The Lord’s Supper
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Have you ever walked into church on Sunday morning and noticed the communion elements up front and thought, “oh man, it’s communion Sunday, that means the service is going to go long today!” Anyone else ever think that besides me? Or maybe you feel like communion is just tacked onto the end of the service once a month, just something we do without giving it much thought.
Obviously, we don’t have to preach on communion every time we take it, but it is good to take a Sunday every once in a while, to focus on it, really dive in and try to get a good grasp on it whether for the first time or for another reminder of what it all means. Because when we truly grasp it, communion, or the Lord’s Supper as it is also called, is a really beautiful thing.
Communion is a visible picture of the Gospel that calls us, as a body and as individuals, to look back, look ahead and look in.
And it was so wise of Christ to give us this visual aid instead of just a call to reflect. That would be good, taking a specific time to just be quiet and think on what it all means. But in communion, think about it like this, we have a visible picture, something that engages all of our senses to truly and deeply see the Gospel in our minds and hearts. I think we need those visual reminders, those things that really bring us in beyond just the surface level, especially something as important as the Lord’s Supper.
So what is it we are supposed to do with communion to fully partake in it? I see in this passage three things as stated in our main point: we are to look back, look ahead, and look in.
1. Looking Back, vs. 23-26
The Lord’s Supper was given to us by Jesus on the final night before his crucifixion. As he was celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, he took two parts of it, the bread and the wine, and declared something new, something greater. The Passover meal was a time of remembrance of what God had done for his people when they were slaves in Egypt. He redeemed them, he set them free and made them his own. And the people of Israel were to celebrate that every year with a memorial feast to look back on this momentous event.
Jesus takes up that memorial but he transforms it; he keeps it as a time of remembrance, that stays the same. We see that here in verses 24 and 25: do this in remembrance, do this in remembrance. But now it is remembering something far greater, something that the Passover was only a type and shadow pointing towards.
What are we called to remember, to look back on, when we take communion? Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me,” and I think he wants us to consider specific things and not just vague ideas about his existence. Paul captures that in verse 23 when he says, “on the night when he was betrayed.” Jesus wants us to look back on this night, this moment in time that all history was building up to and everything in the future depends upon. This night that he gave up his throne in heaven for, this night that he took on flesh for, this night that he chose Judas to be one his disciples for. This night that he was betrayed. This night when the only sinless, truly righteous man to ever live, the only one who never earned death, was killed.
We are called to look back, to remember, his broken body, his spilled blood on the cross that night. And even more specifically, we are to remember why his body was broken and why his blood was spilled. We see that in two phrases, the first is in verse 24, “this is my body which is for you.” Jesus picked up the bread during this meal with his disciples and as he broke it, he said this, this bread that is being broken, this is my body which is for you. He was telling them that this is a picture of what is about to happen to me, and I want you to look back on this night, to have a meal of remembrance and use broken bread to symbolize my broken body.
We do not believe Jesus is saying that the bread is literally his body, or in some way turns into his body, but that it is a picture, a symbol, a visual aid to help us remember and think and understand more about his broken body. In other words, Jesus was saying that just as this bread is broken, so too is my body about to be broken. And it is being broken for you.
We are to consider the fact that Jesus’ body was broken for us, on our behalf, in our place. When we hold the bread, when we feel it in our hands, when we see it in pieces, we are to remember that this should be our body. This should have been me, not him. Not the perfect Son of God. Not Jesus Christ, but me. My body should be the one broken for all eternity; I am the one that deserved death and separation from God, not him. This representation of his body is a picture of where my sin should have led me, but instead it led him. My sin led him to the night of his betrayal, to his broken body, to his spilled blood, not because I earned it but because of the great love with which he loves us.
His body was broken and his blood was spilled for us, because we needed redeeming, we needed to be set free from our slavery to sin. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, fully deserving of his wrath and to be cast away from him for all eternity. We could never save ourselves, never atone for our sins, never be set free, so he did it for us, on our behalf, in our place entirely out of his heart of love and mercy.
He rescued us and brought us back to him, through what he calls the new covenant in his blood, verse 25. What is the new covenant, what does Jesus mean here? Well the old covenant was the Law given to the people of Israel in the Old Testament. When God brought them out of Egypt, he commanded them to follow him. If you want to be my people, he said, then do these things. Here is how you can have a right relationship with me, worship me, do good to others, be blessed in this life. But what happened? The people couldn’t uphold the law. They immediately fell short and continually sinned against God. They could not keep the requirements of the law. Not because there was something wrong with God’s law, it is from his perfect holiness, but because there is something wrong in us, in all of our hearts. That is what the law is meant to show us, that we have a fundamental problem. We are all rebellious sinners in need of change from the inside out. And because we are all dead in our sins, we can’t bring ourselves back to life, we can’t change ourselves on the level God requires. Only God can do that work in us. And in several places in the Old Testament, like Jeremiah 31, God promised that one day he would enact a new covenant, one where he would do all the work and change our hearts. He would put His Spirit within us and give us the ability to follow him, he would give us new hearts.
