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Can We Talk About The Lord’s Supper?
I ask us to reexamine our traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

It is not Common

Common is a word whose range of meaning includes the ideas of being widespread, usual, ordinary, freely available for anyone to use, and in a religious sense, profane as opposed to holy.

The Lord’s Supper, and the elements used in it are set out as a figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. The bread and the cup, are sanctified (set apart for use by God) by prayer and thanksgiving, and therefore because of these things they are no longer common but holy.

There is abundant precedent in Scriptures that something is holy because it is used as a figure of something holy. An example of this is the Old Testament Tabernacle. It was a copy of heavenly patterns. And the Tabernacle was sacred. The heavenly is holy, the earthly copy was holy. This passage from Hebrews explains,

Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. (Hebrews 8:1-5)

We are told here that the earthly was a copy of the heavenly, and that it was set aside for God’s use, and that Moses was “admonished” to follow the pattern God gave him. That is the point to understand.

Another passage in Hebrews says this,

Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; (Hebrews 9:1-9)

Take special note that inside the second veil was that which was called Holiest. And that here the glory of God was manifested. And that these things were a figure of the heavenly. The figure itself is holy, it is sacred because the heavenly pattern of it is holy and sacred, and it is holy and sacred because God is holy and it is for his use.

There is this also,

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Please note that there is a “purifying of the flesh” accomplished by the figure of the truly holy. The truly holy is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. So the figure takes on a holiness by being a copy of the holy, and because it is used for God’s purposes.

The earthly Tabernacle, later the Temple, and everything associated with it, priest, ritual, furniture, all was a figure of the heavenly pattern. But they were holy and sacred. This is particularly witnessed by these passages:

And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not. (Exodus 28:33-35)

“That he die not.” When Aaron went into the holy place of the Tabernacle, which was a figure of the heavenly pattern, he was to have tinkling bells on his robe. He was to make a sound, to be heard that he was still alive and moving, because if he erred he would die. The point here is that this is the figure, not the heavenly, and obviously the figure itself is holy and sacred.

Another verse that displays the holiness of the earthly figure and the dire consequences of not treating it with reverence is this,

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10:1-3)

In the earthly figure of the Heavenly pattern, the Tabernacle ritual, these two erred and died for their error. The figure is itself holy and sacred.

Finally, consider this,

And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God. (1 Chronicles 13:9-10)

No one was to touch the figure, the ark. This one who did died for his error. Again, and again, and again, the figure is holy and sacred.

Based on the above, I draw an analogy: the Lord’s Supper, and the elements, take on a form of holy and sacred character because of what it, and they, signify: The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is the holiest of all.

I think if you read the Scripture passage found in Leviticus 16:1-34 you will get the idea more firmly. There we read how God commanded the earthly copy of the Heavenly pattern to be set up. It is a long passage, just pay attention at least to the part about the sprinkling of blood in the Holiest and the mercy seat. And remember that this is an everlasting statute for the children of Israel that dealt with their sin. These things must put us in awe of what we’re reading.

Then right after reading in Leviticus read in Hebrews, 9:11-28. There we read about the true Heavenly pattern Moses was commanded to follow. In the Heavenly, Jesus Christ sprinkled His own blood in the Holiest of Heaven to purge us of sin. He did this “once in the end of the world“. This is the true pattern in the heavenlies after which the figure of the Tabernacle was a copy. This true heavenly pattern is the pattern for the Lord’s Supper, and the simple elements of bread and wine are the figures of the Lord’s body and blood. In them we recall the Lord’s sacrifice, we “show forth His death until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:26). Christ is holy and sacred, His body and blood are holy and sacred. His sacrifice is holy and sacred. In Hebrews we read,

He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:28-31)

There is a similarity in Paul’s dire language when he gave instructions to the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper:

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:26-32)

Note Paul’s language: guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, unworthy, eating and drinking damnation, judged, chastened, condemned. This language precludes any thought that what is at hand may be common. The language alone demands that we understand that the elements and the action of the Lord’s Supper be thought of as sacred to God, holy. (nota bene: Paul says “… that we should not be condemned with the world”, by this I understand that the chastisement is intended to correct us not send us to eternal condemnation. Persistent abuse, or a reprobate character is another matter requiring its own discussion.)

