The Lord's SupperWhat Does the Bible Say About the Lord's Supper?
What is the Lord’s Supper?
The Lord’s Supper is something that Christians do to remember Jesus, all that he has done, and all that is doing for us. When Jesus was about to be betrayed by one of his disciples, he was celebrating the Passover for the last time. While eating, Jesus took some of the bread and said, ” Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26.26). He then took some of the drink and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26.27-28). Additionally, Jesus indicated to his disciples that this supper was something they would repeat at a later time by saying, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26.29). The Christians in the first century would eat bread and drink “fruit of the vine” together to both “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” and to have communion, or participation, with each other (1 Corinthians 10.16; 1 Corinthians 11.26).
Why Is It Called “Communion”?
“Communion” could also be translated as “fellowship” or “participation”. Calling the Lord’s Supper “communion” most likely comes from 1 Corinthians 10.16 where Paul describes the Christians as “participating” in the body and blood of the Lord. What does this mean? Communion with Christ is descriptive of the close relationship we have with him and the other people who are Christians. Just like every part of our bodies are maintained and nourished by the same meal, so too our relationship with one another as the body of Christ is strengthened.
The exact wording of phrase used to describe the “fellowship” or “participation” that saints share together in Jesus is not really important. Whether one calls is “communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” or some other phrase is really unimportant next to understanding what is taking place. Below you will find some more information to help us all understand better why we have the Lord’s Supper and what special role Communion ought to play in our lives as believers.
What Does it Mean to “Remember” Jesus?
When Jesus talked to his disciples about the Lord’s Supper, he told them the the different elements were to be used “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19; 1 Corinthians 11.24-25). What did Jesus mean when he told them this? What exactly are the things that we should remember? There are centuries of various traditions surrounding these words, so we’re going to look only at what the Bible says and try to add nothing to it.
Jesus doesn’t specify any particular event or moment in his life or ministry that we are to remember. It stands to reason that, since no particular time or event is mentioned, we are to remember everything about Jesus. His incarnation is no less miraculous or important than his crucifixion. His resurrection is certainly no less important than the moment of his death (it could even be argued that it’s more important!). Since Jesus doesn’t put a limitation on what should be remembered, then we shouldn’t either. As we partake in the Lord’s Supper together, let’s remember all of the wondrous thing God did for us in sending his son, from the incarnation to the resurrection, everything is wonderful!
What About Proclaiming His Death?
Doesn’t the Bible say that we are to “proclaim his death until he comes”? Yes, actually, it does in 1 Corinthians 11.26. A better question is, “What does Paul mean when he says we’re to ‘proclaim his death’?” Does this mean that we’re only supposed to talk about the death of Jesus during the Lord’s Supper? Does it limit what we should pray about, talk about, and think about? Let’s take a minute and think about these things together.
If Paul meant that we could only talk about Jesus’ death, then he is limiting the “remembrance” of the Lord’s Supper. However, as we previously saw, Jesus didn’t put any limitations on the things that were to be remembered; he only said to remember him. If we take Jesus at his word, than anything that deals with Jesus is something we can think about when we partake of Communion. So why does Paul say that we should “proclaim his death”?
There are couple of interesting things going on here. First, Jesus says we are to remember, and Paul says we are to proclaim. These are not the same thing no matter how hard some people might try to squeeze them together. How do we harmonize these things? First, let’s deal with the death VS all things dilemma. Paul is probably employing a literary device called metonymy. Instead of limiting the discussion, prayers, or remembering to a single event, Paul refers to everything by highlighting one thing. So, Jesus meant what he said, and so did Paul.
What about the dilemma of proclaim VS remember? The Lord’s Supper is something that is intended only for those who have been converted to Christ, but we can see in certain places that outsiders, or visitors, were welcomed in the Christians meetings in the first century (1 Corinthians 14.23-25). If then all of the aspects of Jesus’ life a re remembered and talked about during the Lord’s Supper, then the fullness of the good news about Jesus is being heard by someone, perhaps for the very first time. In this way, the gospel of Jesus is being proclaimed to people. By remembering everything that Jesus has done, we wind up proclaiming Jesus, too. Our remembering is only proclaiming if it is done publicly and before other people, so this means that our sharing should be vocal, not silent meditation.
By examining and carefully thinking these things through, we can come to an understanding that unites all of the passages together. We do not ignore Jesus in favor of Paul, and we explain Paul’s intended meaning through the words of Jesus. Everything fits together and nothing is forfeited. Surely this is the meaning that God has for these passages.
When we gather together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are not gathered to a perpetual funeral service but called to remember all of the glorious things God has done through Christ, all of the things that God continues to do, and, ultimately, all of the things God will do. We proclaim the words of life, remember our own salvation, and teach others how to be saved through the Lord’s Supper.
What Is Metonymy?
“Metonymy is a figure by which one name or noun is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain relation.” The dictionary definition can be a bit cumbersome, but, basically, it means that you use on word to describe something else. For example, the Bible will often talk about someone “stretching out their hand” to hurt, harm or harass someone (e.g. Exodus 3.20, Job 1.11). The word “hand” is substituted for some other weapon, wonder, or attack in these instances.
A special kind of metonymy is called synecdoche. Synecdoche is the use of a part of something to refer to the whole. When talking about a monarchy, we might refer to the “throne”. When talking about certain currency, we might used the word “coin”. These are very similar to Paul’s use of the word “death” to refer to all the aspects of the gospel of Jesus Christ. From the incarnation to the ascension, Paul encapsulates everything in the single word “death”. When Paul says that we “proclaim the Lord’s death”, we do more than that. We should be proclaiming all the aspects of the Lord’s life, death, resurrection and ascension.
What Do We Proclaim?
The word “proclaim” is used to talk about many different things in the Bible. For example, we proclaim the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4.2), the word of God (Acts 13.5), the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13.38), and the way of salvation (Acts 16.17). All of these things, and others beside, are made known publicly through any and every means possible. The dictionary definition of the word “proclaim” is “to make known in public”. So if we aren’t doing something publicly, then we’re not proclaiming.
Paul mentioned that we should be proclaiming the Lord’s death through Communion. How does that happen? Again, believing we have more to make known publicly than just the death of Jesus, we ought to speak, teach, inform, remind about the life, ministry, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. All of these would be part of “remembering” Jesus. Rather than a meditative, introspective, solemn event, the Lord’s Supper is intended to be a joyful reminder of all the good things that we have received from God through our Lord and Savior, Jesus.