The Ecclesial Meaning of the Lord’s Supper (15 Dec 2013)

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. … 20 … I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons…. 23… All things are lawful but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. (1 Cor 10:14-17, 20-24)

Churches practice the Lord’s Supper in varied ways. All churches agree that the Lord’s meal forms an integral part of Christian worship as instituted by our Lord. All, including sacramental churches, accepts that this Holy Meal commemorates Christ’s sacrifice for us symbolically (1 Cor 11:24-26). This commemoration celebrates our redemption in Christ, even as it anticipates our union feast with Christ in the Kingdom of God (Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:14-27). The bread is thus a symbol for Christ, the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35-58), and the wine, the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:26-28).

Still, churches conceive differently other fundamentals on a theology of the Lord’s Supper. For high-church traditions, Christ becomes mysteriously present in the bread and wine after the Spirit blesses the elements with the priests’ prayer of invocation. Thus, not surprisingly, sacramental-churches differ even among themselves as to when and how this transformation occurs, and the efficacy of the sacrament after the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists). On the other hand, low-sacramental churches, convinced of the symbolic and memorial views of the meal remained unconvinced of high liturgical formulations on the forms and components of the Eucharist. (Low-sacramental churches generally include Baptists, Brethrens, Evangelicals, Free-Church believers, Moravians, Quakers, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Wesleyans, and some Calvinist Reformed and Zwlinglian Reformed Christians). 

Despite these differences, and perhaps with the exception of John Wesley who urged the “constant duty of communion,” churches on both spectrums agree that the meal is to be consumed with solemnity, so as not to bring judgment to oneself. In the churches’ history, some have celebrated the Eucharist no more than four times a year. Other churches have refused members from taking the Holy Communion. The emphasis on personal piety so that sharers may receive the spiritual nourishment worthily, is indeed praiseworthy.

Yet, Jesus exhorts believers to share this meal “often” and to give no cause for division among members at the Lord’s table; because the bread is one, the cup is one, and the body is one. Wesley taught that one ought to give no reasons or excuses for not taking the Lord’s meal regularly. The table of demons does not represent other churches that differ from one another. The communion comes with two other clauses – for edification and for a neighbor’s benefit – all to be understood within the oneness of the church and the singleness of the gift, the Christ, the Abba gives. A theology of the Lord’s Supper then contains an implicit message for churches to focus on the ecclesiological meaning of this most sublime meal: to keep unity than division! In what spirit do we come to the Lord’s Table today? May this be a time of a renewed commitment or a new beginning!  

Brother Timothy Lim
BC Fulltime Christian Worker