The Lord’s Supper: The Love We Remember

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV

As much as we may honor the legacy of Luther as the instrument that God used to begin the Reformation, that man of God (like all others throughout history) was by no means without his faults and failures. I deem the Marburg Colloquy to be a chief example of one such failure of Luther. Although Luther had become the leader of the Reformation in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli held that role in Switzerland. In March of 1529, a conference was held in the city of Marburg to reach a certain degree of unity between the German and Swiss movements. Discussions were particularly focused upon the doctrinal difference that loomed overhead: the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

Luther, you see, held to a view that has come to be called Consubstantiation, wherein he rejected the Roman Catholic view that the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Christ upon the blessing of the priest (known as Transubstantiation) yet still maintained that the elements were indeed the body and blood of Christ. Zwingli, however, held what most call a Memorial view, which refused to see the bread and wine as anything more than symbols observed in remembrance of the actual breaking of Christ’s body and spilling of His blood upon the cross. Zwingli and nearly everyone at the conference, including those with Luther, hoped that a kind of agree-to-disagree concession would be reached. But Luther took chalk and wrote on the table, “This is my body.” He then demanded that the others convince him that is means represents. Historian Nick Needham writes, “Zwingli begged with tears in his eyes that the two parties should unite in spite of their disagreement, but Luther refused even to admit that the Swiss Reformers were Christians.”[1]

I bring up this moment from church history because I believe that most Christians today would laugh away the zealous obstinance of Luther even to recognize the Swiss Reformers as anything other than heretics. And while I also view this as one of Luther’s greatest failures, I believe that we may also pause for self-reflection. Brian Vickers makes the point that many Christians today fall into two dangerous grounds in regards to the Lord’s Supper. The first is to view the ordinance as “a time of intense personal introspection sometimes associated with unrelenting guilt.”[2] When a friend of mine first became a believer, this was his first experience with the Lord’s Supper, which he took trembling with fear. The other danger is that of “going through the motions without awareness or thoughtfulness… The words of the institution are perhaps read, maybe heard, and the Supper is over, a hymn is sung, and it’s back to daily life.”[3] It seems to me as though the latter is far more prevalent than the former. Indeed, many have likely so little considered the Lord’s Supper that the seriousness of Marburg Colloquy seems entirely absurd. Yet as one of the two ordinances or sacraments that Christ has instituted for His church, the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or Eucharist is worth joyful yet weighty consideration.

For the three Sundays that remain in this year, we will consider this wondrous grace that our Lord has left for us as a physical display of the gospel. The core of these three sermons can be found in 1 Corinthians 11:26 where Paul wrote, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This single verse reveals a threefold significance to the Lord’s Supper that we will unfold more fully through other texts, namely, it is a present-day action (eating and drinking) that reflects upon a past event (the Lord’s death) in anticipation for a future event (Christ’s return). We will naturally begin with the past, with what the Lord’s Supper calls us to remember. We will then jump to the future by observing what it calls us to anticipate. Finally, with the past remembrance and future anticipation more fully explained, we will conclude with its meaning for us presently.

We, thus, begin by turning our eyes to the past to observe what the Lord’s Supper calls us to remember. We may divide this study into three parts. First, we will briefly look at the Lord’s Supper as a sign of the covenant that Christ inaugurated. Second, we will consider how the Lord’s Supper proclaims Christ’s death through the eating of bread and drinking of the cup. Finally, we will linger upon the words of our Lord: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-26, which is Paul’s recounting of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper after His last supper with His disciples, is often used as the primary text for describing the institution of the Lord’s Supper. However, we will begin by reading that passage alongside the accounts within Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:18-20, so that we may have the full biblical portrait.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “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. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

SIGN OF THE COVENANT

Despite the appeals of Luther, the bread is not literally the body of Christ nor is the wine His blood. Those statements are quite clearly meant to be seen as metaphors, which are certainly not absent from other portions of Scripture. For example, Psalms 18:31 asks the question, “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?” No one reads that verse with the understanding that God is literally a rock. No, the Psalms in particular repeatedly call God a rock as a metaphor for His character, such as His immutability, omnipotence, and faithfulness. In a similar way, we are not meant to view the bread and cup as Christ’s physical body and blood; indeed, they cannot be since Jesus physically ascended to the right hand of the Father and will not return physically until His second coming.

