What the Ordinance Means
The Lord of Heaven came down to us, because we could not go up to Him. By coming down He
provided full salvation. Because all have sinned, all were legally bound by the sin debt. He paid our ransom; not in part, but in full. His blood settled the debt of sin. Water baptism in His name sanctifies the body and prepares it for the rapture and resurrection;1 the baptism of His Spirit sanctifies the soul and empowers it to resurrect and/or rapture the body.2 And in the interim between the new birth3 and the harpodzo (catching away4), between the departing Egypt and the crossing Jordan into the Promised Land, there is the journey: enter the Lord’s Supper, typed in the Old Testament by the Israelites’ manna from heaven and water from the Rock.5 Just as the manna and water (from the Rock) gave sustenance to the people of God, so too, does the body and blood of Christ, present in the Eucharist, give sustaining life to Christians in their journey to God’s abode.6
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And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
The “Lord’s Supper” as a Christian ordinance, then, is that holy act of worship where the Christian
observes a ritual meal that gives sustenance to the soul, and maintains fellowship with the death of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:267). In addition to the two functions just mentioned, there is one other very import purpose to the Supper: It is the cohesiveness of the Christian community. Paul wrote, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” Further, although this sacrament is usually referred to as the “Lord’s Supper,” in the beginning the disciples simply called it “Breaking Bread.” (An entire chapter will be devoted to this title of the Sacrament; so, we will not comment on it here any further.) This meal, also, carries other tiles, some of which are: the Eucharist, the Communion (to which one often hears the word “Holy” attached, such as: “Holy Communion”), the Sacrament, and even the Covenant Meal.
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To help us understand many of the unique characteristics of the Lord’s Supper, it would be good to examine each biblical title of the ordinance. Each title encodes a particular attribute or attributes of the sacrament. A proper place to begin would be the phrase Eucharist. (Since Lord’s Supper is the most common title among us, we will examine it last.)
Eucharist: We sometimes call it the Eucharist because the word itself means “to give thanks.” This word is found in the Greek New Testament at Luke 22:17-19 (euchariste: “having given thanks”). Although the term “eucharist’ is used more in the Roman Catholic community than among other Christian groups, it is a very biblical term. One may not think so, because the word is not found in English Bibles. But, “eucharist,” which means to give thanks, is taken from Luke 22:17-19;8 where that Gospel records Jesus’ act of giving thanks each time He offered the elements—both the bread and the wine. Concerning the cup, only after He eucharistesas (had given thanks) did He say: “Take this, and share it among yourselves...This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (NASB). Concerning the bread, likewise, it was only after He eucharistesas (had given thanks) did He say: “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (NASB). The point is taken: Up to the eucharistic blessing, the bread and wine were ordinary, but after the blessing they were ordinary no longer.
Communion: More frequently, however, the Supper is referred to as the Communion because the word appears in 1 Corinthians 10:16, which states: “the cup 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?” The New Testament Greek word for communion in 1 Corinthians 10:16 is koinōnia.9Koinōnia has a rich meaning of: fellowship, intercourse, concord, unity, agreement, communication, and joint participation. The term is appropriate for the Lord’s Supper in that the Supper’s main function is to enable believers to have fellowship, intercourse, concord, unity, agreement, communication, and joint participation with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Koinōnia with the body and blood of Jesus. Give it some thought.
- Fellowship: companionship, to be in the company of; community of interest, and experience; the state of being a fellow, or associate in His broken flesh and shed blood.
- Intercourse: from the French intercurrere: to run between; a connection, or dealings in the sense of exchange with the broken flesh and shed blood of Jesus.
- Concord: a state of harmonious agreement between one’s self and the broken body and shed blood of Jesus
- Unity: not divided from, but one with the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus.
- Agreement: having a harmony of opinion, action and character with the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.
- Communication: the act or instance of transmitting (information, identity) with the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.
- Joint Participation: to have identity with the elements, sharing or acting in common with the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.
The Sacrament: Different communities of Christians recognize a various number of sacraments. Most Protestant groups hold to only two: Water Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Catholic and Orthodox communities observe seven: Baptism (Christening), Confirmation (Chrismation), Holy Eucharist, Penance (Confession), Anointing of the Sick (known prior to the Second Vatican Council as Extreme Unction [or more literally from Latin: Last Anointing], then seen as part of the "Last Rites"), Holy Orders, and Matrimony (Marriage). Our comments here will be confined to the Lord’s Supper as that mystery is referenced as the Sacrament.
