The Lord's Supper
Any person who seeks to achieve the things of God in their own strength will fail, no matter how powerful they may be, no matter how good their ideas are, and no matter how successful they have been in the ways of the world. Our own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and the Passover and the Eucharist (thanksgiving) speak only of what God has done and have nothing to do with man’s own actions or good works. We, who are imperfect, cannot earn anything from a God who is perfect in every way. There is nothing we can give that can add to who He is and all that we receive is by way of grace and mercy alone. Yet, receiving this grace is not automatic – we need to have hearts and minds that are submitted to God so that we can be raised up in His power and benefit from all that He does right here and now.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy he saved us through the washing of re-birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour." Titus 3:4-6.
Communion around the Table: -
The Greek word ‘Koinonia’ is where our word ‘communion’ comes from and speaks of partnership, participation and fellowship with others. As Christians this involves the act of sharing with God and the members of the body of Christ. God desires to fellowship with us, and table fellowshipping always speaks of sharing in God’s blessing. One example of this sharing in the Old Testament is as follows: -
“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God and they ate and drank.”
In looking through the gospels we see that Jesus was always willing to eat and drink with others, no matter their failures or their social background. In fact He deliberately sought out the sick, the suffering, tax collectors and religious people alike. He displayed great acts of grace, mercy and love and also reasoned with people and taught stories as a means of challenging preconceived ideas and helping them engage with the truth: there is a heavenly father who reaches out to them in love, grace and mercy.
Jesus saw all people as having great value and viewed them as sheep without a Shepherd (Mt 6:34). Yes, some of them were distorted, corrupted and rebellious in many ways – but they were still human beings made in the image of God. They were not, first and foremost, a prostitute, a tax collector or a thief, for example, this speaking of what they had become or what had happened to them. Jesus saw beyond all of this – beyond the pain, the rebellion, the suffering and labelling – to who they really were – men and women made in the image of God. No wonder so many did not like Jesus – even to the extent of wanting to kill Him for raising someone from the dead (John 11:50). No wonder they did not like Him – because He did things like going to a meal thrown by Matthew (Matt 9:9) for all his friends (tax collectors and “sinners”) and He also went to eat with the notorious chief tax collector Zaccheus (Luke 19:2). What we see in all of this is very important for us to note – because it speaks of the heart of the kingdom of God – the real outworking of the power of God in everyday life. In all things Jesus clearly revealed that God came with the offer of friendship and His desire to help us trust in Him is seen at every turn of the page and in such words as, “I am the Vine and you are the branches,” which encourage us to place all our trust in Him.
Towards the end of His earthly ministry Jesus met with the disciples around a table to celebrate the Passover and expressed an eagerness to do so (Luke 22:15). Jesus looked forward to and longed to share the Passover with the disciples at what we now call the ‘Last Supper’. He was aware of the new meaning that would be birthed into their lives through His life, death and resurrection and expressed this through the intimacy of this well-known meal which celebrated God’s deliverance of His people from slavery.
Ultimately all deliverance came about in Israel’s history because of this master of history who now sat with His disciples. The Lord’s Supper clearly points to the saving work of Christ who spoke of the Passover bread as His body and the fruit of the vine as His blood. In order to gain insight into this celebration (the Passover/Lord’s Supper) we turn to look at the Passover in the Old Testament before turning to the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.
The Feast of ‘Passover’ was celebrated each year as Israel called to mind the way in which God had delivered His people out of the ‘house of slavery’ (Egypt). In the feast they were reminded of how Israel had been protected by the blood of the Lamb when God passed over all homes in Egypt and destroyed the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex 12:13).
The Hebrew word Passover speaks of passing over in judgement (Exodus 12:2) or hovering over in divine protection (Ex 12:13). From this we see that there is mercy in the place of judgement for those who come through the blood of covering – the blood of the atonement. The word ‘atone’ is first used in Genesis where bitumen covered Noah’s ark and protected it from the floodwaters. In the place of judgement (the flood), Noah was lifted to safety, ‘covered’ (atone means: to cover) in the now water-proofed ark.
The purpose of judgement on Egypt was so that God could bring His people to Himself: -
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19:4
The blood on the doorposts of Israelite homes had no power in and of itself but pointed to the grace and mercy of Israel’s covenant-keeping God. God saved His people because they were the people of His covenant. They were not better than the Egyptians and were not saved because of any good works in and of themselves. They were saved through God’s intervention and through the blood.
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.”
Forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God come about through the sacrificial shedding of blood. In the Old Testament this shedding of the blood of an animal (Heb 9:22) provided a temporary cleansing of sin. Yet, as we have already noted, the power of the sacrifice was not inherent in the object, but in what it clearly pointed to: the grace and mercy of God. God is the giver of all blessing and ultimately this giving is seen at its deepest in the arrival of Jesus (John 3:16), spoken of as the Passover Lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7) slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).
When Jesus entered this world in the frailty of the flesh, He revealed a life of intimate fellowship with His Father and a dependence on the presence, power and leading of the Holy Spirit. It is because of this relationship that Jesus had with His father and the leading of the Holy Spirit that Matthew could write…
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor”
Brought out of slavery
In looking back to the Passover, we note the words in Exodus 20:2 which read, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” A literal translation of this is, “I am Yahweh, the life-breather and ressurector, the powerful One
who lifts you out of the land of Egypt, out from the house of slaves.” In Christ we come out of the house of slavery and suffering and into the house of our heavenly father.
