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.
According to Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, one of the purposes of the Lord's Supper is to remember the sacrifice of Christ for us (vv. 23-25). Our attention is drawn to the past, where God purchased our salvation through the death of his Son.
But we do not limit ourselves to looking back at the past. We also look around at our fellow believers in the present. As the catechism answer states, the Lord's Supper brings us "into communion with God and with one another." Collectively sharing in the event of remembrance, we renew our covenant with one another as the church of Jesus Christ every time we partake of the Lord's Supper together.
In verse 29, Paul writes to the Corinthians, "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." Although it may sound at first that Paul means for us to discern Christ's physical body in the Supper, that is not the point. If it were, Paul almost certainly would have spoken of discerning the body and blood, not merely the body. Instead, we should understand Paul's reference to "the body" as the church itself, which he elsewhere refers to as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12). We "discern the body" at the Lord's Supper when we consciously eat and drink in unity with our fellow believers in the church. This reading also makes sense of Paul's concluding command in verse 33, which summarizes the primary application of his instructions throughout this section: "So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another." Those who eat selfishly in order to gorge themselves at the expense of others in the church are not acting like mutually supporting members of a body. They are acting like isolated individuals pursuing their own interests, and that is precisely the wrong heart to bring to the Lord's Table.
When we eat and drink the Lord's Supper, let us do so in the context of the local church, where as believers in covenant with one another we have opportunity, as often as we observe the Supper, to "discern the body," the unified church of Jesus Christ.
Suggested passage for personal or family reading: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. What does this passage teach about the Lord's Supper in reference to the church? Is there anything you need to change about the way you partake of the Lord's Supper in order to obey the teachings of this passage? Should the Lord's Supper be observed alone by individuals or among families outside of a church setting?