Meaning of the Lord's Supper
Rev. David Schmidt
March 15, 2021
In my last article, I talked about the importance of worship and what happens in worship. There, God comes to us and gives us his gift of forgiveness which he delivers to us through the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are Word and Sacrament. In the church, we have two sacraments; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Sacrament is the Latin translation of the Greek word for mystery. In a sacrament, Jesus takes a physical element and adds his promises to it so that when we receive it, we receive the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he was celebrating the Passover with his disciples. On the Thursday of Holy Week, knowns as Maundy Thursday, we celebrate Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper.
The Passover was a meal that the Israelites celebrated annually to commemorate God’s deliverance; when he rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. On that first Passover, in his final plague on the Egyptians, God sent an angel to kill the firstborn son of every household. The Israelites were commanded to slaughter a lamb and put the blood of the lamb on the door of each house so that the angel would pass over the house sparing the first-born son. They were to eat the lamb that night in what was known as the Passover meal.
Jesus was celebrating this meal with his disciples in what would be the strangest Passover ever. Instead of using this meal to point them to a past deliverance from death, he pointed them forward to a new exodus, a deliverance from the slavery of sin, and a Passover from eternal death to eternal life through his substitutionary sacrifice. There was no lamb mentioned on the table of this meal, because the lamb was at the table hosting the meal. And in this meal, Jesus offers us his very body and blood so that we can receive the benefits that he won on the cross.
How is that possible? Because when Jesus instituted this meal he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Jesus was not being metaphorical. He simply says, “it is”. Therefore, it is his body and blood, not because we believe it is, but because Jesus says it is. We can’t make sense of it and that’s why it’s called a sacrament, a mystery. We simply receive it in faith knowing that when we eat Christ’s body and drink his blood, delivered to us through bread and wine, we are forgiven.
So today, we do not receive his body and blood symbolically, but literally. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” By these rhetorical questions, Paul shows us that he takes Jesus at his word. The cup is the blood of Christ. The bread is the body of Christ.
Since we receive Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, we come to his table humbly. We recognize his very body and blood present in the meal and that we are sinners in need of that forgiveness. Thanks be to God, he gives us exactly what he promises.