The Cup of Life
Holy Communion is essential to the spiritual life of Christians. It is not optional, we are commanded by our Master to receive it. It is no more optional than water baptism (Romans 6). Likewise the Scripture says, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come” 1 Cor 11:26. In receiving the Lord’s Supper we are carrying out the command of our Lord and Master.
There have been many debates about Holy Communion. This is sad, for I feel that simply receiving Communion is one of the most important blessings in a Christian’s life. Once I preached at a church in Ireland and ministered to them for an entire week. On the Sunday that I preached, they had a Communion service, but asked me to sit aside as I was “not a member of their church” and could thus not partake in Holy Communion! This was a sad day for me.
Holy Communion is a memorial
What is Holy Communion? Most of us have participated in it at some time. Holy Communion is a memorial to the New Covenant, or New Testament, through which we enjoy a new relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He provided this new relationship through His death. Through Holy Communion we recall that Christ died for us and that we have salvation because of His death.
The bread and the cup
He has left us emblems representing His Body and His Blood. The bread speaks to us of the Body of our Lord, broken by the stripes that were inflicted on Him. The cup represents the Blood shed by our Lord. It speaks to us of eternal salvation, of redemption through His precious Blood.
We frequently hear the ordinance referred to as the Lord’s Supper, or the Lord’s Table. These names stress that it is the Lord’s – and not the exclusive property of any one group or individual. At other times we may call it Holy Communion, because it is a time of communing in a personal, intimate way with our Lord Jesus. By any name, this ordinance is inexorably linked to the death of Christ. It points to the Cross. It is a memorial to the One who died, yet is not dead. It points to the grave, yet is intended for those who have eternal victory over the grave. The Lord’s Supper is more than mere form or ritual. It is a source of healing, for it memorialises the stripes by which we are healed.
It is a source of fellowship, for in observing it we come into fellowship with others who know Christ as Lord. It is a reminder of the constant union we enjoy with the Saviour. The Lord’s Supper is a grand paradox. It looks backward at death as a defeated foe, rather than forward to it as a dreaded villain. It points to a broken Body and shed Blood, yet views death as the beginning of life. The Lord’s Supper speaks of death, yet its subject is life. Its bread is the bread of life, its cup, the cup of life.
Old and New
In the Old Testament there was the Passover. In the New Testament there is Holy Communion. Both are celebrated to help us remember the moment of deliverance. Of what should we be reminded when we consider the Lord’s Supper? First, we ought to remember that it is the Lord’s Supper, not man’s. Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, initiated it; it was not born in the hearts of men. It was not instituted by Church councils. It is not a ritual that has been added to the Church. The Lord’s Supper is an original function of the Church, one that has been observed from the beginning of church life. Christ initiated it, and in so doing He became, in a remarkable and mysterious fashion, the very memorial we observe today. The Lord is the Lord’s Supper.
The nature of the Lord’s Supper
We do not say that the bread we partake of is literally and chemically transformed into the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. We do not mean to imply that the fruit of the vine is literally and chemically transformed into His Blood. However, we cannot overemphasise the truth that when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup we take unto ourselves the essence of Christ Himself.
What better way to picture such a transaction than by eating and drinking? Nutritionists have long told us that we become what we eat, or more accurately, what we eat becomes us. Today’s muscle and bone were last week’s meat and milk. Today’s bread and fish will become next week’s blood and tissue. The one who eats and the thing that is eaten eventually become one.
Our union with Christ
Our union with Jesus Christ is the same. As we take Him, we become one with Him and He one with us. It is communion, a common union or bond between the Lord and the individual believer. It is the Lord coming to man. It is His supper, His table, His fellowship. It is not a church’s supper, or a denomination’s supper. It is the Lord’s Supper.
The partakers of the Supper
To more fully understand the Lord’s Supper we must not only see that it is His, but we must understand with whom He is pleased to share it. To whom, indeed, was that first celebration of this ordinance presented? The first Communion of our Lord was given exclusively to His disciples, the apostles. It was not given to His enemies, that they might mock Him and sneer at Him. There was no place at that table for anyone who was not a disciple.
You will remember that Judas left before Jesus passed the bread and wine. This fact shows us that Holy Communion is not for unbelievers. The unregenerated man or woman has no place at the Lord’s Table. We have already seen that in partaking of this supper, we celebrate and come into a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. We are one with Him. This union is only possible because we have been born into His family through salvation.
An exclusive ordinance
As baptism affirms, we have accepted His death as our death to sin and as payment in full for sin’s penalty. We have accepted His burial as the putting away of our old nature. We have accepted His Resurrection as the coming to life, or quickening, in us of God’s Spirit. We are dead to sin and alive to God. That which we once were, a son of Adam, became totally unacceptable to God. However, in Christ, that old man was put away and the new man was born.
Only that new man can come into union with Christ. Only that new man can know the intimacy of Holy Communion with the Lord of glory. How can that which is totally unacceptable to God come into union with His Son? It cannot. Paul, writing by Divine inspiration, gave stern warnings to those who would eat the bread of communion or drink from the cup unworthily.
We need to understand that the Lord’s Supper is offered exclusively to those who are the Lord’s by new birth. As we understand the union with Christ and our fellow believers that are ours through the Lord’s Supper, we come to a fuller appreciation of the symbolism of the elements and practices of the Lord’s Table. The cup of blessing represents the Blood Jesus shed for us. He said of the cup. “This is the Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many” Matt 26:28.
