“Given for You”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
One of the odd things about this pandemic has been its ramifications on the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Hygienic concerns were occasionally brought up in the past over the rather silly one-cup question, but beyond the obvious “don’t be the one to serve it if you’re sick,” it just didn’t come up. Now, we’re hyper-conscious of all the little germs changing hands, and while our present method of single-serving, sterile kits has been working out relatively well, I’m afraid it may be a distraction from what is supposed to be the focus.
Tomes have been written on the Lord’s Supper. It’s the defining act of Christian worship each week. It is a deep, powerful expression of Jesus’ love for us, and our devotion to him. It neatly symbolizes the relationship we ought to cultivate with him, and the manner in which he proved his care for us. Yet, comparatively little is said about it in the Scriptures themselves.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the scene in that upper room in Jerusalem, but Matthew spends only four verses on the Lord’s Supper (Mt 26.26-29), and Mark’s version (also four verses—Mk 14.22-25) manages to be a hair more concise even than Matthew’s, with the omission of several explanatory words and phrases, in favor of a more economical, man-of-few-words approach. Luke, ever the academic, gives it a little more space (Lk 22.14-23), devoting ten verses to the memorial and including a few small details passed over by Matthew and Mark. But John throws us a characteristic curveball, spending chapters 13 through 17 of his Gospel on the events that took place in that upper room, while neatly avoiding the centerpiece, the memorial Jesus established.
The longest treatment of the Lord’s Supper in the Bible is found, not in the Gospels, but in 1 Corinthians—a letter to a church struggling in many respects, including their observance of this act of worship. Even here, it only gets 18 verses (1Co 11.17-34), and Paul dedicates a fair amount of his verbiage to reminding these people what they’re supposed to be doing, and why they’re supposed to be doing it. As for his narration of the scene in that upper room…well, that comprises just three verses, covering just the basic facts.
What I hope this demonstrates is that it is unnecessary to theologize, christologize, science-ify, and pontificate about the precise spiritual mechanisms by which the power of communion imbues the participant with Eucharistic grace, or some other such arcane nonsense. Did Jesus convey such a notion to his Apostles, when he said simply , “Take, eat; this is my body” (Mt 26.26)? Of course, it’s worth contemplating the full meaning of all that Jesus told them, and all that Paul told the Corinthian Christians as well, but it’s ludicrous to develop a highfalutin, jargon-filled, binding orthodoxy, when God himself left it somewhat vague—to be taken on faith.
Jesus called it a remembrance (Lk 22.19, 1Co 11.25), not a sacrament. He didn’t even call it an ordinance, the term used by most Protestant denominations—although in a non-technical sense that’s at least an accurate description. Jesus focused first on the tangible, visible, and obvious, while also drawing on their shared knowledge and awareness of God’s covenant with the Israelites.
When he distributed the bread, he told his disciples to take and eat, and said, “this is my body, which is given for you” (Lk 22.19). He didn’t launch into a treatise on vicarious atonement. Instead, he simply let their shared understanding of the Passover they were celebrating that night point them in the right direction—which is not to say, even, that they all fully understood what he meant (when did they ever?). No, it is simply his body, “given for you.”
For the cup, the most verbose account of Jesus’ words is Matthew’s: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26.27-28). Once again, we might have expected him to go into more detail about exactly how that transaction occurs, and when, and precisely for whom; but he doesn’t. His few words have already told us a lot: that his blood would establish a “new” (Lk 22.20, 1Co 11.25) covenant, replacing the old one; that his blood would be “poured out”—i.e. that he would die violently; that the sacrifice would be made on behalf of “many,” not just those present in the room; and that it would be made for the purpose of securing forgiveness of sins.
All of those terms need defining, of course, and the only proper way to accomplish this is by further study of God’s Word, in both Old and New Testaments; however, Jesus was putting this into terms that uneducated fishermen from Galilee could comprehend, and comprehend it well enough to (with God’s help) effectively teach it to others, both Jew and Gentile. We shouldn’t be completely satisfied with this as we grow and mature, but neither should we treat a fundamental understanding of these basic principles as if it fails to reach God’s standard. Jesus gave himself to die for us, to rescue us from sin and secure us a place in God’s Kingdom. Now, he wants us to fill ourselves with him—with his body, blood, and memory. That’s not the whole story, but it’s a start. Don’t lose sight of it.