Luke say that Jesus then gave a second cup
after the bread. This difference of Luke from the other Gospels and from 1
Corinthians has been explained in a variety of ways.
But it makes no difference to our understanding of the significance of the
Lord’s Supper either way.
THE TIME OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
In one sense, the biblical sources all agree on when the Last Supper
occurred. They all say it took place a few hours before Jesus’ arrest. This
is clear, for example, from the way all four Gospels describe Jesus talking
about Judas’s upcoming betrayal and Peter’s upcoming denial. In another
sense, there is some confusion as to just when the Last Supper took
Was it a Passover meal, or was it not? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say
clearly that this supper was a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-20;
Mark 14:12-17; Luke 22:7-14). John, however, speaks of it as
happening “before the Passover celebration”
Then the fourth Gospel goes on to say that at the time of Jesus’ trial before
Pontius Pilate-that is, on the day after the Last Supper-the Jewish leaders
“did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual
defilement and to be able to eat the Passover” (John 18:28,
NRSV). Thus, John’s Gospel appears to contradict the other Gospels at this
point. Various explanations of this difference between John and the other
Gospels have been suggested. One possibility is that different groups of the
Jews kept the Passover at different times.
Another possibility is that the meal in the upper room was not strictly a
Passover meal but rather was a fellowship meal that happened to take place at
the Passover season. A third possibility is that Jesus, for his own reasons,
deliberately chose to celebrate the Passover before the normal time. However
the differences between the Gospels may be best explained, it is clear that
the Last Supper had the significance of a Passover meal.
Luke 22:15 records Jesus as saying, “I have looked
forward to this hour with deep longing, anxious to eat this Passover meal
with you before my suffering begins.” And since this supper had the
significance of a Passover meal, we must recognize a connection between the
meaning of the Passover and the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
The Passover was a feast of the old covenant, while the Lord’s Supper is a
feast of the new covenant. Passover looks back with thanks to the Hebrews’
rescue from Egypt by God, and it is connected with the sacrifice of the
Passover lamb. The Lord’s Supper looks back with thanks to people’s rescue
from sin by God, and it is connected with the sacrifice of Christ.
The Apostle Paul linked the two ceremonies when he wrote, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1
Corinthians 5:7, NIV).
JESUS’ WORDS AND ACTIONS AT THE LORD’S SUPPER
To understand the full significance of the Lord’s Supper, we must carefully
examine what Jesus said and did in that final meal with his disciples. And as
we do so, one of the things we notice is that the Old Testament provides a
rich source of meaning for the event. “THIS IS MY
BODY” The biblical sources all agree on what Jesus did when he started
the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke
22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24).
He did three things:
1. He took the bread
2. He gave thanks to God
3. He broke the bread.
Interestingly, as we see in Mark 6:41 and Mark
8:6, he performed the same three actions at the feedings of the five
thousand and the four thousand. According to all four accounts of the Last
Supper, what he said when he took the bread was “This is my
body.” Christians have differed in their understanding of the precise
meaning of those words. But what is certain is that Jesus was indicating that
he would give his body as a sacrifice so that we might have life. This comes
out most clearly in 1 Corinthians 11:24, where his words are recorded
as “This is my body, which is given for you” (or, in
some early manuscripts, “This is my body, which is broken
“DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME” On its face, this
instruction would seem to be Jesus’ way of telling his followers to repeat
his actions as a sacrament, or religious ceremony, throughout time. But since
this instruction is found only in Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians
11:24 and not in the other accounts of the Lord’s Supper, some have
argued that the Lord did not intend for what he did at the Last Supper to be
repeated. Is that argument right? Probably not.
We must remember that all the Gospels were written when the breaking of bread
had already become a regular practice in the life of the church. Matthew and
Mark, therefore, may have thought it unnecessary to express Jesus’ intention
with those words. It was taken for granted.
But even among Christians who agree that Jesus wanted his followers to
observe the Lord’s Supper on an ongoing basis, there has been disagreement as
to the proper interpretation of these words. In the Roman Catholic Church,
for example, “do this” has been interpreted as
meaning “offer this,” and the word “remembrance” has been understood as indicating a
re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ before the Father. So in Catholic
theology, the Mass is a sort of repetition of the death of Christ. It is
considered an actual sacrifice.
The Catholic view has a long tradition on its side. As early as the second
century, Christian writers referred to the Eucharist as a “sacrifice.” Nevertheless, Protestants have generally considered
another view. For Protestants, Communion is not about repeating the sacrifice
of Christ but about recalling with thankfulness that Christ loved us enough
to die for us. But perhaps the Catholic and Protestant positions are not so
far apart as they may at first seem to be. Many Roman Catholic statements
have stressed the sufficiency and completeness of Christ’s sacrifice on the
And many Protestant scholars, while not wishing to introduce a sacrificial
understanding of the Lord’s Supper, stress that “remembrance” is more than simply calling to mind a past action.
In biblical thinking, “remembrance” often involves
making real in the present what was done in the past (Psalm 98:3;
“THIS CUP IS THE NEW COVENANT” Jesus took a cup of
wine, gave thanks, and handed it to his disciples for them all to drink. That
is the same pattern he followed when giving out the bread. But in the words
Jesus spoke over the wine, he introduced a new concept into the
discussion-that of covenant.
Matthew and Mark record the words of Jesus as “This is my
blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24, NIV).
Luke 22:20 has “This cup is the new covenant in my
blood, which is poured out for you” (NIV) and 1 Corinthians
11:25 is similar to this. All of these references to “covenant” hark back to the Old Testament ritual of making a
covenant (an agreement or treaty) with a sacrifice, as in the covenant
between God and Israel after the Exodus (Exodus 24:1-8). They also
suggest that the hope of a new covenant, described in Jeremiah
31:31-34, was fulfilled in Jesus.
