The Lord’s Supper
On the night before he suffered, our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. It is referred to as the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Mass, depending upon which branch of the Church is observing it. The forerunner of this service is found in the Book of Exodus.
Through Moses, God gave the children specific instructions concerning their last supper in Egypt, before he led them out of their bondage there. They were to prepare a lamb for the meal in this manner:
Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. (Exodus 12:5-17)
What was the purpose of the blood? It was God’s protection from the destruction that was coming:
It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:11-14)
Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of the Jewish Passover. Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was not the Seder or Passover Meal, however. Rather, it was a preparation for the Passover. The Passover meal could not be served until the slaughtering of the lambs outside the city, which would occur the next day, the same day Jesus would be slaughtered on the cross.
Jesus was doing something new with His disciples. He was proclaiming His death before it actually happened. He said that His body was to be broken and that His blood was to be shed. He was saying that he was the last Passover lamb sacrificed for the sins of the people. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world once and for all.
The Apostle Paul writes about this special meal in today’s Epistle reading:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Jesus was asking His disciples to anticipate in his crucifixion, participate in His suffering, and keep His sacrifice always in their memory. They would not just be remembering with their minds what had happened, but they would actually be partaking in the event themselves in a spiritual way. John’s Gospel speaks of both the power and the necessity of the Communion service.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
Today, we are invited by our Lord to anticipate his power entering into our lives more and more as we participate in his Holy Communion. We are asked to do more than just remember an historical event. We are asked to come to his Holy table with great expectation. In order to fully experience the resurrection we must be willing to enter into Jesus’ passion and death. This is our opportunity once more to die to our sins so that we might be empowered by his Spirit, to begin a resurrected life on this earth and in the age to come, a life eternal.
After Communion Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment. Jesus said that by this commandment His disciples would demonstrate the resurrected life:
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35).
As we empty ourselves and take on more of Him, we become a living witness of His resurrection. Let us declare as did the Apostle Paul:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)
Can we imagine what Jesus had to face on our behalf? His gift was beyond price. It rings down through the ages. What are we prepared to give him today?