And Jesus said on that night, his spilled blood was the ratification of that new covenant, it enacted it, his sacrifice put it into action. He was here to step into our place, to change us from the inside out by dying for us, on our behalf. He would take the penalty for sin we deserved, that we earned, and he would give new hearts to all who come to him in faith.
That night Jesus said the new covenant has come so look back to this night and remember. Remember what I have done on your behalf. Remember what you deserved; think about how this cup should represent your blood, this broken bread should represent your broken body, but it isn’t. It’s mine, for you. You couldn’t earn or work your way to God, you always fail, always come up short. But I don’t. And I will put my perfect law keeping, my righteousness in your place and bring you out of your slavery to sin and death and give you a new heart. Do this, take hold of this bread and this cup, in remembrance of me.
In communion, we look back on this night and praise God for his abundant and undeserved grace and mercy.
- Looking Ahead, v. 26
But we’re not just called to look back, as if our faith were merely about the past. We are also called to look ahead, as we see in verse 26. When we take communion, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death, we are remembering the past, but we do it with expectant hope for the future. We look back, remembering that we do not have a dead Messiah, but a risen Savior. He died that night but that was not the en.
And the Lord’s Supper is a reminder that he has not abandoned us but has gone to prepare a place for us and he promised that he would return someday to gather us together with him. Because of what he did in the past, we have a sure future, one filled with hope, one that we long for and eagerly await.
Through the new covenant in his blood, by his sacrifice for us, someday sin and death will be no more. He conquered the grave for us and when he returns, that victory will be fully enacted. Right now it is a promise, a future hope. But it is assured because of his resurrection. Just as real as the bread we can feel and the juice we can smell, is just as sure as his return and our glorious future with him.
We look ahead to when this small picture of the Gospel will be celebrated on a scale we cannot even begin to fully imagine. Look with me, briefly, at Revelation 19:6-9. Jesus, the Lamb, has made for himself a bride, which is all of his people, all of those who place their faith in him for salvation. We as individual believers together make up the one, united body, the Bride. We should look around during communion and think, “these are my brothers and sisters, bought with the blood of Christ, that I will spend eternity with. Christ made us one, he has united us together!” Our partaking together is a picture of that unity and that future hope.
Someday we will be united with our bridegroom, the Lord our God, Jesus Christ, and we will be presented to him in perfect splendor, bright and pure. And there will be a glorious celebration, a marriage supper, a feast!
This supper that we take now, communion, is just a foretaste, a tiny appetizer, of what is to come. It is meant to be a reminder to look ahead to the day when our bridegroom will come for us, all of his people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, to bring us home to be with him forever in the glory that he bought for us in his blood.
Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb for it will be eternal joy and rest.
- Looking In, vs. 27-34
But this brings up a question of eternal importance: How do I know if I am invited to that marriage supper? That brings us back to our passage and the third place we must look when taking communion, which is looking in.
The reason Paul is writing this section on the Lord’s supper to the Corinthians is because they had a lot of problems in their church. When it came to communion there were divisions and selfishness and all sorts of terrible things happening and Paul is rebuking and exhorting them to consider their hearts and lives in light of what communion means. They need to properly reflect on themselves, do some introspection, and see if they are partaking in communion in a worthy manner.
Because, as Paul says, if you eat the bread and drink the cup in an unworthy manner you are guilty concerning the blood of the Lord, and you drink judgement on yourself. And God had even caused people in Corinth to be weak, ill and die because of the manner by which they were partaking. That is some serious stuff! What then does it mean and how do I make sure I am properly looking in and taking part in a worthy manner?
First let me explain what I don’t think this means. I don’t think Paul is speaking about being sinless. That would disqualify all of us, right? None of us is worthy in that regard, we all sin. It would be useless to make that the requirement; the elements which just sit up here untouched.
But what about unconfessed sin? Is that what he is talking about? Is he saying that if you have any sin in your heart that you have not confessed, that you missed, overlooked, werent aware of, then you are unworthy to partake?
