Day 288: Matthew 25-26; The Lord's Supper – Passover Rebooted

Today’s reading is likely a familiar narrative for many people.  The story of Jesus’ death is likely the most told story of Christianity, rivaled I think only by the story of His birth.  While there is a lot to cover, and we will cover it, I think this time through I would like to look a bit deeper into the Lord’s supper.  To do this, I would like to offer some thoughts and then I am going to include some writing I have done for our Church recently regarding Communion.  I hope that this writing helps to locate this celebration of the Sacrament a bit more in the context and also give a bit of light to all that we do to celebrate it.  We will talk more about this again too as this is one of the most important parts of Christian Worship.

It is important to remember that the Lord’s Supper is actually an extension of the Passover celebration that has taken place since the time that the Hebrew people were in Egypt.  They were charged to celebrate this feast in remembrance of the night that the Lord “passed over” the people of Israel when He killed all the first born of Egypt.  There is a great deal of symbolic action that takes place here that has to do with sacrifice of a lamb, the use of blood as a marker for exemption from punishment, and even a communal meal together.  All of these things are shadows of what was to come, the fulfillment that would be found in Jesus Christ!  Remember that, especially in the early church, the Passover meal would have been the context in which the Lord’s Supper would have been understood; none of it really made sense to them without this historical fact.  Keep in mind too that, though we live in a different context, this “greatest of sacraments” has a lot deeper meaning than just taking a bread cube or reciting a liturgy.  I hope that the following helps a little.  We will talk more about this in coming posts.  I think it is also important to remember and recognize, as we read today, the different places where Matthew says “to fulfill Scripture” and such.  Again this is important because of the audience that Matthew is writing to and the point he is trying to make.

The Table, part of our response to God, is a very unique time for Christians in the Church.  I would like to take a moment to talk through this time, though I must admit that a moment will hardly do it justice.  Often in the Church, especially the reformed churches we have focused in on one very particular meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and have kept its practice well in check.  Yet in doing this, sometimes we lose the much fuller, richer, and deeper meanings behind our practice of going to the Table.  It is appropriate that we talk about Communion in this week as we prepare for the Church’s celebration of Worldwide Communion Sunday on October 6.

As we approach the Table on our communion Sundays, we often read the same liturgy which talks about the meaning of the sacrament and we say that the Supper which we are about to eat is a feast of “remembrance, communion, and hope.”  Following this, we often explain what it means to remember, to commune, and what we have hope for.  Some liturgies specifically state that the Lord’s Supper is a feast of “Remembrance, Celebration, and Anticipation” for many of the same reasons.  When we come to the Table, we remember the night that Jesus was betrayed as well as His death on the cross through which we receive atonement in His blood.  In this supper we also celebrate, because Christ did not only die, but He has risen from the dead and is ascended into heaven from which He sits and reigns!  We celebrate because our sins our forgiven and we have received grace upon grace!  We also anticipate, and our anticipation comes from the hope that we have that we are not left to struggle on our own, but Christ is with us Spiritually and will one day again be with us on this earth when He comes again in glory!

Along with these three main thematic elements, the Church in the New Testament used several different terms for this sacramental celebration, though they wouldn’t have called it a sacrament back then as the word sacrament actually comes from the Latin word for mystery.  Each of these four terms comes with different Scriptural references and emphasizes different elements of the Table.  The first of these and probably the most familiar to us is “The Lord’s Supper.”  This is referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and points to communion as being the Lord’s Supper.  Here we see an emphasis placed on unity and equality as we come to the Table, reminding us that this Table, this feast is not ours but God’s.  The reference to 1 Corinthians 11 is also one of the foundational texts that were used in writing the Belhar Confession, the RCA’s newest confession emphasizing unity within the Church.  We need to remember this as we come to the Table, that Christ welcomes sinners (including ourselves) at His table to fellowship with Him.

Communion is also a familiar reference to the sacrament of the Table that we celebrate.  The ESV Bible that we now use here at ORC, in 1 Corinthians 10, has substituted the word “communion” for “participation” which only helps us to better understand this particular emphasis.  When we partake of the bread and the cup we are communing with and participating in the Body of Christ.  In this we touch Christ and Christ touches us, not in a manner in which these elements actually are Christ’s physical body, but in a spiritual sense in that at the Table, for these brief moments, Heaven and earth meet and we actually come to the Table of our Lord and sit with Him.  The liturgies of the earth church, and the great prayer of thanksgiving that is included on the next page, held this view as well.  As we approach the table we are lifted up and the barriers between heaven and earth are broken down and we are welcomed at the Table of our Lord.  This isn’t often how we think about Communion, especially as we sit in our seats and receive the elements from a tray, but it is a greater vision of what is happening in this time.  We are both communing with our Lord, but we are also participating as part of His Body.  Augustine said of this, when you take the elements, “Be what you see, receive what you are.”

The final two terms for the sacrament that we use a bit less are the terms “Breaking of the Bread” and “Eucharist.”  These terms come from Acts 2 and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark respectively.  The emphases of these are both fellowship and thanksgiving.  Acts 2 gives us a vision of the early church in which the believers celebrated “the breaking of bread” whenever they were together.  Jesus Himself gives us a vision of giving thanks when He breaks the bread and when He passes the cup as He explains these things to His disciples.

On the next page, you will see the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, a prayer that has been used before communion for many years.  See if you can find elements of what we just talked about in this prayer.