Summary: This is a brief overview of how the early Church observed the Lord’s Supper or the Communion, providing an example for the Church today.
Matthew, Mark and Luke give us the historical account of the institution of the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20). Jesus instituted the Supper toward the close of His and the disciples’ partaking of the Passover meal. Because of this connection, the Passover meal is an important background for understanding the Lord’s supper. It provides insight as to the elements used, why they were used and how they were used.
Based on the texts of the Gospel accounts and instruction from the Apostle Paul, we find that Jesus incorporated three elements of the Passover feast into His Supper: (1) bread, (2) a cup and (3) the fruit of the vine.
(1) The bread of the Passover meal was unleavened bread (Exodus 12:17-20; Matthew 26:17-20). No leavening agents were present in the Passover meal because it was to be a perpetual reminder to the Hebrew people (Exodus 12:25-27) of the "haste" in which they left Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 16:3).
For the Church, there is a spiritual significance to the use of unleavened bread in the Lord’s supper. Jesus stated that the bread represents His body (Luke 22:19). The term "leaven" is used in a figurative sense to denote corruption (Matthew 16:6; Luke 12:1; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Galatians 5:9). Therefore, the bread is without leaven, even as Christ was without corruption or sin (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26).
(2) There is the cup. There are actually four cups that are employed in the Passover Feast; however, only one of the cups is in use at one time. Paul calls the communion cup “the cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16). This is noteworthy because this is one of the actual Jewish designations of the third cup of the Passover meal.
(3) Finally, there is “the fruit of the vine.” When the Lord instituted His Supper, He used the phrase "fruit of the vine" instead of one of the words that could have been translated as "wine." Alcoholic wine is the product of fermentation. Recalling that there was to be no leavening or fermentation agents or products within the house during the Feast, we can understand that the Lord and His disciples used unfermented juice. According to Jewish tradition, the “fruit of the vine” particularly of the third cup in the Passover Feast was to represent the blood of the Paschal lamb that redeemed the Israelites’ firstborn from the judgment of death on the eve of the exodus.
In the Lord’s supper, the "fruit of the vine" is symbolic of shed blood of Christ (Matthew 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25), “the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Because the juice is pure and wholesome it is a fit symbol of the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ which ratified the new covenant (Hebrews 9:15-20).
That it is important to observe the Lord’s Supper according to the original example of Christ Jesus is made clear in 1 Corinthians 11. We find in verses 17-22, that the Corinthian brethren had strayed from the correct procedure and they were duly rebuked for it. Paul begins to re-instruct them, in verse 23, by first declaring that he “received from the Lord that which [he] delivered” to them. Paul furthermore stated, in verse 1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” It is not surprising, then, that Paul teaches the Corinthians to perform the Lord’s supper exactly as it was done by Jesus at the beginning (verses 23-25).
In the same manner as our Lord, in our observance of the Supper, the person chosen to act as ‘the host’ offers a consecrating prayer over a loaf of unleavened bread. The host breaks a piece of the bread and partakes of it. He, afterwards, passes the loaf around and each member of the congregation breaks off a piece for themselves and eats. Next, in the same manner as the Lord, the host offers a consecrating prayer over the cup with the fruit of the vine. The host drinks from the cup and then passes it around for the congregation to drink from.
Perhaps, it is worthy to emphasize that the entire congregation partakes of a single loaf and a single cup. We know that the Lord and His apostles partook of the same single loaf and the same single cup because the Passover ritual demanded it. This is an indisputable fact. Therefore, for us to distribute and partake of the bread and the cup with the fruit of the vine in any other manner means we are not following the example of Christ and Paul.
Paul told the Corinthians that at the Lord’s supper “we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). In the same verse, he states that the one bread not only signifies the Lord’s one sacrificed body but also His single living body, the Church. In verse 16, Paul states that in partaking of the single “cup of blessing …[there is] a sharing in the blood of Christ.” We can also understand that the use of one cup beautifully represents the one covenant in which all partakers of the Supper are parties to.