100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#48: Why do Christians practice the ceremonial “Lord's Supper”?

Yesterday we looked at the ceremony of baptism and our conclusion was that the act of baptism does not save a person. No ceremony can. So we might wonder why there are ceremonies at all? In the case of baptism it bears witness to the world that we are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection – we will die and be resurrected just as Christ was. Spiritually, we have died and been resurrected. As Paul says in Romans 6 – “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This ceremony of baptism is symbolic of the whole of Christian life – our sinful nature is put to death and we are to “walk in newness of life”.

There is one other ceremony which Christians observe; the “Lord's Supper”. This was instituted by Christ the night before His crucifixion...

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

Clearly, in saying “my body, which is given for you”, Jesus refers to His death. It is Christ's death we are to remember. And the second part; the cup of wine representing His blood, also alluding to His death. We remember His death because it is through Christ's death that we have salvation. But more specifically, Christ refers to the “new covenant”. What we're really supposed to understand from the Lord's Supper is something more than our individual salvation; we're supposed to remember that we are now, through Christ's death, part of a “new covenant”. Again, when we understand what this means, we are speaking of something that is symbolic of the whole of Christian life.

So what is this “new covenant”? Well, if we first consider the “old covenant” which was with God and Israel, we can see how God entered into a relationship with a whole community of people. Mankind was, and still is, fallen. God was taking this group of fallen people who, because of their fallen-ness did not know how to live as they ought to, and He showed them how mankind was supposed to live in relationship to one another and to God by giving them the Law. What God was doing was beginning His work of restoration to the fallen human race. Sin separates us from God and from one another; so the fact that this was done through a nation is very important, because that is what it is like to live as God intends... that is, to be part of a community united under God and loyal to one another. This was the old covenant; the beginning of God's restoration of mankind. The new covenant, then, is the continuation of God's plan of redemption. By no means do we throw away the things that God has taught us through the old covenant. Rather, we should have an even greater understanding of how we, the people of God, need to be a unified community under the headship of Christ, loyal to one another as though one body.

And so we have the Lord's Supper, which is very much about the people of God joining together as one body in fellowship. It's a “supper” because sharing a meal with others is one of the most intimate things we can do with those we love. When Jesus spoke of this ceremony in Luke 22 above, it was as He was eating His last meal with His disciples. This is the picture we ought to have when we celebrate the Lord's Supper; not only that we are sharing a meal with our brothers and sisters in Christ, (at least symbolically), but that Christ Himself is sharing that meal with us also. It's supposed to be about the fellowship we have as a body of believers, both with each other and with God. And if we do this symbolically, how much more should we actually have our fellow Christians over for a meal in our homes, and actually develop proper relationships with each other? In remembering the Lord's Supper, we remember that Christ's death gave us all newness of life, and that this life is to be lived as citizens of God's kingdom; part of a community called the Church.

The community-focus of the Lord's Supper can be clearly seen in a passage of Scripture in which the Apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for failing to recognize this aspect of it...

When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. [That is, what they called the Lord's Supper was not being observed in the spirit of the Lord's Supper.] For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)

Here, the Lord's Supper was observed as a proper meal. But the whole point of the Lord's Supper was missed, since everybody just turned up to satisfy themselves and didn't care about whether someone else might be going without. But this new covenant that we are under teaches us to love others and consider them more significant than ourselves. It teaches us to look out for and tend to the needs of others.

Just like in the ceremony of baptism, what’s most important is what is truly in one's heart, and what then manifests itself in every day life. And it has always been that way, even under the old covenant with it's many ceremonies and ordinances. God has never been interested in mere observances, but He's interested to see what is in the heart of a man.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

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