The Catholic Church defines the sacraments as "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131)
The Eastern Orthodox tradition does not limit the number of sacraments to seven, holding that anything the Church does as Church is in some sense sacramental. Despite this broad view, Orthodox divines do write about there being seven "principal" mysteries. On a specific level, while not systematically limiting the mysteries to seven, the most profound Mystery is the Eucharist or Synaxis, in which the partakers, by participation in the liturgy and receiving the consecrated bread and wine (understood to have become the body and blood of Christ) directly communicate with God. This differs from the Catholic view of transubstantiation in that the Orthodox don't claim to understand how exactly this happens, but merely state "This appears in the form of bread and wine, but God has told me it is His Body and Blood. I will take what He says as a 'mystery' and not attempt to rationalize it to my limited mind." (Holy Eucharist obtained online at http://www.orthodoxy.org.au/eng/index.php?p=74.)
Anglican: Article of Religion, XXV, "Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him. There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God. The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith."
Lutherans hold that sacraments are sacred acts of divine institution. Whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component commanded by God along with the divine words of institution, God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component. He earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. He also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession. Lutherans do not dogmatically define the exact number of sacraments. In line with Luther's initial statement in his Large Catechism some Lutherans speak of only two sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist. Luther himself defined a sacrament as thus: "si sacramenta vocamus ceremonias, quas Christus obseruari præcepit, et quibus addidit promissionem gratiæ." Rites which: have the command of God, and to which the Gospel promise (that is, promise of grace) has been added. (Melanchthon, Philipp. Apologia Confessionis Augustanae, Article XIII. Wittenberg, 1531. Line 3.)
It would be proper to introduce the word sacrament and what it entails. First, it should be pointed out that the word is not a biblical one, and for that reason is not used by some Christian communities which want to Call Bible things by Bible Names. Instead of sacrament the Eastern Orthodox use the word mystery, since that word is biblical. The eastern churches like the term “mystery” while the western churches favor “sacrament.” So, here we come to the source of the term “sacrament.”
The term coming into English from 1150–1200; is the Latin sacrāmentum which means obligation, oath. Equivalent to Latin sacrā ( re ) to devote + -mentum -ment. The sacramentum militare (also as militum or militiae) was the oath taken by soldiers in pledging their loyalty to the consul in the Republican era or later to the emperor. The sacramentum as pertaining to both the law and the military indicates the religious basis for these institutions. (The western Church borrowed sacramentum from the Latins.)
The sacramentum that rendered the Roman soldier sacer (sacred) helps explain why he was subjected to harsher penalties, such as execution and corporal punishment, that were considered inappropriate for civilian citizens, at least under the Republic. In effect, he had put his life on deposit, a condition also of the fearsome sacramentum sworn by gladiators. In the rare case of punishment by decimation10 the surviving legionaries were often required to renew their oath, affirming the role of state religio11 as the foundation of Roman military discipline. By the 3rd century the sacramentum was administered annually, on 3 January, as attested by the calendar of state ritual discovered at Dura-Europos, the so-called Feriale Duranum,12 which dates to the reign of Severus Alexander (222-235 CE). In the later empire, the oath of loyalty created conflict for Christians serving in the military, and produced a number of soldier-martyrs. Tertullian condemned any Christian soldier's willingness to swear the sacramentum, "since baptism was the only sacrament a Christian should observe."13
By the end of third century, Latin had overtaken Greek as the language of common people in the western half of the Roman Empire. Western clergy preached in Latin, western theologians wrote in Latin, and western scholars translated the Bible into Latin. Western Christians heard the sermons, read the writings, and studied the Bible in Latin. The word μυστηριον (mystērion - mystery) was a problem. There was no Latin word that corresponded to it. They could have transliterated the Greek word into Latin as mysterium, and they often did that, but that did not solve the problem so much as avoid it, because most Latin-speaking people still had no idea what it meant. So western Christian scholars used the word sacramentum to translate μυστηριον. These scholars included Tertullian, who was one of the earliest Latin theologians, and Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin about a hundred years later.
