Lord’s Day 28
Question 75. How art thou admonished and assured in the Lord’s Supper that thou art a partaker of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross, and of all His benefits?
Answer. Thus: That Christ has commanded me and all believers, to eat of this broken bread, and to drink of this cup in remembrance of Him, adding these promises: first, that His body was offered and broken on the cross for me, and His blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes, the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup communicated to me; and further, that He feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, with His crucified body and shed blood, as assuredly as I receive from the hands of the minister, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, as certain signs of the body and blood of Christ.
Question 76. What is it then to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ?
Answer. It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin, and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more united to His sacred body, by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are notwithstanding flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone; and that we live, and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.
Question 77. Where has Christ promised that He will as certainly feed and nourish believers with His body and blood, as they eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup?
Answer. In the institution of the supper, which is thus expressed: The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said: 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 often 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.
This promise is repeated by the holy apostle Paul, where he says: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; because we are all partakers of that one bread.
The Catechism spends a lot of time and space on the sacraments. Its purpose is not only negative, to set forth the biblical doctrine of the sacraments over against errors, but also positive, to teach us what the sacraments are and how they operate, so that our partaking of them can become more meaningful. The danger with the sacraments is that we focus on the externals, that we go through the motions and partake of the elements without believing in our hearts the spiritual realities to which they point. This, due to our regular and repeated celebration of it, is especially the case with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This makes it important for us to go back to the biblical basics of this sacrament.
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
This sacrament goes under a number of different names, the most biblical ones being, “communion” (), “the Lord’s Table” ( ), and “the Lord’s Supper” ( ). Even though “Eucharist” is a biblical idea connected to the Passover, we avoid using this term because of its association with erroneous teachings on this sacrament, (the Roman Catholics and Lutherans call it the Eucharist), and also because we do not actually find this title given to the sacrament in the Bible. The term “Mass” is of completely human origin, is used almost exclusively by the Roman Catholics, and really has nothing to do with this sacrament.
All three of the synoptic gospels, (Matthew, Mark and Luke), andspeak of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. There are also many other biblical passages that allude to this sacrament and help us to understand it (for example, ; ; ; ). From the institution of the Lord’s Supper we learn these things.
1. The Lord’s Supper was appointed by Jesus Christ in connection with the Passover. After Jesus had celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples, He used the bread and wine of the Passover table to institute this New Testament sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is the New Testament continuation of the Passover with these two differences; a) the Passover looked forward to the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God, whereas the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of this sacrifice, and b) the Passover was a bloody sacrifice, but in the Lord’s Supper there is no blood or sacrifice because Jesus death was the final, once for all, sacrifice ().
2. The Lord’s Supper is more than a mere human ceremony of remembrance. By recording the institution of this sacrament four times in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit not only commands us to use this ceremony as a sacrament, but also gives us scriptural warrant and authority to do so. The spiritual and gospel significance of the Lord’s Supper elevates it as a sacrament above other ceremonies.
3. The Lord’s Supper is to be continually and repeatedly celebrated until Jesus comes again.speaks of eating this bread and drinking this cup “often” and by this shewing the Lord’s death “till he come.” How frequently a church should celebrate it is not stipulated in Scripture, but our practice according to the Church Order is to do it “at least every two or three months” (Church Order, Art. 63).
4. The Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance that is to be observed in the public gatherings of the church for worship as an element secondary to the preaching of the Word. The first Supper was instituted by Christ in a public gathering with His disciples, and throughout the New Testament it is at the church’s gatherings for worship that the sacrament is administered (; ). Also, the preaching of the gospel is primary and explains the meaning of the symbols in the sacrament. Apart from the gospel, the sacrament has no meaning or power.
5. Believers are “commanded” by Christ to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament is instituted in the imperative, “This do…,” “Take, eat…,” and “Drink ye all….” The fact that it is commanded does not mean that we are compelled against our will to partake, but simply highlights that God knows what is best for us, and that true believers should not doubtingly hold themselves back from what Christ has intended for their assurance.
The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper
A sacrament is the gospel in symbolic form. There are at least four different aspects to the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper, all represented in the symbols that Jesus instituted. It is important for us to know these so that when we come to the sacrament we may properly “discern the Lord’s body” and benefit spiritually from the sacrament.
First, the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine remind us of what Jesus has already done for us. When Jesus says, “this do in remembrance of me,” (), He has in mind especially that we remember His death on the cross, for He adds, “my body…is given for you” and “my blood…is shed for you.” Even though the sacrament is neither a re-enactment of the cross or a sacrificing of Christ, it should remind us of the death of Jesus in which He gave His life’s blood for us.
