This week we begin with Question 46 of the New City Catechism, found in Part 3 (questions 36-52), which focuses on the Spirit, restoration, and growing in grace.
Question 46: What is the Lord's Supper?
Answer: Christ commanded all Christians to eat bread and to drink from the cup in thankful remembrance of him and his death. The Lord's Supper is a celebration of the presence of God in our midst; bringing us into communion with God and with one another; feeding and nourishing our souls. It also anticipates the day when we will eat and drink with Christ in his Father's kingdom.
The longest and most detailed passage in the Bible that teaches about the Lord's Supper is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, a passage that will occupy our attention all this week. Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul had to address the matter of divisions at the Lord's Supper that were created by selfish actions of the wealthier members of the church against those who were poorer. It may be that, in a context in which the Lord's Supper was observed as part of a larger fellowship meal, the wealthier members who were able to arrive first were consuming all the food and drink before their poorer brothers and sisters (e.g., slaves who had to work into the evening) could arrive. The result was, "One goes hungry, another gets drunk" (v. 21). Instead of seeing the fellowship meal as an occasion to unify their church across class divisions, the Corinthians approached the Lord's table selfishly. In response to this terrible situation, Paul called their minds back to the original institution of the Lord's Supper as an ordinance so that he could instruct them on its proper meaning and practice.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also 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."
What stands out in these words of institution is the command to eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus. Remembering is a very important act in Scripture, for when God's people fail to remember his saving work from the past, they fail to trust him for the future. See, for example, Joshua's memorial stones, placed to remind future generations of Israel of the Lord's mighty work of bringing them into the land he had promised them (Joshua 4:19-24). If we do not build reminders of God's past faithfulness into our lives, it is very unlikely that our descendants will know the Lord.
When we eat and drink the Lord's Supper, we are called upon to remember the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. That means we must reflect on his self-giving sacrifice at the cross and its significance for our salvation. We are to eat and drink with humility over the high price God paid to remove our sins, and also with deep gratitude and joy that he loved us enough to do so. By remembering, we bring an event from the past into our present consciousness so that it can shape the way we live now. May we eat and drink at the Lord's Table often and thus remember often the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross for us.
Suggested passage for personal or family reading: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. What does this passage teach us about the importance of remembering at the Lord's Supper?