The significance of symbolism
As we look back into the Old Testament, we cannot escape the striking parallel between the Lord’s Supper and the Passover Feast. In fact, it was at the observance of Passover that the Lord’s Supper was instituted. The one pointed forward to the other. The Passover was a time of witness. The father of each household explained to his children how the death angel had passed through Egypt.
a shadow of Calvary
In every home where the blood of the sacrificial lamb had not been applied to the door post, the first-born died. That sacrificial lamb was a symbol of Jesus Christ. That blood was a symbol of His Blood. That deliverance from death was a picture of the deliverance that Jesus has given to all believers. The Passover was a witness to the Gospel of Christ, even before Christ came. Just before Jesus fulfilled the death that the Passover predicted, He instituted His new feast. That feast is also a witness. It is a witness to the broken Body and shed Blood of the Saviour. It is a witness to the fact that only in Jesus is there hope of deliverance.
The Blood of Christ shed for us
The saints of Israel were to observe the Passover with regularity, each time explaining and reinforcing the message that deliverance and life could only come through the shed blood of the lamb. It was a major aspect of Jewish life. All Israel knew and understood, that on that dark day in Egypt, a lamb died so that a nation might live. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper should be a constant witness to us that we can have life through the death and resurrection of God’s eternal Lamb. He died so that we might live. We ought, therefore, to share that message.
Just as the Jews told it over and over again, so should we talk about it, tell others about it, and share it with our children. The Lord’s Supper should be a constant witness to us, and to others, of what we have received in Christ Jesus.
A reminder of Christ’s work in us
The Lord’s Supper also teaches us of the enduring nature of the Christ’s work. Paul wrote: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come” 1 Cor 11:26. Jesus Himself told the disciples that He would not drink the cup with them again until they drank it together in His Kingdom.
The Lord’s Supper speaks to us, each time we observe it, of the eternal work Christ has done. The ordinance also speaks of safety. If you were to ask an Israelite from those ancient days what the Passover meant to him, he might answer “safety.” For ancient Jews, blood on the doorposts meant protection from death. All who were inside the house marked with the blood were safe.
Affirmation of our safety in God
There is also that element of safety in the Lord’s Supper. As we observe the ordinance, as we drink of the cup, we can rejoice in the knowledge that God will not judge us on past sin. He loves us. We are His own. When He sees the Blood of Christ applied to the doorposts of our hearts, there is no judgement. The judgement for sin has already been carried out. When the death angel saw the blood, he knew that the lamb had died. The blood of Christ declares that judgement has already been executed. Herein is safety. Christ has borne our judgement.
There is no reason to fear. We need not be afraid to live, for Christ lives in us and is able to deal with all circumstances that might confront us. There is no need to fear death, for Christ has already died on our behalf. In living we have safety, in dying we have safety.
A seal against sickness
Just like the blood of the lamb on the doorpost of the Jews acted as a seal against death, the Blood of Christ is a seal for us – against sickness, death and satan. It is a ‘no trespassing’ sign – when the devil brings things into our lives, it is because we have allowed him access. But satan is powerless to cross the threshold of any heart sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s supper reminds us of this truth and is reason for rejoicing at His table.
The Body of Christ broken for us
We have spoken a great deal of the cup and the Blood, but let’s look at the bread, representing Christ’s body broken for us. There was not a single bone broken in Jesus’ body on the Cross, but yet His body was broken by scourging, beating and torture. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.” Isa 53:5
Jesus’ broken body brings us healing. His Word declares that by His Blood we are forgiven and by His broken body we are healed. When we come to the Lord’s table we should come there expecting healing. Taking communion provides us with a tangible act, to enforce an intangible truth. (ie: physically as we eat the bread representing Christ’s broken body, we are trusting by faith and receiving in faith, our healing from Him).
The two cups of Calvary
When we view the Lord’s Supper and the events it represents, we are drawn to the fact that in those final hours before Calvary there are not one cup, but two. There is the cup of the Lord and the Lord’s cup. There is the cup that Christ received from His Father, and there is the cup we receive from Christ. There is the cup that He drank on our behalf and there is the cup that we drink at His invitation. They are two, and yet the message of each is wondrously woven into the other. We read of the first cup in John 18:11. The second cup which He gives to us is in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26.
The cup of Christ and Christ’s cup
The first cup (Christ’s cup) was one of betrayal and sorrow. The Lord took that on, that we may drink of the second cup (the cup He gives us) and receive His joy, and unity in His family. The first cup is a picture of His sacrificial death. A cup of death, sickness and sin – that He took on Himself for our sakes. He exchanged this for our cup, a cup of salvation, healing, joy and love. The cup Christ received from the Lord that night was a cup on loneliness and pain. A cup of wrath and anger (the anger of a Holy Lord, the anger of satan and the world who crucified Him).
A reminder of the Lord’s love
There are two cups involved in Holy Communion. Only one is visible to our physical eyes. It is the cup Christ gives us. It is a cup of fellowship and friendship, a cup of peace, healing, joy and life. Yet is was only made possible because Jesus was willing to drink of a cup of bitterness and loneliness, solitude, betrayal, wrath, bruisings, sorrows and death. Holy Communion is so much more than many believe. It is not a Sunday celebration, it is more – it is life!
by Lester Sumrall