As we celebrate Holy Week we are reminded of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist by Jesus on Maundy Thursday in the Upper Room. St. Paul addresses its significance in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.
William Barclay writes that “No passage in the whole New Testament is of greater interest than this. For one thing, it gives us our warrant for the most sacred act of worship in the Church, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; and for another since the letter to the Corinthians is earlier than the earliest of the gospels, this is actually the first recorded account we possess of any word of Jesus.”
The Holy Communion is a vivid proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes. In word and symbol Christ’s death for us is set forth. It is an acted sermon, an acted proclamation of the death it commemorates. It looks forward to the day when the Lord will come again.
Bread and wine are distributed in the Lord’s Supper. We are to eat and drink, which means that we are to receive outwardly and physically the food and drink by which we need to live. But this bread and wine are signs or symbols of something spiritual. The spiritual bread of life and the spiritual drink of life is Christ himself given as a sacrifice for our salvation. They are therefore the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who believes in me shall never thirst.”
Christ himself is present to us in the sacrament. Christ, the bread of life is to be eaten and drunk inwardly by faith. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world….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 him up in 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 him.” (John 6:51-56)
Obviously Jesus is not speaking literally but figuratively. The act of eating and drinking are outward signs of inward and spiritual faith whereby we appropriate that which Christ offers and gives to us through his death on the Cross for our redemption. He is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. What we do physically, by eating and drinking, we do spiritually by faith, in taking Jesus, his eternal life, his salvation, his resurrection power, his atoning sacrifice, his Spirit, into our lives. Just as we take food and drink into our body, and then its nutrition is distributed throughout our bodies, so we take Christ and the benefits of his Cross into our souls. By faith, which is the soul’s mouth, we take Christ in, with all his grace and power, and he pours out his life and strength in us, and in that strength we live and work for him. We can pray:
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in to cleanse and to forgive me. Come in to comfort and heal me. Come in to empower me and change me. Come in to guide and direct me. Come in to fill me with your Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
What does Paul mean about eating and drinking the bread and wine unworthily? He is talking about “not recognizing the body of the Lord.” This may mean that the communicant does not realize what the sacred elements mean. It may mean ignorance of their significance, or lack of reverence, or application of them. It may also mean not realizing that the body of the Lord is the Christian community. Everyone who is at variance with his brothers and sisters in Christ, eats and drinks around the Lord’s Table with them unworthily. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24).
There are Disciplinary Rubrics in some denominations that outline the procedure to follow when someone in the congregation is leading a notoriously evil life and intends to receive communion. He has to give clear proof of his repentance and amendment of life. The same is required of those who have done wrong to their neighbors and are a scandal to other members of the congregation. When the pastor sees that there is hatred between members of the congregation, he is to speak privately to each of them, telling them that they may not receive communion until they have forgiven each other.
Some churches and denominations prohibit non-members from receiving communion on the grounds that they are not members of their church. Such exclusion is guilty of “not recognizing the body of the Lord” and is precisely what St. Paul is warning us not to do.
Baptized believers seek to eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord reverently as they receive, by faith, the body broken and the blood shed of our Lord given, as an atoning sacrifice for their salvation. We examine our motives, test our hearts and come to this meal in holy awe. Through this sacrament we receive the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another in his Body, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which nourishes us in the eternal life.
This Act of Faith was written by Handley Moule as a post-communion affirmation.
I believe in the Name of the Son of God.
Therefore I am in Him, having Redemption through his Blood,
and Life by His Spirit.
And He is in me, and all fullness is in Him.
To Him I belong, by purchase, conquest, and self-surrender.
To me He belongs, for all my hourly need.
There is no cloud between my Lord and me.
There is no difficulty inward and outward, which He is not ready to meet in me today.
The Lord is my Keeper. Amen.