As Christians our ‘house of slavery’ often speaks of the way we think and act outside of Christ and of all that we have built in the strength and power that we rely on for safety and security. We often build this ‘house’ to protect ourselves and make ourselves feel secure in life, yet in reality, the house we build is more like a prison cell with self as the gaoler. In living this way we were in the place of suffering and slavery and under condemnation because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Yet there is hope.
In grace and mercy God stepped into the sphere of our existence with the offer of forgiveness and restoration. He, the Holy One, who has taken the initiative so that we, the ones clothed in the rags of our failure, could come into a new position as those now adopted into His family. He has come to make us holy and being holy speaks of being made right and set apart as special.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
2 Corinthians 8:9
Because of God’s grace, compassion and mercy we have amazing stories throughout the Bible that birth hope into our hearts and minds. Note, for example, the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4) where the Father rejoices at the return of a lost son (Luke 15:22-24) and Mark 5:34 where an isolated haemorrhaging woman is restored to her community with the words, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
The Lord’s Supper
In the Lord’s Supper we have a picture of the coming Kingdom where no one will go hungry or thirsty and where all are accepted on equal terms: through God’s grace and mercy. This is, in a sense the beginning of the fulfilment of Isaiah 51:1-3.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come; buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Paul tells us that on the night Jesus was betrayed He broke bread and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In these words the word ‘remembrance’ (anamneesin) does not mean ‘in memory of’ but ‘in an affectionate calling of the person to mind.’ Therefore, ‘in remembrance’ speaks of recalling all that Jesus has done for us as our Saviour and our friend who is present with us by the Spirit. We lay down our worries and anxieties and are taken up again in the presence and power of the One who has set us free. As Paul writes in Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In the breaking of bread we have a foretaste of the things that are to come (Rev 19:6) and the meal is also recognition of blessing and refreshment along the way. God is the One who sets a table in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19) where the ‘bread of angels’ was eaten (Ps 78:25) and is the One who lets us eat even in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23:5) as is seen in the Passover meal being eaten in a hostile nation (Egypt) before the Exodus. In all table fellowship with the Lord there is also the reminder that we, who were once His enemies, have now been totally accepted through His Son.
In the breaking of bread together we have fellowship with others who are equally accepted by the Lord (something we can easily forget!). This is something that was forgotten in Corinth at one time when the rich would arrive first and eat well, whilst the poor who could not just leave work and turn up, would arrive late and find nothing left. Broken fellowship is an indicator of not feeding on the ways of the Lord and weakens and damages any community where it is present as can be seen from 1 Cor 11:30 and James 5. Broken fellowship is not living out the position we have been placed in through the grace and mercy of our loving heavenly Father.
“…They were getting drunk at Holy Communion and shouting insults at each other. One of them was sleeping with his mother-in-law. The prophets (preachers) were all talking at once in their worship services and some of the women were chatting and not listening to anyone. They had split into factions and some thought that polished language was more important than historical realities like the cross. Others demined the resurrection. Yet Paul called them “saints”. Remarkable! Clearly, for Paul, “a saint” meant a person who had received the Holy Spirit and not a person who had reached some undefined stratospheric level of piety. The troublesome Corinthians were saints.”
Dr K. Bailey in ‘Paul through Mediterranean Eyes’, p 59.
As has been said previously, table fellowship was to be a sign of friendship and acceptance to all who eat which is why many around Jesus could not understand Him eating with Matthew the tax collector…
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
The bread of God’s blessing speaks of fellowship with those who deserve nothing, yet have received everything and are being strengthened in the ways of the Lord. In and through His power we are able to produce a supernatural harvest, as is clearly stated in Mark 4:8 where we read of a crop that multiplied thirty, sixty or even a hundred times.
We are a community of believers who are to be totally dependent on the work of another and if we are to flourish and function we need to recognise that we are all equally accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ and reach out to others with the love that we ourselves benefit from. No matter our skillset or ability we all need to be asking for our daily bread as recognition of our total dependence on Him.
We are a reconciled community who share an assignment from God to reach out to a fallen world in His strength and provision. The only way we are unworthy to receive strength and provision from the Lord is if we assume we were worthy to receive it in the first place or deliberately allow sin to remain in certain areas of our lives.
Fellowship around the table is a prophetic sign and foretaste of the world to come and as the parable of the compassionate landowner clearly reveals, we receive equally no matter how long we have served the Lord and we receive because of His heart, His grace and mercy and not through earning anything in our own strength!
Looking back to the Lord’s Supper we see that after supper Jesus took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” with Paul going on to say, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
In the Ancient Near East a covenant was always sealed in blood since it spoke of life and death. Covenants were all about giving from deep within self and not just one’s skill set for example.
In God’s covenant with man we have, on one side, the Creator of the heavens and earth and on the other side fallen man who stands in sin and rebellion and can offer nothing to make himself right with God. Yet there is hope because Jesus came and stood in our place of judgement as man’s representative as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
Through the work of God alone we can celebrate the Lord’s Supper in an atmosphere of redemption that has already been accomplished that speaks of all that has been done for us and all that is ours right now as the body of Christ. We take communion corporately as a sign of fellowship, yet we take it as individuals and in eating the bread and taking the wine we signify our acceptance of all that is signified by the body and blood of Jesus.
His life is within our life, and our life is within His life. In Jesus the hoped for blessings of the future can be a present day reality in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
For those who lay aside all of self, and recognise what they are doing, the Lord’s Table can only bring spiritual health, healing and encouragement as we continue to walk ever onwards with Him. We fill our minds and hearts with the blessings and riches that are ours with this being demonstrated in a life that is sold out for God and lived in strength and power evidenced in our love towards others.
Written and produced by Pastor Jem. 2017
A good booklet to read after this one would be: ‘God’s invitation to eat together.’