Just as the Roman soldier’s life was put on deposit in the sacramentum, so, too, is the life of the Christian placed on deposit with Christ—the Captain of the Host of Heaven. The Christian’s sacra is made at baptism and is renewed at the Lord’s Table each time one observes the Sacrament.
Covenant Meal: In addition, this meal is called the Covenant Meal since it memorializes the New Covenant (Matthew 26:26-29), just as the Passover memorialized the Old (Exodus 12). Biblically, the word covenant always implied a blood contract. The Old Testament word berth14 is translated “will,” “covenant,” and “testament;” it comes from the word translated “to cut.” Berith’s corresponding word from the New Testament Greek is diatheekee,15 which means to fetter (bind) by cutting. It is mentioned 300 times in Scripture. Upon the cutting of a blood covenant, it was customary for the contracting parties to set up a memorial and share a meal together to memorialize the agreement. There is an example of this found in Genesis 31:44-48.16 Here, in the cutting of the covenant between Jacob and Laban, the piling of stones to make a heap, and the eating together on that heap all speak to the covenant made by Christ on the summit of Mount Calvary.
An even clearer picture of the New Covenant, established by Christ, is given in Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek in the Valley of Sheveh (Genesis 14:17-20). Here Melchizedek presents Abraham with a meal of bread and wine. Melchizedek was a facsimile of Christ (Hebrews 7:317) who also served the same covenant meal of bread and wine (Matthew 26:26-28). Both Melchizedek and Christ served a memorial meal to a covenant BEFORE the covenant was actually made. Melchizedek’s bread and wine was to commemorate the cutting of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:1-17:10); the bread and wine served by Jesus commemorated the Redemption Covenant made at the Cross. A beautiful truth is seen here: Men establish memorials to events only after the events take place—only God (Who knows the end from the beginning and calls those things that be not as though they were) can establish a memorial before the memorialized event. The “Covenant Meal” is a proper name for the ordinance, because Jesus instructs His disciples to repetitiously perform the meal in remembrance of Him; then Paul instructs the Church to continue the observance until Christ returns to the earth (1 Corinthians 11:2618).
The LORD's Supper
Lord’s Supper: Finally, this ordinance is identified as the Lord’s Supper since the Lord Jesus is the provider of the provisions: “this is my body… This is my blood.” We are to be humble guest at His table (1 Corinthians 10:2119). It is none of our preparation, for He alone is the Author and Finisher of the Faith (Hebrews 12:220).
It is Jesus, Himself, Who made the comparison between His body and the manna of the Old Testament. From John 6:48-51 we read:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
Wonder of wonders, that the One who created all things, visible and invisible, stepped into our world through a woman’s womb. “He who is Almighty became a suckling baby. He who is all wise took on the dumbness of a newborn. He whom the heavens cannot contain was enclosed in a woman’s womb. He who is infinite became a microscopic cell. He who is the Creator became a creature. He who is light was entombed for nine months in warm darkness. Can there be a greater mystery? Praise be to God for the gift of His Son!”21 “Angels watched as Mary changed God’s diaper. The universe watched with wonder as the Almighty learned to walk”22
From Glory to gory He came. From the regal throne to bloody straw; from the rich garments of the King of kings to a peasant's gown. He left the royal scepter in heaven and grasped the murderous nails of mankind. When He stepped into our world it was in a place called Bethlehem, which name means House of Bread. O beloved, see the wonder; The Bread from Heaven (John 6:48-5124) came to the House of Bread. But, wait, the wonder does not end there—He was laid in a manger, a feed trough, to show that He was to be food for the world. How fitting, then, for Him to offer His disciples His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. How desirable, then, is His food and drink to our souls. We can all concur with Ignatius of old when he wrote, “I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life- which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. ... And I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”
Jesus is our Pelican of the Wilderness,25 that in the time of drought would pull flesh from its own breast to feed its young and would open a blood vessel under its wing from which its young drank.26 What Christian can not say, “He found me in a waste howling wilderness and He kept me as the apple of His eye.”27
Jesus said, “...My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.”28
☩ Jerry L Hayes
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1Vine’s Dictionary of the Bible states: “The phrase - baptizing them ‘into’ the name (Acts 8:16; Matthew 29:19) would indicate that the baptized person was closely bound to, or became the property of the one into whose name he was baptized.” See Acts 22:16 where the INVOKED name of Jesus is required for the removal of one’s sins.
