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Lord’s Supper Holy Communion

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First, it refers to the meal Jesus shared with his disciples a few hours before his arrest, trial, and death

Lord’s Supper Holy Communion


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 Mass.”

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.


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; Luke 22:14-20).

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.


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 place.

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”  (John 13:1).

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).


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 for you”).

“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 cross.

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; Ecclesiastes 12:1).

“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.


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 of many.”

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 our sin.


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 God.”

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 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 meal.

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 together.

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 view.

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 him.


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 Corinthians 10:16).

“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.


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 Lord’s Supper.

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!

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