The Lord’s Supper: a Holy Meal

Lord'sSupperPic 

The Pattern

The first century church celebrated the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day as a sacred, covenant feast (the Agapé). It was an actual meal centered around one cup and one loaf. This holy meal was the main reason for the weekly gathering of the church and was a wonderful time of fellowship and edification.

 

The Purpose

When partaken of as an actual feast in a joyful, wedding atmosphere, the Lord’s Supper typifies the wedding supper of the Lamb and thus has a strong forward looking aspect to it. The bread and wine are symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood and also serve to remind Jesus of His promise to return and eat of the meal again with us. In addition, using a single cup and loaf not only symbolize the oneness of the church, but God also uses it to create unity within a body of believers. Another major benefit of celebrating the Supper as a holy banquet is the fellowship and encouragement that each member experiences. It is a primary means of edifying the church during the Sunday gathering.

 

The Proof: Its Form (A Feast) And Its Focus (The Future)

According to Fritz Reinecker, “The Passover celebrated two events, the deliverance from Egypt and the anticipated coming Messianic deliverance.”[1] Jesus turned the Passover Feast into the Lord’s Supper, which also has both a backward and a forward looking aspect. The church looks back to Jesus’ sacrifice as the ultimate Passover Lamb, delivering His people from their sins. One reason Jesus gave for partaking of the cup is because He would “not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18).  Every time we partake of the cup, Jesus’ promise to return and drink it again with us should be brought to mind. Thus, the Lord’s Supper also looks forward to its fulfillment in the wedding supper of the Lamb. What better way to typify a banquet than with a banquet?  Celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly as a full fellowship meal is like rehearsal dinner before a wedding.

 

His future wedding banquet was much on our Lord’s mind during the Last Supper. Jesus first mentioned it at the beginning of the Passover feast when He said, “I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Lk 22:16).  He mentioned it a second time when passing the cup, saying, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18).  After the supper Jesus referred to the banquet yet again, saying, “I confer on you a kingdom . . . so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Lk 22:29-30).

 

The most extensive treatment of the Lord’s Supper is found in 1 Corinthians 10-11. Class divisions between Corinthian believers resulted in their Lord’s Supper meetings doing more harm than good (11:17-18). They were guilty of partaking of the Supper in an “unworthy manner” (11:27).  The wealthier among them, not wanting to eat with those of a lower social class, evidently came to the gathering so early and remained there so long that some became drunk. Making matters worse, by time the working class believers arrived, delayed perhaps by employment constraints, all the food had been eaten. The poor went home hungry (11:21-22). Some of the Corinthians failed to recognize the Supper as a sacred, covenant meal and they failed to esteem their impoverished brethren as equal parts of the body of Christ (11:23-32).

 

It is evident the Corinthian church partook of the Lord’s Supper as a full meal. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church some twenty years after Jesus turned His Last Supper into our Lord’s Supper. The Last Supper was a full meal and so too the Corinthians understood the Lord’s Supper to be a true meal. Where would they have gotten the idea of celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a true banquet if not from the apostles themselves?

 

The inspired solution to the Corinthian abuse of the Supper was not to cease eating it as an actual meal. Instead, Paul wrote “when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” Only those so famished or undisciplined or selfish that they could not wait for the others are instructed to “eat at home” (1Co 11:34).

 

Its Functions: 

1.) Reminding Jesus

The Lord’s Supper is arguably the sign of the new covenant. As Jesus took the cup He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). The purpose of any sign is to serve as a reminder of covenant promises.  Thus Jesus said we are to partake of the bread “in remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19). The Greek word translated “remembrance,” anamnesis, means “reminder.”  Literally translated, Jesus said, “do this unto my reminder.”

 

Is the reminder is primarily for Jesus’ benefit or ours? Joachim Jeremias understood Jesus to use anamnesis in the sense of a reminder for God, “The Lord’s Supper would thus be an enacted prayer.”[2] In The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, he argued that the Greek underlying the word “until” (1Co 11:26, achri hou) is not simply a temporal reference, but functions as a kind of final clause. The meal’s function is as a constant reminder to God to bring about the Second Coming.[3]

 

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:26, confirms this by stating that the church, in eating the Lord’s Supper, is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” To whom do we proclaim His death and why? Arguably, it is proclaimed it to the Lord Himself as a reminder for Him to return. The normal Greek for until (heos hutou) merely denotes a time frame. For example, I might say that I will use an umbrella “until” it stops raining, merely denoting a time frame. (Using the umbrella has nothing to do with causing the rain to stop). However, this is not how “until’ is used in 1 Corinthians 11:26. The Greek behind “until” in 1 Corinthians 11:26 is achri hou. Reinecker points out that as it is used here it denotes much more than a mere time frame; grammatically it can denote a goal or an objective.[4] Paul was instructing the church to partake of the bread and cup as a means of proclaiming the Lord’s death (as a reminder) until (with the goal of persuading) Him to come back!  Thus, in proclaiming His death through the loaf and cup, the Supper looked forward to and anticipated His return.

