(1 Corinthians 11:20-26)
Whether you call it eating the Lords Supper, taking communion, breaking bread or any of the other names for this sacrament of the church, it is important to understand what it is and why we do it.
Over the years I have visited a number of different churches in my travels and I have been amazed at the number of churches that do not uphold this practice. I do not know whether they feel it is unimportant or unnecessary, but for whatever reason they fail to follow this practice.
And we should understand first and foremost that the practice of breaking bread or taking communion was ordained not by men, but by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It was He who commanded the disciples to do this and to ensure this tradition was passed on into the churches as the church grew.
Ordained By Christ
In this brief section of scripture, Paul is upbraiding the Corinthian church because they are not following this tradition of the Lord correctly. He shows that they are doing this in an unworthy and improper way, and then he goes on to explain the implications of not following this practice correctly.
As to this being ordained from the Lord, note the words of verse 23 in this section of scripture from Paul.
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, – (1 Corinthians 11:23)
Remember now that Paul was not one of the original twelve disciples. In fact Paul did not come to the Lord until well after Jesus had died.
And yet here he says that the instruction to break bread or take communion was not one that he received from the earlier disciples and apostles, but he received this instruction from the Lord himself. Paul was instructed by the a lord to carry out this tradition and like the earlier disciples, to pass it on into the churches.
It was perhaps because he received this instruction from the Lord that Paul was so concerned that the church at Corinth follow it correctly.
Importance of Breaking Bread
And it is important that we as a church follow this tradition correctly.
The breaking of bread together in the church does a number of things, which Paul was at pains to describe to the Corinthians.
First, as the Lord instructed, when we break the bread and take the cup, we are remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on our behalf. His sacrifice was the greatest gift of all for through His death and resurrection we received forgiveness of sins, freedom from sin and the law and the opportunity to be perfected to eternal life. If for no other reason we should be thankful and participate in this practice as the Lord ordained.
Second, we see Paul explains that by following this tradition we are making a proclamation of our faith. In doing this we proclaim to the world that we believe and follow the Lord Jesus Christ and that we are Christians.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. – (1 Corinthians 11:26)
Now we note also from the words of Jesus himself, quoted by Paul, what it is that we are eating and believing as we take communion.
23 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, 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.” 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.” – (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
The bread we eat is representative of the Lords body and the cup we drink is representative of His blood. When Jesus was on the earth He taught His disciples to “eat my flesh and drink my blood” and in effect what we are doing in communion is exactly that.
Now let me say that I do not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. The bread and cup do not actually become the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus. However, through faith they do represent His flesh and blood and the meanings of this are quite significant.
Flesh and Blood
First we need to understand that when there was a sacrificial offering under the Jewish law as ordained through Moses, those who made the offering would eat of the sacrifice and so become part of or partners in the sacrifice.
Likewise when we eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord, we are partners in the sacrifice that He made on our behalf. The action of eating and drinking the bread and cup are evidence to the world that we believe and participate in the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
It the importance of the flesh and blood being represented by the bread and the cup is even more significant. Note these words of Jesus in the gospel of John.
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – (John 6:52-58)
When Jesus instructed his disciples to “eat my flesh and drink my blood” He was showing that it was necessary to do this so that we may have life. When we eat His flesh (I.e take the bread of communion) and drink his blood (I.e. Take the cup of communion) we are eating and drinking His flesh and blood. And we know that in Him we have life.
But there is more that we should recall in this symbolism. Jesus says that his flesh is food indeed and his blood is drink indeed. So how do we consume His body and blood?
We do it through learning what Jesus taught us.
It was state under the laws of Moses that you shall not drink the blood of an animal for the life is in the blood.
10 “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. 12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. 13 “Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14 For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. – (Leviticus 17:10-14)
It is clear from this that the life of all animals, birds, reptiles and most importantly, mankind, is in the blood. Thus it was prohibited under the law to eat the blood of any beast.
But when Jesus tells us, commands us even to eat His blood, what He is saying is to take His life into ourselves. He is offering us His life through the blood that He shed, which we can take for ourselves through faith. And we remember his sacrifice and offering when we take the cup of communion.
Likewise we are instructed to eat His flesh, which again under the law was a great sin. But to consume the flesh of the Lord is again to consume the essence of His life, which was the depth of the teachings he gave so that we might live and grow into maturity in Him.
When we eat his body we are consuming His knowledge so that we can learn to put on His body. We are baptised to put on the life and body of Christ where we die with Him in the waters of baptism and are resurrected with Him as we are lifted out of the waters.
And we thus begin our walk with Christ which requires that we consume His body of knowledge so that we can learn to live as He lived and be mature in Him. And He helps us by giving us the Holy Spirit as counsellor, teacher and guide.
This is why it is so important to maintain the tradition of breaking bread or communion or whatever you want to call it. This is also why Paul was so chagrined that the church at Corinth were following the tradition correctly.
It is also why it is important that churches today follow the tradition of the Lord.
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Conspiracy Against Jesus
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Eating The Flesh And Blood Of Christ