Jesus told His disciples a number of things on the night He was betrayed including: “all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Based on the letter we know as First Corinthians, it was hard to identify Christ’s disciples in Corinth.
Instead of love for one another they argued about who had social priority, who was part of the better “club” with the better preacher, who had the most important spiritual gift. Instead of love for one another they took each other to court for sake of personal rights and advantage. Instead of love for one another they humiliated the hungry and judged each other for what they ate.
The most pointed and poetic chapter in Scripture about love is 1 Corinthians 13, and Paul wrote it not as a celebration of how the Christians were identified.
It’s one of the reasons why the communion meal is so important to share. It can be abused; the church in Corinth did. But this Table confronts and comforts us with the cost and characteristics of love. Love dies to bring life. Love is more than pretty words and abstract thoughts and self-aggrandizing sacrifice. Love is for others, love is for us to come together.
We are a people identified by love, and we know what love looks like. We see love on a cross, love demonstrated through death and resurrection. We remember the love of Jesus as we eat His body and drink His blood, and we remember how we are supposed to die to live like Him.
The whole idea of living in such a way as to provoke an entire people group to jealousy is a lot of work. It’s good work, and it’s God’s plan, but where do we start.
First, we eat.
Jesus told a crowd that they should labor for the food that endures to eternal life. They asked, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” This is a huge question.
Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
Believing in Jesus is where we start. We ourselves must be believing in Jesus. He likened the believing to eating bread and then said He is the bread. We must eat Him. First, we eat. He likened believing to abiding in Him. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Believe in Christ. Don’t have faith in your faith. You don’t have enough faith to change the world, let alone to have eternal life. Keep your faith in Christ.
So we gather at this Table every week to eat and drink. First, we eat. We eat because we have the Lord. Through Him we can do all things. He is the bread of life. We must feed on Him by faith and drink His blood in belief. He is true food and true drink.
There is a lot to talk about, plans to make, daily deaths to die, work to do. The work of God is to believe, and because we believe we work. So first, we feast in believing joy.
When we think about our salvation by grace and the fruits of grace that would provoke others to jealousy, even elect Israel (Romans 11:11), we do not deny “the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (John 19:17). We call it Calvary, from the Latin, Calvariae meaning “skull.” Jesus was tortured, mocked, and crucified at Calvary. He was crucified as a sinner so that He could be a substitute for sinners.
Because of His death, He is our righteousness, our eternal life, our present and our future. So we should not turn our remembrance of the place of the skull into the place of the sulk. We’re at this Table by invitation of the King. We’re here because He paid for us to be.
Why might a communicant sulk?
- forgetting one’s forgiveness in Christ, or not seeking it
- giving too much credit to sin, acting as if guilt can’t be covered by Christ
- holding a grudge against another member of the body of Christ
- judging another member of the body for not appreciating communion with Christ like you do
We desire fruit, but a garden can be full of all sorts of rotten fruit. A rotten-fruited garden does not make anyone jealous. “How did you get all that rotten fruit? We were wanting to make something just like it for ourselves!”
Bread tastes good, wine gladdens the heart, the word of the cross is the power of God. So celebrate! Sing! Smile! Enjoy! It isn’t because of what we’ve done. We can’t forgive ourselves or cover our sin or make fruit grow. Jesus paid. Jesus saves. Jesus lifts. Reckon it so, and rejoice! Our kids should want in. The elect of all nations should want what we have in Jesus.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
It’s proverbial that everyone puts their pants on the same way: one leg at a time. And, not everyone wears the same size, type, or color of pants. Also, not everyone does the same work in their pants once they’ve got them on. This is not a deep parable.
We who come to the communion table hold something precious in common: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16) We all share Christ, and we come to the table the same way, the only open way: by faith.
But we are not all equal in every way. We are equal in Christ and part of the same body, but we are not the same part of the body. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).
What does eating the “one bread” mean? It means that divisions are not allowed. But being “many” means that differences are assumed.
We have different testimonies, but one Savior. We have different parents and family backgrounds, but one Father in heaven. We have different spiritual gifts, but one Spirit who gives them. We have different tastes, but one goal to glorify God whether we eat or drink. We have different genders, but one Creator who made both male and female to bear His image. We have different futures, but also the same, proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes.
“In one Spirit we are all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). We come to the Table the same way and, once we’ve shared the same bread, we go out to follow the individual callings God has for us.
The sign of the old covenant was circumcision. There were other signs and symbols given by God to Israel to designate them as His own, but circumcision was the specific covenant mark. The sign of the new covenant is not baptism, at least it isn’t ever connected as such in the New Testament. While there are some similarities between the two initiating rites, especially that both happen at the beginning and ideally only once, nowhere do we read in the Bible about Christian baptism and a covenant.
We do, however, hear Jesus teaching about the connection between a meal and a covenant. “On the night when he was betrayed” He gave thanks to His Father and gave bread to His men. Then, giving thanks to His Father again, “he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
The old covenant was not as good. The author of Hebrews says “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). Then Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31, leaving in all the parts about “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
The blood of Jesus acquired and sealed the new covenant promise. That does not, though, mean that Jesus’ blood finished the covenant. Obviously it didn’t. His word guaranteed it, His blood obtained it, and His Spirit will complete it.
So there is both an already and a not yet as well as an in addition. Those of the household of Israel who believed in the first century and centuries since are evidence of the beginning of what still will be finished, atonement and restoration. Gentiles also who believed in Paul’s day and in ours are evidence of God’s grace to extend salvation to the nations. This meal is a long session in the same direction.
