Summary: Comparing the Old & New Covenants with relation to the Lord’s Supper
Communion Message: "The Communion Covenant"
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Nearly every time the Bible mentions the Lord’s Supper the term "covenant" is used. Jesus sets forth, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood."
A covenant is a pledge, a guaranteed agreement based on trust. Covenants were arranged by mutual consent between two parties. In some translations they’re referred to as testaments. The word covenant means literally to "cover", in the sense of providing shelter, protection, or financial support. If I cover a bill, I pay for it. In legal terms, a covenant is similar to a contract, treaty or compact (e.g. the Mayflower Compact). Some covenants involve an individual making a commitment that affects others, such as a "last will and testament." To make a covenant is to make a binding commitment.
The very first time God made a covenant was with Adam, which included a promise of enmity between the devil and humankind (Gen 3:15). After the flood, a covenant of protection was made with Noah (Gen 8-9). God covenanted with Abraham (Gen 15), promising that he would become the father of a chosen people. Then on Mount Sinai God renewed His covenant with Moses and the nation He chose and preserved. In each case God initiated the covenant.
In the Upper Room Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Seder, the Jewish Passover feast. This involved a symbolic meal depicting the deliverance of the Jewish nation from the slavery of Egypt. The word "Passover" refers to the angel of death who passed over and spared the first-born of Israel’s children. Several symbolic foods were eaten; Jesus took two of them, the wine and matzo and transformed them into what we now call Communion. Jesus is called our "Passover Lamb" (I Cor 5:7-8), slain to save us from eternal death.
The terms of Biblical covenants were confirmed with a sacrifice. Noah and Abraham didn’t go out and hire a lawyer. They didn’t draft a covenant or sign a document. The Bible says that covenants were "cut". In the Army we say that personnel clerks will "cut" a set of orders, but in Bible days the word literally meant to cut. God was saying, in effect, "Do you mean business? Are you sincere? Is this covenant really important to you? Then take your best lamb and kill it. Put it on an altar and cut it into pieces." A blood sacrifice sealed the covenant.
Through sacrifice we’re forgiven. God doesn’t ignore or overlook sin-it must be paid for; God’s justice must be satisfied. Sin exacts a cost, a payment: "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). Before barcodes and electronic checkout devices, every item in most stores had a price tag that clearly told the cost. Sin, in God’s eyes, caries a clear price tag-punishment. We can take the punishment, or we can accept a substitute provided for us. In the Old Testament, people would confess their sin, admit their guilt, and then an animal would take their place. It was usually a lamb. The animal was a substitute. The one presenting this sacrificial offering was indicating, "What’s about to happen to this animal is what deserves to happen to me." The place of sacrifice emphasized the truth that "without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin" (Gen 8:21).
The way of forgiveness through animal sacrifice anticipated the sacrifice of Christ. The prophet Jeremiah writes, "’The time is coming’, declares the Lord, ’when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…I will put My Law into their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people…I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sin no more’ " (Jer 31:31-34). Jeremiah presented a covenant that had not yet been cut. Centuries later it was realized as Jesus declared, "This cup is the New Covenant in My blood." It is a "new" covenant because God Himself provides and is the sacrifice. Jesus ratified the terms with His own blood. Martin Luther reflected, "One drop of Christ’s blood is worth more than heaven and earth."
Sacrifices under the Old Covenant were temporary in nature; they had to be repeated. The book of Hebrews explains that the sacrifice of Christ is an "eternal" covenant (13:20) which does not need to be repeated. It was a once-and-for-all event. When we observe Communion, we do not repeat or reenact Christ’s sacrifice; we simply remember it symbolically, with the elements Jesus Himself used.
This New Covenant is unconditional and undeserved. It’s a covenant of grace. We can do nothing to earn it; we simply accept and receive it by faith. We often disappoint the Lord, yet He does not disown us; we are covered under the terms of this New Covenant. It is a promise to us He will never break.