As we continue to investigate the central theme of the gospel — particularly the gospel as it applies to those who’ve been saved — it only makes sense to look at baptism and communion. After all, these are universal practices designed to teach or remind us of what it means to be a Christian.
I’ve posted several communion meditations on this site, several of which seek to interpret the Lord’s Supper — and I doubt I’ll ever exhaust the subject. And so I’ll try to be brief — but it’s favorite subject of mine, and so it’s going to be hard to do.
(Mat 26:26-29) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
First, the synoptics all make the point that this was part of the Passover meal. The Passover celebrated the Exodus, which, as we considered earlier, is also a lesson found in baptism.
Jesus is himself the Passover lamb — the sacrifice that was eaten by the Israelites to escape the death angel.
Blood of the covenant
The reference to “blood of the covenant” goes back to Exodus. Beginning in chapter 20, God gave a series of commands to the people starting with the Ten Commandments. The people found God’s voice so frightening that they begged him to speak through Moses (20:18-19). Moses then gave a series of additional commands comprising the balance of chapter 20 though chapter 23. Then in chapter 24, the people respond to God, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.”
Moses then built an altar. He sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings — offerings where the sacrifice is eaten by the people as a ceremonial meal with God.
Moses took half the blood and sprinkled it on the people. The other half he sprinkled on the altar. It would have been a LOT of blood. Then Moses said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (24:8).
(Exo 24:9-11) Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
What did Jesus mean in calling the cup of his Passover meal “blood of the covenant”? It seems likely that he meant —
* That just as the Israelites ate with God a fellowship meal of an animal sacrificed to God, this Passover meal was a fellowship meal with God — God and Jesus — with Jesus’ body as the sacrifice.
* That just as the leaders of Israel saw God himself, the apostles were sitting there eating with God himself. Of course, Jesus is present in our assemblies today, sitting at the Lord’s Table with the rest of us.
* That Jesus was making a new covenant with the new Israel.
* That drinking the wine is like having blood sprinkled — it’s the making of a blood oath, sealing a new covenant in blood — the blood of Jesus. Thus, when we drink the cup, we are renewing our covenant with God.
Finally, Jesus did not drink with his apostles again until the dawn of the Kingdom. I’ll not attempt a complete Kingdom theology here, but there’s an important point here.
When we take the bread and the cup, we are celebrating the dawn of the Kingdom. Jesus is present with us because the Kingdom has come.
And the “Kingdom” is the reign of God. The Kingdom exists wherever God is served. And thus, as we celebrate the Kingdom with Jesus, we commit to serve in that Kingdom.
(Luke 22:15-20) And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Luke’s Gospel gives a couple of additional details. First, he records that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Now, from its earliest existence, the church has celebrated communion on Sunday, the day of the resurrection. Therefore, while we certainly remember Jesus’ death, we especially remember his resurrection, because it’s his resurrection that assures us of our own resurrection.
The love feast
In Luke we read that the cup of the covenant of blood took place after the Passover meal, while the bread was eaten before the meal. You see, we often forget that the Lord’s Supper was, well, supper. It wasn’t a crumb and sip. It was a meal.
And the early church honored this example by combining communion with a meal, as we read in 1 Cor 11 (where the meal was abused) and Jude 12, where it’s called a “love feast.” And we know from history that the love feast continued for centuries as part of the routine practice of the church. Indeed, some early Christians credit the love feast with the rapid growth of the church, as it created a devoted fellowship of great love and intimacy.
In fact, in some early accounts, we read of the church assembling twice, once for worship and instruction and once for communion and the love feast.
As we discussed regarding baptism, the early church considered eating together the very essence of their life as a community. Indeed, the love feast/communion is symbolic of the banquet we’ll enjoy in heaven predicted by the prophets.
(Rev 3:20) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.