In Luke’s account of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper, he chases the eating and drinking with two surprising things.
The first thing that Luke relates after the New Covenant meal is that “a dispute arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). This may not be the correct chronology, as both Matthew’s account and John’s account of the night of Jesus’ betrayal do not mention this argument between the disciples as happening between the Last Supper and Gethsemane. But it is interesting that Luke would back the two events together. Jesus just said that He was going to suffer, that His blood would be poured out after a betrayal. Then Luke wrote that His men were fighting like kids. It may be because they didn’t fully understand yet, which they didn’t, and it could also be some because men still think that those who serve are not the greatest. Jesus said, “But I am among you as one who serves.”
The second and very next thing that Luke records, after describing the Supper and the greatness of serving, is the coming Kingdom in which His disciples would have positions of greatness.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30).
Now would have been a great time for Jesus to correct their false expectations about a national Messiah-King fulfilling Old Testament prophecies concerning the Lord’s rule on earth. Not only did Jesus not correct those expectations, He made them even more personal for His disciples.
The communion table is a foretaste of the Table of the King. We eat and drink around it, not in expectation of a great allegorical table in the sky, but in expectation that Jesus will return in body and reign just as He said. There will be physical bread and wine, and thrones, and we will see them because He gave body and blood for us.
Our fellowship around the communion table is in faith. What we have in common is Christ, and how we hold onto Him is also the same: by faith.
Because we rely on Jesus, when we gather around the table we like to tell stories about those who lived (and died) by faith.
I love how tired the author of Hebrews got when giving history to his readers about those “of whom the world was not worthy.” The writer got through a lot of specific stories, from Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Moses and others. But then he either was running out of papyrus or patience.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32–34)
They did their work in the world ”through faith.”
But this isn’t the only way to live in the world through faith.
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35–38)
By faith we do stuff. We try to win, and sometimes we do when God gives the victory. We try to win, and sometimes we don’t when God grants us not only to believe in Christ but also suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29). We try to win, and sometimes, the way of victory is to die to bring life, the story we remember at the Lord’s Table.
If you were God and wanted a way for people to remember the most important event in human history, what program would you use? More than a watershed event, this is the Son of Your love, Your eternal glory, who enfleshed obedience and sacrifice to purchase a people for life. How will you move the redeemed to remember and rejoice?
We might be tempted to focus on the mental aspect. After all, memory is the brain’s territory. Once the truth is in there, we need a trigger to recall it. We could also support it with specifics to remind us about the scope of this truth—say, that God planned it before the foundation of the world, and the comparative value of the truth—the resurrection of God-incarnate means more than any other resurrection. We can do quite a lot on the inside of our heads and all on our own.
This is what maybe most Christians make of communion in the individualist West. We are separated from one another, separated from connection with place and time. We are even tempted to be separated from our tongues. If we could just visualize communion, wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t that make it less likely to get messed up by forgotten salt in the bread or by bitter wine from the bottom of the bottle or by a slow family at the start of the procession to the table? Isn’t communion about remembering Jesus?
It is, and Jesus instituted a meal for us. Words explain it; we don’t disengage our reason. But words explain it, that is the table and the bread and the cup of wine and the plural number of particular persons with faces and names. The symbols are not empty or superfluous. The eating and drinking together are not wasted physical motions. God cares about who He’s saved and that includes what He’s made them to be. Your body may be broken for now, but He has promised you a healed one for eternity, purchased by the giving of Jesus’ body for you.
The Christian life is a life in the body. Paul told the Roman church to present their bodies as living sacrifices as part of their spiritual worship (Romans 12). He warned the Corinthians about sexual sins against the body, because “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
He made us with bodies, He redeems us to “control [our own bodies] in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4), and He promises that, we, with Job, will see our Redeemer in our flesh (Job 19:25-26).
God affirmed our body-ness by giving one to His own Son; the Word became flesh (John 1:14). And God declared Christ Jesus to be the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).
Jesus was eager to show the disciples His hands and feet post-resurrection.
he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38–39)
Jesus died in the flesh. Jesus lives in the flesh. Jesus told us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in our flesh and blood.
We receive His grace-strength by faith, but that grace-strength is not for sake of mystical good-feels and holy-thinks. That grace-strength enables us to listen with our ears, to speak truth in love with our mouths, to take the gospel with our feet, and to make lunch/wash clothes/write code with our hands, all for Him.
After a paragraph of imperatives and illustrations about the generational work Timothy was called to (1 Timothy 3:1-7), Paul added another imperative, a turn of the head to the Savior.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel (1 Timothy 2:8)
Think on Jesus, keep Him in your mind. And in particular, remember that He died, was buried, and on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The gospel Paul preached is a gospel promised. God promised a servant-king in the line of David, a redeemer-ruler who came and is coming again. These are ancient truths, these are also get-you-out-of-bed-today truths.
They were truths that Paul was willing to suffer for, to be imprisoned for, and it had a larger aim that his own endurance. He said, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
We also remember Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Table. We remember His sacrifice of body and blood as we eat the bread and drink the wine. We remember how He substituted Himself for us, for sinners, for those chosen by the Father and given to the Son. We remember that He purchased our forgiveness, our cleansed consciences, and also our place of honor with Him forever. He gets glory and gives it to us. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” For now, let us eat and drink with Him.