Think about it like this: we have a time of silent reflection as the elements are passed. You are praying, “God this morning I was impatient and angry with my kids, forgive me for my sin in that. Also last night, that movie I watched was not good for me, forgive me for making poor choices and polluting my mind.” Now, all of that is good and right to do. But what if you haven’t confessed all your sin? Like you forgot that yesterday you also overindulged in dessert and are guilty of the sin of gluttony. Are you now partaking in an unworthy manner? There is unconfessed sin there. Are you drinking judgement on yourself?
My answer is, maybe. Maybe you are. I think it depends on your heart and the reason why that sin is unconfessed. Perhaps you truly forgot; the elements were passed pretty quickly. You were in the right frame of heart and mind, on the right track, then I interrupt you and say, “let’s partake together.” I don’t think that is necessarily what Paul is talking about here. Because due to the depth of our sinfulness there will always be unconfessed sin due to our inability to see just how much of what we do is tainted by sin. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to grow in our confession and repentance. We certainly should and that is a sign of growth in maturity and holiness. But my point is, that to think that if we have any unacknowledged sin means we are unable to partake of the Lord’s supper, that would again leave all of us unable to partake.
A heart that is willing to confess, willing to reverently, humbly and joyfully approach the Lord’s Supper, is invited in by Christ. He wants us to partake. He wants to use communion as a way to turn our harts towards him, to see his heart and his grace. He is not trying to trick us here but bless us.
But, and here is a very important distinction, if that sin is unconfessed because you don’t want to get rid of it, you aren’t interested in fighting it, or you even disagree with God that it is indeed sin, that’s when we are coming at this in an unworthy manner. That is when we are taking hold of this picture of the broken body and spilled blood of Christ, we are seeing the visual that this should have been our body but instead it was our merciful savior, broken for each and every one of my sins, and we essentially say, I dont really care too much. I choose my sin over you Jesus.
I choose to live how I want regardless of what God says. I will decide what is good for me, not you God. I choose, with eyes wide-open, to continue in my gluttony, my laziness, my lust, my sexual immorality, my drunkenness, my anger, my foul language, my greed, my pride, whatever it is.
All of the things that drove the nails into your hands Lord, all of the sins that crushed you, all of my disobedience that sent you to the cross, I choose those things over you. I will claim all the promises of forgiveness and a future reward but right now, I am the master of my life.
That is treating his sacrifice in a wholly unworthy, irreverent manner. Instead of being on awe of his grace and merc, we presume upon it and God says you are drinking judgement on yourself. If this is you, if this resonates with you, if there is a place in your life that you are fully aware that you are not letting Christ into, and you are unwilling to yield to him in some way, then please don’t partake! I ask you to just pass the elements. This is serious. By eating and drinking I am proclaiming his death was for me, its benefits apply to me now and forever. But if we live blatantly contrary to that Gospel message, we are making a mockery of Christ’s death treating it as below us and this may be a sign we are not covered by his blood at all; we are not, in fact, invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb as we saw in Revelation. And God will not be mocked. People in Corinth literally died because of this. God eventually said to them, “enough.” It would be better to just pass the elements than to partake in an unworthy manner.
But even in these warnings and strong language, do you see the grace? God, through the apostle Paul, is telling us how to avoid condemnation. God takes no joy in condemning people; he isn’t sitting up in heaven right now waiting for one of us to take communion in an unworthy manner so he can smite us. He is long-suffering, more patient with our sin than we can even imagine. He is calling out to us to throw ourselves on his mercy, repent, don’t be hard-hearted, don’t provoke the wrath of God but come to his loving heart filled to overflowing with forgiveness and grace.
If the Spirit is at work in our hearts and we feel that sense of conviction, that we may be coming at this table in an unworthy manner then there is hope; conviction is a good sign of the Spirit at work, of there being life in our heart. God calls us to repent and cry out to him to work in our life, ask his Spirit to begin to do the hard, painful work of uprooting those deeply entrenched sins. We can ask God for forgiveness and for a softened heart and we will find the infinitely abundant grace and mercy found only in the cross, in the body broken for you.
Remember that night, remember the new covenant, remember his broken body that should have been you and thank him and praise him for his sacrifice. Fully sense the bread and the cup and say these symbolize my Savior, my redeemer, my salvation and my blood bought new life in him.
That is what it means to come in a worthy manner. Not sinless perfection, but full dependence on his grace and mercy, reverently worshipping Christ for what he has done, what he is doing now, and what he promises to do in the future.
The point of the Lord’s supper is to leave us not with guilt or feelings of inadequacy, but hope. Hope that today I am a new creation in Christ. Sin no longer has any dominion over me and his Spirit is alive and at work in me because of what he did that night so many years ago.
Hope for the future, that this world is not all there is. There is a glorious feast awaiting us, a home with our God and King, Jesus Christ. The one who took the bread and the cup that night, and said I do this for you.