 

2.) Creating Unity

The bread and the wine serve as representations of the body and blood of our Lord. His propitiatory death on the cross is the very foundation of the Lord’s Supper. Just as the form of the Lord’s Supper is important (a full fellowship meal that prefigured the wedding banquet of the Lamb), also important is the form of the bread and cup. Mention is made in Scripture of the cup of thanksgiving (a single cup) and of only one loaf:  “Because there is one loaf, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1Co 10:16-17). The one loaf not only pictures our unity in Christ, but according to 1 Corinthians 10:17 it may even create unity! Notice carefully the wording of the inspired text. “Because” there is one loaf, therefore we are one body, “for” we all partake of the one loaf (1Co 10:17). Partaking of a pile of broken cracker crumbs and multiple cups of juice is a picture of disunity, division, and individuality. It completely misses the imagery of unity.  One scholar wrote that Lord’s Supper was “intended as means of fostering the unity of the church . . .”[5]

 

3.)  Fellowship

In the book of Acts we learn that the early church devoted themselves to “fellowship in the breaking of bread” (2:42, literal translation). In many English versions there is an “and” between “teaching” and “fellowship” and between “bread” and “prayer” but not between “fellowship” and “bread” (Ac 2:42). This is because in some Greek manuscripts the words “fellowship” and “breaking of bread” are linked together as simultaneous activities. They had fellowship with one another as they broke bread together. Luke further informs us that this eating was done with “glad and sincere hearts” (2:46). Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? It was also the opinion of F.F. Bruce that in Acts 2, the fellowship enjoyed was expressed practically in the breaking of bread.  Bruce further held that the phrase “breaking of bread” denotes “something more than the ordinary partaking of food together: the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper is no doubt indicated . . . this observance appears to have formed the part of an ordinary meal.”[6]

 

Its Frequency: Weekly

Early believers ate the Lord’s Supper weekly as the main purpose for their coming together as a church each Lord’s Day. In Acts 20:7, Luke informs, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” The words “to break bread” in Acts 20:7 reflect what is known as a telic infinitive. It denotes a purpose or objective. Their meeting was a meating!

 

Another place the New Testament states the purpose for a church gathering is 1 Corinthians 11:17-22. Their “meetings” (11:17) were doing more harm than good because when they came “together as a church” (11:18a) they had deep divisions. Thus Paul wrote, “when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat” (11:20).  From this it is obvious that the stated reason for their church meetings was to eat the Lord’s Supper. Sadly, their abuses of the Supper were so gross that it had ceased being the Lord’s Supper, but the fact remains that they ostensibly were gathering each week to celebrate the Supper.

 

The third and last reference to the reason for an assembly is found in 1 Corinthians 11:33, “When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” As before, it shows that the reason they came together was to eat. Lest this appear to be making much out of little, it must be realized that no other reason is ever given in the Scriptures as to the purpose of a regular, weekly church meeting.

 

The Proposition

In summary, the Lord’s Supper is the primary purpose for which the church is to gather each Lord’s Day. Eaten as a full meal, the Supper typifies the wedding supper of the Lamb and thus has a forward looking component. It is to be partaken of as a feast, in a joyful, wedding atmosphere rather than in a somber, funeral atmosphere. A major benefit of the Supper as a banquet is the fellowship and encouragement each member experiences. Within the context of this full meal, there is to be one cup and one loaf from which all partake. One single loaf is to be used, not only to symbolize the unity of a body of believers, but also because God will use it to create unity within a body of believers. The bread and wine are also symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood and serve to remind Jesus of His promise to return and eat of the meal again with His church (Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!).

—    Steve Atkerson

Revised 04/21/14


[1] Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1980), p. 207.

[2] Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1981) p. 244.

[3] Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (New York, NY:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966), p. 252-254.

[4] Reinecker, p. 34. It is used with an aorist subjunctive verb. Other instances of this construction in eschatological passages include Luke 21:24, Romans 11:25 and 1 Corinthians 15:25.

[5] Pelikan, p. 807

[6] F. F. Bruce, Acts of The Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981) p. 79.