We must conclude, therefore, that the bread and cup are symbols of Christ’s body and blood, which is also a conclusion that has much precedent in Scripture. When God made His covenant with Noah, He set His arch in the sky as a sign of the covenant. When God made His covenant with Abraham, He commanded the man of faith and his entire household to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. When God made His covenant with the people of Israel at Sinai, He gave His written Law, the Sabbath, and the feasts as signs of the covenant. Under the New Covenant that Christ inaugurated, we have two such signs, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. All of these signs throughout the history of redemption are visual representations of unseen, spiritual realities. E.F. Kevan writes,

Thus, enshrined within visible and tangible objects is the truth of our salvation. It is an external rite, designed by the Lord in His great goodness to impress our senses as well as our spiritual perception.[4]

Or, as Thomas Watson said, “a sacrament is a visible sermon.”[5]

Baptism, which we will discuss more fully at a later date, is a sign of Christ’s initial saving work, of our justification by His blood. Just as justification only occurs once, so believers are only baptized once as a visible sign of our new birth in Christ and our being grafted into His church. The Lord’s Supper, however, is a sign of our sanctification, our daily need of Christ’s grace to feed and sustain us. Thus, we observe the Lord’s Supper often as a repeated and frequent reminder of continual need of our Lord and Savior.

PROCLAIM THE LORD’S DEATH

With a super-brief primer of covenantal signs discussed, what about the actual elements? Why did Jesus use bread and a cup of wine to symbolize His body and blood? Of course, Christ had previously instructed His disciples to pray to the Father for daily bread, for provision and sustenance, while also teaching, after the feeding of the 5000, that He is “the bread of life” (John 6:35). Jesus revealed that He alone is true and lasting provision. The identification of the bread with His body only continues that teaching. Wine, likewise, is a natural symbol for blood, given its crimson color.

Yet I also believe that in these two elements we see Jesus doing as the Father does throughout Scripture by taking common things and consecrating them as holy unto Him. Bread and wine (although notice that Jesus only calls it the cup) were staples of everyday life. A family that had little else to eat or drink would likely have these two items. Therefore, Jesus takes what is most common, and He puts it to most holy use, becoming signs of His own body and blood. Gloriously, the same is true for each of us. Although there is nothing in us worthy of salvation, Christ has redeemed us through His body and blood, making us His saints, His holy ones.

And it is that act of redemption to which the elements testify. Signs, after all, point not to themselves but to something else. In the Old Testament, circumcision was not the point; it merely testified to God’s marvelous promise to Abraham and his descendants. In the same way, the Lord’s Supper itself is not the point; instead, it proclaims “the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11:26). It calls us to set our gaze backward to the greatest but also worst day in all of history, the day when Jesus was crucified, the day when His body was broken and His blood was spilled. And this was done, as Matthew’s account states, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

This brings us to a third element of the Lord’s Supper that is often neglected: the table. In 1 Corinthians 10:21, Paul actually refers to the Lord’s Supper as “the table of the Lord.” The question is then: why is it significant that the bread and cup are presented upon a table? In both the tabernacle and the temple stood the bronze altar, a table, upon which sacrifices were offered to God in repentance of sin. Leviticus 1:4 tells that the worshiper “shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” The animal was slaughtered in the sinner’s place, its life for his. This was the system by which sinners could be forgiven. Yet there was one major flaw with the system: “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Thus, sacrifices were repeatedly given, on and on each day, and every year on the Day of Atonement a sacrifice was made on behalf of all of God’s people. Because these sacrifices could “never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11), their smoldering fire could never cease.

