Summary: What the Lord's Supper is about.
We could have titled last week’s sermon, “Christians Behaving Badly.” It was bad enough that the Corinth “saints” were treating one another badly, but, as if to add insult to injury, they were doing so at the Lord’s Table. At the very meal which signified unity in Christ, they were displaying the very real divisions among them.
Paul, to wake them up to their offense reminds them of what the Lord’s Supper is about.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…
As Paul delivers again the words which institute the Lord’s Supper, he notes that what he is passing on carries the direct authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think he means that he received the instruction in one of his visions by which the Lord communicated with him. However he received the instruction, it comes from the Lord and is to be received by the church as the Lord’s very words.
…that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed…
This phrase serves a couple of purposes. One is to keep before us that historicity of the sacrament and of our religion. Our faith is based on historical events. The Lord’s Supper originated from the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples. Secondly, he reminds us of the context for the first supper. Jesus spoke these words and administered these elements on the eve of his crucifixion, his sacrifice for his disciples and all disciples to come. He spoke these words of love in the midst of betrayal, conspiracy, and desertion. See how history enriches faith. The Supper comes to us out of troubled times, and so it is all the more fitting to observe it in the midst of our troubles.
… took bread, 24 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.”
The first element given is bread to represent Christ’s body which he offered as a sacrifice for his people. Some ministers have focused on the word “broke” when administering the sacrament. The King James and the New King James Bible have the word “broken” in the quote: “This is my body which is broken for you.” Thus we are to think of Christ’s body broken when we see the loaf of bread broken in two.
The Scriptures, however, teach that Christ’s body was not broken. In the gospel of John, we read:
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:32-37).
Why, then, does the KJB have “broken”? The translators at that time relied on manuscripts that included the word. Since that time, other manuscripts have been discovered that are older and more reliable, so that no translation done since the turn of the last century includes the word other than the NKJB which tries to remain faithful to the KJ.
Having said this, breaking the bread is significant, for it indicates that Jesus had his disciples eat from the one loaf of bread. Remember Paul’s words in 10:17: Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. The focus, then, is not the brokenness of Jesus’ body, but that his body is given for us all: “This is my body which is for you.”
All the presentations of the Lord’s Supper include the reference to Jesus giving thanks or saying the blessing. It seems important to note that he did so and thus important that we do so as well. Despite the evil context surrounding the supper, what was being celebrated was the victory of righteousness. At all times we are to give thanks to God for what he provides – the food on the table and especially the salvation of our Lord. Just as the Last Supper was a not of bemoaning the hour to come, so the Lord’s Supper is not to be a time of focusing on our own troubles. It is a time for giving thanks to God.
We will come back to the statement, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Let us move on to the next element. 25 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.”