But let us now attend to the contents of the Lord’s Day we are discussing at present.
There are no less than three long chapters in our Heidelberg Catechism devoted to the explanation of the sacrament of communion. In Lord’s Day 28 we have the general exposition of the meaning of this sacrament, together with a reference to the institution of the same. In Lord’s Day 29 the relation between the sign and the thing signified is explained; while in Lord’s Day 30 a comparison is drawn between the Lord’s Supper and the popish mass.
In the present Lord’s Day, therefore, we are called to discuss first of all the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
We wish to remind you once again that it is essential for a sacrament to be definitely instituted as such,—instituted by God through our Lord Jesus Christ. A sacrament that is not definitely instituted by God for His church to receive and to observe would be a contradiction in terms. That institution is very important. Water as such does not constitute the sacrament of baptism; nor do bread and wine as such have any significance as sacramental signs in themselves. No more than any red light on the road which you may see has the significance for you that you must stop your car, no more has water and bread and wine as such the significance for you that it is a sacrament of God through which God will cleanse your soul from sin or feed your soul unto everlasting life. When you see a red light on the road, the question is whether that light is instituted. If it is not, you do not and do not have to stop. You may see all kinds of red lights on the road, and when you see them you ask the question whether they are private red lights or whether they are instituted and have the authority of the government. And only when that latter is the case, you stop; otherwise you simply travel on. It is true that red in itself is symbolic of danger. It is true that water in itself is symbolic of cleansing. And so it is also true that bread in itself is symbolic of spiritual nourishment and that wine is symbolic of heavenly quickening and refreshment. If this were not true, they could not possibly serve as signs. But although it is true that these natural elements are in themselves signs and are able to express in themselves certain symbolic significance, they thereby do not constitute sacraments. The institution, that is, the setting aside, the setting apart of the water in baptism from all other water, of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper from all other bread and wine, that setting apart, that pointing out by God of these signs, that divine act whereby He Himself connects His Word with those signs, that institution is essential in the constitution of a sacrament.
It is therefore perfectly proper and very important that the Heidelberg Catechism calls special attention to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It was, as you know, at the occasion of the last passover which the Lord ate with His disciples and which He had greatly desired to eat that the supper of holy communion was instituted.
It is hardly possible to explain the Scriptural record concerning the last passover of Jesus with His disciples in any other way than by assuming that it was on the regular day, that is, the fourteenth of Nisan, that the Lord celebrated it. Thus we read in: “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed.” This, therefore, refers to the slaying of the paschal lamb, which was always done on the fourteenth of Nisan. And all the rest of the account in the gospel according to Luke is in accord with this assumption. For we read, vss. 8-14: “And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the good man of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.” The same is true of the account in Matthew: “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.” And the same account is found in . Hence, it was undoubtedly on Thursday evening, the fourteenth of Nisan, that the (Lord celebrated this passover with His disciples. No further explanation can possibly be given to the accounts in the synoptics. The theory that in that year the paschal supper was eaten on the fifteenth of Nisan, instead of on the fourteenth, in order to maintain the view that Jesus died at the same time that the paschal lamb was slain, certainly can find no support in the Biblical record. Others claim that Jesus held the paschal supper on the thirteenth of Nisan, and therefore a day early. But also this is not in harmony with the account of the synoptic gospels; and besides, it would mean that the paschal lamb, which must needs be offered in the temple, could not have been eaten.
Now what was the significance of the passover? It was in the first place also a harvest feast, which was celebrated in the promised land, and therefore, the land of the covenant. On the sixteenth of Nisan the first sheaf of the harvest was waved before the Lord. Thus we read in: “And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.” However, it was above all a feast of commemoration, remembering that the Lord had passed over the dwellings of His people that were covered by the blood of the lamb in the night the destroyer went through the house of bondage to kill all the firstborn of the land. And besides, on the passover the people commemorated that great deliverance from the house of bondage by the mighty hand of God. For thus we read in , ff.: “Speak unto all the, congregation of Israel, saying, in the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: And if the household shall be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs and with the pertinence thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remain- eth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a beast by an ordinance for ever.” And so, finally, that Old Testament passover was in the third place a feast that had typical significance. We would not say that circumcision and the passover constituted two Old Testament sacraments. Circumcision, of course, was a sacrament. The passover was in itself no sacrament; but it closely approached to the New Testament conception of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Israel celebrated its deliverance accomplished, and at the same time looked forward to its deliverance as it was to be realized in the blood of the Lamb that was to be slain.
It was that passover which Christ Jesus changed into the New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. For that purpose He took not the lamb, but bread and wine. The lamb could not serve the purpose of a sign in the Lord’s Supper. The paschal lamb was positively the very last lamb that could ever be eaten and that could ever be sacrificed. The lamb which was eaten by Christ and His apostles, that had been carried into the temple and sacrificed there before it was carried into the upper room, that lamb of the passover which Christ so greatly desired to eat with His apostles, was the last that was ever and that could ever be typically slain. For at that passover the Lamb of God stood ready to be sacrificed. And therefore, that lamb could not serve in the New Testament as the sign of the sacrament. It was typical of the sacrifice that was to be accomplished on the cross. And therefore it could not look backward to that accomplished sacrifice. But the Lord took bread, the bread that also was eaten at the passover and the wine that was drunken when the third cup, the cup of thansgiving, was taken up at that supper. The bread and wine instead of the lamb Christ definitely instituted.
That they were so instituted to serve as a sacrament, and therefore as signs and seals, is evident from the words spoken by the Lord at this institution. The bread and wine were separated from all other bread and wine by those spoken words. We read in: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and break it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Cf. . And the account in is virtually the same: “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” By these words therefore the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are definitely separated and instituted as sacramental signs and seals.
And notice, in the second place, that the Lord instituted this sacrament very definitely that it might be observed by the church. For it was instituted by a very definite command of Christ. When He gave the bread to the disciples, He said: “Take, eat; this is my body.” And when He gave the cup to them, He said: “Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” And according to the account in Luke the Lord added: “This do in remembrance of me.” From these words it is very evident that the, Lord instituted a sacrament which was to be observed throughout the ages by His church in the world. And that the observance of this supper is of great significance is evident from the fact that the institution of it was repeated by special revelation to the apostle Paul, who tells us in: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” There can be no doubt that when the apostle writes here that he had received this commandment concerning the Lord’s Supper from the Lord, he means that he had received it by special revelation and not from the rest of the apostles. And this fact that the Lord from heaven gave a special revelation to the apostle Paul, who had not been personally with the Lord in His earthly sojourn, concerning the institution of the Lord’s Supper certainly emphasizes the importance of this sacrament. And we are not surprised, therefore, that the church throughout the new dispensation, from the very earliest times, attached great significance to that institution of holy communion. The church guarded jealously that feast of commemoration which at the same time was a sacrament of nourishment. And we need not be surprised, therefore, that also in the Heidelberg Catechism we find a detailed exposition of the Lord’s Supper and its institution.