Remembering the Cross
- Define the Lord’s Supper as a sign of God’s love.
- Sense the holiness of the sacrament of communion.
- Reflect on the benefits of participating (or look forward to participating) in the sacrament of communion.
Looking at the "last supper" Jesus celebrated with his disciples helps us understand the sacrament of the Lord's Supper we celebrate in our churches. In fact, the last supper becomes the first of many suppers that the risen Lord will celebrate with his people through history.
The first thing to notice is that this is the Passover. As we saw a few weeks ago, the Passover was a sacramental remembrance of the exodus, when God set his people free from slavery in Egypt. But now, at this Passover meal, not only is Jesus remembering the Passover of long ago, but he is anticipating the final and complete Passover. He is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," as John the Baptist says (John 1:29). On the cross and in his resurrection he will accomplish the final exodus, freeing his people from the ultimate enslavement of sin and death. We are now made safe for eternity by the blood of the Lamb of God, as the Israelites were made safe by the blood of the sacrificial lamb.
The Passover meal began with the breaking of bread with a blessing, and through the meal there were four cups of wine shared by all the guests. At the breaking of the bread, and probably at the last cup ("after the supper," v. 20), Jesus transformed the Passover meal into the sacrament we now call the Lord's Supper, or communion.
Jesus transforms the Passover into the Lord's Supper by saying of the bread, "This is my body given for you . . ." and "This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . ." (in other places, "this is my blood of the covenant," Matt. 26:28). What does the is mean? The church has struggled with exactly what that means for centuries. Reformed Christians don't understand it to mean that the elements are somehow transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. We do believe that in communion, and through the physical elements of bread and wine, Christ does give us all the benefits his broken body and shed blood won for us.
In the last supper, as he inaugurates the Lord's Supper, Jesus talks about covenant. They share the blood of the covenant. This goes back to an important Old Testament passage (Ex. 24:1-8) in which Moses and the Israelites ratify the covenant God made with them. At Sinai, Moses and the people hear God's law and promise, "Everything the Lord has said we will do." Moses then takes sacrificial blood and splashes it on an altar he has built, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you. . . ." When Jesus says that the cup of wine is the blood of the covenant, he means that by shedding his blood for the people he is keeping the covenant they broke by disobeying God's law. Jesus is the covenant keeper, and through the Lord's Supper he shares his covenant blood with us covenant-breaking sinners.
When we celebrate the Lord's Supper, or communion, Christ offers all the blessings of his death and resurrection to us. We remember his cross and resurrection. Like the old spiritual, we can say we were there. But
it's more than remembering. By taking the sacramental bread and wine, Christ wants to assure us that our sins are completely forgiven and that we are God's covenant people. Through the physical elements of bread and wine, Christ gives us the spiritual blessings of grace and forgiveness and eternal life. Of course, it's not automatic. Participating in the supper calls us to accept this assurance from the Lord in faith.
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