2 Ro 8:11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
3 Jn 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 1 Th 4:17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
5 1 Cor 10:1-4 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
6 Jn 6:53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. ..” The “life” Jesus speaks of here is Zoe (St’s #G2222), sustaining life; as opposed to pneuma (St’s #G4151) or psychee (St’s #G5590) which is life acquired at birth.
7 1 Cor 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
8 Luke 22:17-19 kai dezdamenos poteepiov eucharisteesas eipen, dabete touto kai diamerisate eis eautous 18 leyo gap humin [hoti] ou mee piw apo tou nun apo tou geneematos tees ampelou hews hou hee basileia tou Theou elthee. 19 kai labwn apton eucharisteesas eklasen kai edwken autois legwn, Touto estin to swma mou to huter humwn did omenon: touto poieite eis teen emeen anamneesin.
9 1 Cor 10:16 to pothrion tees eulogia ho eulogoumen ouci koinōnia tou aimatos tou Cristou estin ton arton on klwmen ouci koinōnia tou swmatos tou Cristou estin;
See Strong’s #NT2842, and Joseph Henry Thayer’s Greek-english Lexicon of the New Testament.
See Strong’s #NT2842, and Joseph Henry Thayer’s Greek-english Lexicon of the New Testament.
10 Means, tenth; when one tenth of a company of soldiers were killed as punishment for the whole.
12 The Feriale Duranum is a calendar of religious observances for a Roman military garrison at Dura-Europos on the Euphrates, Roman Syria, under the reign of Severus Alexander (224–235 AD). The small papyrus roll was discovered among the documents of an auxiliary cohort, the Cohors XX Palmyrenorum (Twentieth Cohort of Palmyrenes), in the Temple of Azzanathkona. The calendar, written in Latin, is arranged in four columns, with some gaps. It offers important evidence for the religious life of the Roman military and the role of Imperial cult in promoting loyalty to the Roman emperor, and for the coexistence of Roman state religion and local religious traditions.
13 Tertullian (155-220), from North Africa, first used the Latin word sacramentum ("a sacred oath" – the oath of allegiance required of Roman soldiers) to translate mysterion. For Tertullian, sacramentum referred to: the mystery of God's salvation, the church rites associated with salvation, important as signs of Christian commitment & loyalty.
14 Strong’s #H1285
15 Strong’s #G1242
16 Ge 31:44-48 And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? 44 Now therefore, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.”45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 Then Jacob said to his brethren, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 And Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore its name was called Galeed,
17 He 7:1-3 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
18 1 Cor 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
19 1 Cor 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.
20 He 12:2 ... looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
21 Dr. David Reagan, Lamb and Lion Ministries, Lamplighter magazine, Nov/Dec 2010, “The Mystery of the Incarnation.”
22 Max Lucado, “God Came Near”.
23 Strong’s #H1035
24 Jn 6:48-51 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
25 Ps 102:6 “I am like a pelican of the wilderness;”
26 The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in ancient Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. The pelican symbolizes Jesus our Redeemer who gave His life for our redemption and the atonement He made through His passion and death. We were dead to sin and have found new life through the Blood of Christ. Moreover, Jesus continues to feed us with His body and blood in the holy Eucharist.
27 De 32:10 “He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.”
28 Jn 6:55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.
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Read More From the Bishop On the Lord's Supper
- Breaking Bread (The Lord's Supper, Episode III)
This writing establishes the biblical phrase "Breaking Bread" as a descriptive name for the Lord's Supper.
- The Christian Altar (Lord's Supper, Episode IV)
As one searches the New Testament for a reference to the Christian altar, it comes as a shock to evangelicals that the Lord's Table is the only New Covenant altar mentioned. Here, we declare it so.
- The Lord's Supper (From the Beginning)
This article is the introduction to a series on the Lord's Supper. Jesus instituted this covenant meal and commanded its observance. Here we review the teachings of those whom the apostles taught.
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