Far too often, the church has made the Lord's Supper a stepchild in the faith, a tag-on at the end of a service, a snapshot in the corner of a larger portrait. I as a pastor have been guilty of this. I am sure many other pastors join me in this confession.
Several years ago, during a sermon, I asked the question, "How many of you would like to observe the Lord's Supper more than once a quarter?" To my amazement nearly every hand went up in that large congregation. It registered with me that our people were hungry to share this symbol, and that they better understood its deeper significance than their pastor. This began a redirection in our emphasis on the Lord's Supper which has blessed our church—and me. It continues to be a growing and enriching experience in my journey of faith. And well it should. The celebration of the Table is deeply embedded in the fabric of our faith.
"The Lord's Supper" is the title given by Paul (1 Cor. 11:20). It bears other names. Luke used the phrase "breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42-46; 20:11; Luke 24:35). Paul employed the term communion, which referred to believers' relationship with the Lord (vertically) and with fellow believers (horizontally). Eucharist, another designation for the Lord's Supper, is derived from the Greek word eucharistia, "giving of thanks," as it implies the thanksgiving over the bread and wine (1 Cor. 11:24). Paul referred to it as "the Lord's table" (1 Cor. 10:21).
Augustine, in the fourth century A.D., called the Lord's Supper a "sacrament," which comes from a word that originally meant a pledge or bond. Many evangelicals have believed it is not a sacrament of saving grace, but it is rather a commitment, a promise, a pledge of allegiance to the Lord. The Gospels (Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20) and Pauline accounts (1 Cor. 11:23) indicate that the Lord's Supper is rooted in the Old Testament ceremony of Passover.
Jesus used the occasion to identify Himself—by His actions and words—as the sacrificial Lamb, further expanding the messianic and eschatological meaning of the event. Christ's words and actions initiated the celebration of this powerful symbol, the early church practiced it (Acts 2:42, 20:7), and it continues to be observed as one of the most powerful symbols of the faith.
The Lord's Supper not only carries historical significance, but also theological significance in that it symbolizes the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus. The bread and the wine symbolize the very body and blood of Christ. The blood, being essential to His earthly life and all other life, was shed redemptively for our lives.
The meal also carries ecclesiological significance for His body, the church. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology has pointed out that the church reaps the benefits earned for us by His death and that we receive spiritual nourishment for our souls (John 6:53-57) through the Lord's Supper. The Table affirms His love to me in that He invites me to come to His supper, and my partaking of the meal affirms my faith in Him. I am redeemed and accepted by Christ's actions, and my actions proclaim it.
The celebration of Communion also carries eschatological significance. As it commemorates a past event, it also anticipates a future consummation in His coming (1 Cor. 11:26). Thus, a feast of love, a memorial of faith, becomes a prophecy of hope.
I invite you to join me in celebrating the Table, a dynamic symbol of the faith which foreshadows a future celebration when we will join Him at the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). Celebrate the Table—and all its profound meaning—with new zeal and creative effort in your church. Let the believers in your congregation hear the command and the invitation to the Lord's Table.
Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may;
Come not to testify to your righteousness, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be His true disciple;
Come not because your goodness gives you a right to come, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in need of heaven's mercy and help;
Come because you love the Lord a little and want to love Him more;
Come because He loved you and gave Himself for you;
Lift up your hearts, above your cares and fears;
Let this bread and wine be a sign of God's grace to you and a pledge of your love to the Lord Christ;
Receive the love of God and consecrate your life afresh to Christian obedience and service, to discover and do the will of God in humble faith.