Second, in the elements of bread and wine, Jesus shows us what He continues to do for us as our Savior. Just as He used the simple and every-day element of water in baptism to teach our spiritual washing, so Jesus uses the simple and everyday element of bread to teach us that He daily and constantly sustains us spiritually. All our salvation is in Him and from Him, not only in what He has done, but in His continual work for us in heaven and in us by His Holy Spirit. “Without me, ye can do nothing” (). In the element of wine Jesus teaches us how great our salvation is and how far it will take us. Wine in the Bible is always a picture of prosperity and feasting, of joy and gladness, and so in the wine Christ tells us that in salvation He gives us not only the basic necessities for our spiritual survival, but also an abundance and joy. In Christ we have not only all we need, but “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” ( ). Wine is a promise and seal of the heavenly joy and eternal feasting to come.
Third, and easily overlooked, is the sign of a table and a meal, which are symbolic of our fellowship with God. So important is this element that the sacrament is called “the Lord’s table” (). A meal in the Bible is representative of close, even family, communion. God is our Father, and through His Son, Jesus Christ, He brings us into rich communion and fellowship with Himself. A part of this communion is our spiritual fellowship with the other believers with whom we partake of this sacrament. This is what Paul is teaching in , “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” That “one bread” is Jesus Christ, and being spiritually one with Him means we are one with all other true believers.
A fourth element of the sacrament, which has spiritual significance, is our partaking of the bread and the wine. Food and drink are of no benefit without our eating and drinking. When we take the bread of the Lord’s Table into our own hands and put it to our mouth, we are making a sign of our faith in Jesus Christ. The saving work of Jesus on the cross is of no benefit to us without faith. There is not, as Roman Catholicism teaches, an automatic blessing in receiving the elements of the sacrament. Rather, we benefit from the Supper only when we by faith, which is “the hand and mouth of our soul” (Belgic Confession, Art. 35), receive and believe on Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus means in John 6:53 when He says, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” He does not mean we become cannibalistic flesh eaters, as the Pharisees thought, but that we “come” to Him and “believe” on Him ().
The Purpose of the Lord’s Supper
Why did Jesus institute this sacrament? He gave this sacrament as a constant reminder of His death in our behalf and of our living union to Him. These are the things we need to know in order to have assurance.
Have you ever come to church burdened with the guilt of your own sins? Have you ever cried out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Have you ever sat through a service contemplating your own unworthiness because of your anger, your lust, your earthly-mindedness, your envy or your discontent? Have you ever questioned whether God can really love you as a sinner? Have you ever felt that you are an utter failure in your calling as a parent or a spouse? Have you ever wondered how or if you could go on as a Christian? If so, you need the Lord’s Supper.
Because Jesus knows our sinfulness, and because He knows the daily weakness of our faith, He has given us this sacrament. The purpose of the Lord’s Table is both to affirm in our minds that our sins are forgiven through the complete and perfect sacrifice of His own body and blood, and to assure us that He will sustain and strengthen us spiritually as we go on as sinners in a world and life of trouble.
These are the promises that are represented and sealed to us by Christ in the sacrament. The first that He died for me and my sins, the second that He will strengthen and keep me to everlasting life (Q&A 75).
What sheer delight and deep gratitude, then, should fill our souls when we come to the Lord’s Table!
Questions for Discussion
1. How is the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper different from other important ceremonies like marriage or confession of faith? What makes it different?
2. What are the biblical names for this sacrament and what do they mean?
3. How is the Lord’s Supper a continuation of the Passover? What differences are there?
4. How frequently should the Lord’s Supper be celebrated? What are some arguments for and against celebrating it weekly?
5. Under what circumstances might a church postpone the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? What if a church never celebrated the Lord’s Supper?
6. Would it be permissible to administer this sacrament at a hospital bedside or in a prison? Why or why not?
7. How do Jesus’ words in the institution of the Lord’s Supper also compel us to make profession of faith and seek membership in the church?
8. What are we remembering in the Lord’s Supper? What does it mean to “remember” this?
9. What spiritual reality do the symbols of bread and wine represent?
10. Why is this sacrament called a “table” and a “supper”?
11. As we take the bread and wine and partake of it, what should be our focus?
12. Is the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper only for confident and assured Christians or also for those who struggle with doubt and temptation? How can this sacrament encourage us in our doubts?