“IT IS POURED OUT TO FORGIVE THE SINS OF MANY”
The meaning of the death of Jesus as a sacrifice, as we have
already seen, is linked with an understanding of the Passover and of the
covenant. But it is important for us to recognize that the Lord’s Supper is
also linked with what Isaiah 53 says of the suffering Servant of the
Lord making himself “an offering for sin” (Isaiah
53:10). Luke 22:37 includes among the words of Jesus in the upper
room the statement “For the time has come for this prophecy
about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among those who were rebels.’ Yes,
everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” That
verse Jesus quoted-Isaiah 53:12-also says that “he
exposed himself to death” and that “he bore the sins
Mark 14:24 appears to echo these thoughts when it records Jesus’ words
about his blood being “poured out for many.”
Matthew 26:28 says that Jesus’ blood was “poured out
to forgive the sins of many.” The cup of Communion, then, should
remind partakers of the blood Jesus poured out as an offering to take care of
EXPECTATION FOR THE FUTURE
All four accounts of the Last Supper include some kind of expectation for the
future. In Mark 14:25 it comes in the words of Jesus: “I solemnly declare that I will not drink wine again until that day
when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”
In Matthew 26:29 that future drinking of wine is said
to be “with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” In Luke
22:18 there are similar words, and two verses earlier we find a statement
about fulfilling the Passover “in the Kingdom of
1 Corinthians 11:26 records these words of Jesus:
“For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you
are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” All of these
statements can be understood as pointing to the fulfillment of the Old
Testament hope of a messianic banquet. This is the feast on the mountain of
the Lord, as spoken of in Isaiah 25:6. It is the marriage supper of
the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
THE PRACTICE OF THE EARLY CHURCH
The New Testament makes it clear that the early church practiced the breaking
of bread regularly. For example, Acts 2:42 and 2:46 in several
Bible translations says that the early believers met together to break bread.
That raises two questions about the practice described as the “breaking of bread.”
First, was the “breaking of bread”
merely a fellowship meal the Christians shared? Second, was the “breaking of bread” different from Holy Communion?
In regard to the first question, we should note that Acts
2:46 seems to speak of breaking bread and partaking of food as two
separate actions. Moreover, Acts 20:7 says that Christians at Troas
“on the first day of the week...met to break bread”
(NRSV) and seems clearly to refer to a Christian service and not just a
From 1 Corinthians 10 and perhaps from the reference to “love feasts” in Jude 1:12 (NIV), we may conclude that a
fellowship meal and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper often took place
Thus the answer to the first question is that the breaking of bread was more
than a fellowship meal; it was a sacrament that took place in connection with
a fellowship meal. The second question has to do with whether the earliest
“breaking of bread,” as in the Jerusalem church, may
have been a different rite from that performed with bread and wine. Some have
suggested that the “breaking of bread” recalled the
fellowship of the disciples with the risen Lord, while Communion recalled his
sacrificial death. There is, however, no direct evidence to support such a
The Lord’s Supper to which the Gospels bear witness involved the breaking of
bread and the sharing of the cup in remembrance of the blood of Christ
“poured out for many.” We may assume, too, that the
tradition the Apostle Paul received, followed, and passed on to others
involved the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup in remembrance of
Christ, thus proclaiming the Lord’s death until his return.
In Paul’s teaching, as in the Gospels, the Lord’s Supper involves three
aspects, corresponding to the past, present, and future. The Lord’s Supper
involves a backward look at the sacrifice of Christ offered for the sins of
the world. It involves the realization of the Lord’s being with his people
right now. And it involves a look forward to the future in hope. But 1
Corinthians 10 brings out a couple of other aspects of the Lord’s Supper as
well. In the Lord’s Supper we have fellowship with Christ and feed on
FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST
Eating the bread and drinking the cup meant having a part with Christ. Paul
said, “When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we
sharing in the benefits of the blood of Christ? And when we break the loaf of
bread, aren’t we sharing in the benefits of the body of Christ?” (1
“Sharing” is the translation of the Greek word
koinonia, often rendered “fellowship” in New
Testament passages. When the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in the early
church, the Christians must often have recalled not only the Last Supper but
also Jesus’ presence with his disciples on the first Easter. For on the day
of his resurrection, Jesus made himself known to some of his followers in the
breaking of bread (Luke 24:30-35). The Christians continued to
experience that kind of fellowship with him through the Lord’s Supper. We can
do the same.
FEEDING ON CHRIST
First Corinthians 10:1-4 refers to the experiences of the Hebrews in Moses’
day, and it does so in a way that makes us think of both baptism and the
Specifically, those verses mention the “miraculous food” (manna) and “miraculous water” (water from a rock) that the Hebrews
consumed (1 Corinthians 10:3-4). In Paul’s thinking, that food and
drink looked forward to the bread and wine of Communion.
His point is that, just as the Hebrews fed on the miraculous food and drink,
so (in a spiritual way) Christians feed on Christ. This is similar to what
Jesus meant when he said, “I am the bread of life” and “My
flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:35,
55, NRSV). The life of Christ was offered once for all on the cross to
overcome the power of sin, and we find life in turning to him.
That’s what baptism means. At the same time, that life is offered to us
constantly for the nourishing of our spiritual lives day by day. This is the
regular feeding on Christ that the Eucharist represents. Thus while baptism
is a one-time-only sacrament, the Lord’s Supper is repeated regularly.
Christians who are faithful in taking Communion can never forget what their
faith is based on: the sacrifice of Christ. They can feed on the grace
offered by the Lord while they wait to be united with him when he comes again
for his own.
May We Thrill at the story of Jesus and always Be Grateful for
what He did!