This table before us, however, is not covered with the blood of bulls and goats. Nor does it have a continuous fire rising from it. It presents simply bread and the cup, signs of a sacrifice made long ago, a sacrifice made once for all, which was the death of Jesus Christ. Upon the cross, Jesus stood as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He bore the transgressions of the ungodly, absorbing the Father’s wrath in Himself, so that the righteous judgment of God would pass over us and spare our eternal souls. And it is here that the Lord’s Supper is a marvelous picture of the gospel’s beauty. In taking the bread and cup, we do exactly that, take. This sacrament is no sacrifice. It only testifies of the sacrifice that has already been made. This ordination is no offering, except that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to our King who died to save us.

IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME

Finally, let us conclude by observing what the Scriptures tell us specifically to remember through the Lord’s Supper.[6] The answer is most often said to be Christ’s crucifixion and death, since the bread is a sign of His broken body and the cup of His shed blood. Yet notice that Paul says that observance of the Lord’s Supper proclaims the Lord’s death. Again, it is a visual sermon of Christ’s crucifixion and the forgiveness of sins that it secured for us.

But what precisely are we called to remember? Read Christ’s words again. Do this in remembrance of me. Kevan remarks:

Our Lord does not ask in remembrance of the date, or the place, but of Himself. Our Lord does not even say: “Do this in remembrance of my death”; although it is perfectly true that the service is full of the meaning of His death. In other words, He says, “Do this in memory of all that I am to you”.[7]

This is so significant because our salvation is in Christ alone. The cross is a marvelous reminder of the atonement made by our Lord upon such a tree, yet the cross is a thing of mingled beauty and sorrow to us only because of Christ’s cross. Tradition says that both Peter and Andrew were crucified, and while we honor those men as both apostles and martyrs of the faith, there is no salvation in their deaths because there was no ability to save in either man. The Lord’s Supper, therefore, is not merely a reminder to look upon the cross but a call to look to Jesus, our risen and ascended Savior.

We would also do well to consider the usage of remembrance, especially in the Old Testament. In many places, we are told of God’s own remembrance, which never means that God actually forgot something but instead calls attention to the fact that God was about to act. For example, Genesis 8:1 shows God remembering Noah in the middle of the flood and then causing the waters to subside. He later promised to remember His covenant every time He saw the rainbow in the sky. God literally dragged Lot away from Sodom and Gomorrah because He remembered Abraham. God remembered the barrenness of Rachel and opened her womb. God heard the groanings of the Israelites in Egypt, remembered His covenant to their ancestors, and sent Moses to deliver them. In each case, God’s remembrance of His Word is immediately followed by His enacting of His Word.

But what does this have to do with our remembrance of Christ? Our remembrance is both passive and active. It is passive in the sense that we are remembering how God has redeemed through His Son, but it is active in the sense that our remembrance of Christ should be followed by us drawing near to Him, for forgiveness of sin and for comfort and rest in Him. Over the course of His final meal with His disciples, Jesus said,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1–5

In song, we encourage one another and together praise our heavenly King. In prayer, we come before His throne in thanksgiving, confession, and supplication. In preaching, we hear God’s Word and are called to repentance and obedience. In the Lord’s Supper, all of these aspects of our gathering come to point as we are summoned to a physical response to Christ’s Word. This table of the King set before us calls us to abide in Christ as He abides in us. For those who have never confessed Jesus as Lord, the Lord’s Supper is a call to first pursue the new birth in Christ and its sign via the waters of baptism. For all who have received Him, this table calls us to stay by our Savior’s side, to remember anew the abundance of blessing that we have in Him.


[1] Nick Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power Vol. 3: Renaissance and Reformation, 160.

[2] Brain J. Vickers, “The Lord’s Supper: Celebrating the Past and Future in the Present” from The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes by Thomas Schreiner and Matthew Crawford, 313.

[3] Vickers, “The Lord’s Supper”, 314.

[4] E. F. Kevan, The Lord’s Supper, 18.

[5] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper, 1.

[6] Interestingly, while each of the four accounts records the identification of the bread with Christ’s body and the cup with the blood of the covenant, only Luke and Paul record the command for us to remember our Lord through the bread and cup. Even so, since all Scripture is God-breathed, this command is no less authoritative.

[7] Kevan, The Lord’s Supper, 24.

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