They stand as the figure of the Lord’s body and blood, by the command of God. If the thing figured is holy, as are the body and blood of the Lord, as is the Lord Himself, then the figure of the thing, commanded by God, takes on a form of holiness itself. Therefore to show disrespect to the figure is also to show disrespect to that which is figured: the Lord Himself.

Then there is also the aspect that they have been set aside for the use of God in our worship, and that they have been blessed with thanksgiving in prayer. Paul wrote of this,

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

The thing to note here is the background information that resides in this text: the practice of the Apostles and first Christians was to bless the cup and the bread. This blessing included the giving of thanks, just as Jesus did, whence the name, Eucharist. It also included petition for God’s blessing upon themselves and what they were about to partake of. Paul says this to Timothy,

For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

We set out the bread and the cup, and receive them with thanksgiving, and blessing. The elements are “sanctified by the word of God and prayer”. The literal meaning of sanctified is that they are set apart for God’s use in our worship. This lends them the character of holiness.

It is easier to understand why Catholics believe the Lord’s Supper and the elements are holy, because Catholics believe that the Lord’s Supper is a true sacrament, a mysterious means of giving out grace from God. They believe that the elements are transformed during the Mass, that Christ becomes present in them, clothed as it were in the bread and the wine just as He was clothed in a human body when He became flesh. Therefore they believe they become sacred, holy. That is the reason for the tradition that the Catholic laity received the communion bread on their tongue and not in their hands. It is considered a sacrilege to improperly handle the body of Christ.

Protestants hold the view that the Lord’s Supper and its elements are not common but sacred even thought they don’t believe that Christ is present in them in the way Catholics do. The Lord’s Supper and its elements are viewed as sacred because first they have been set out to figure Christ, according to God’s command, given directly by Jesus Christ when He said, “This do.” And in addition, they have been blessed in prayer with thanksgiving thus consecrating them. This effectually sets them apart for God’s use, for His purposes: that the Church may “shew the Lord’s death till He come (1 Corinthians 11:26). This fulfills the basic meaning of sacred: set apart and consecrated for God’s use.

Now there is more to this. The elements are not common. The action, the Lord’s Supper, is not common. It calls to mind, it pictures for us, the Paschal mystery that is the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. But here is the nub of the matter, the Lord’s Supper is a ceremony which is memorial, proclamation, confession, communion, and anticipation. It is a celebration of the Lord and who we are in Him because of His death on the cross for us. For us to partake of the Lord’s Supper is to speak as it were, calling Jesus Lord (see: 1 Corinthians 11:26 & Romans 10:8-13). There is great import in partaking: we are confessing His name.

At the Lord’s Supper we are recalling, retelling, thinking about, praising, singing, and praying the great truths of the Lord’s holy and sacred person and sacrifice. We are using the words of Scripture in all these things. We are hearing God’s Word through His Scriptures. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:17,

faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God

Our source of faith is God’s Word. As we hear it we are built up in Christ, conformed a little more, bit by bit, to His image as we hear and obey. We are being transformed by His Word. We, His body, His bride, the Church, are washed by the Word:

That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26-27)

He refers to Jesus. It refers to us, the Church. He is making us holy and sanctifying us to Himself. And as we properly celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in the memorial, proclamation, and confession of His Word it becomes sacramental in nature, it becomes a means of grace to us.

But it must always be foremost in our thoughts that it is not the Lord’s Supper, it is not the bread or the cup, it is not blessing for us that it is all about. It is all about Jesus, and it is all about that He has the preeminence in all things. This is a celebration of Him. He is the only subject and the only object of worship. We must never let the act nor the elements become the focus themselves. They are servants pointing to the Lord. And Jesus is the Lord.

So for these reasons the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and it’s simple elements of bread and wine are not common. They are God’s work to which we should prefer nothing.

©FH 2012

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