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


The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the Lord’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins. Upon that point everyone agrees. But from there fundamental and profound disagreement begins.

My purpose here is to build us up by looking at the aspect of sacrifice presented to us in the Lord’s Supper. I have no intention of trying to convince anyone of any particular point of view. I do present the contrast between the memorialist view held by many Protestants, and the Roman Catholic sacramental view. But the purpose of doing that is create a framework for thinking about the Lord’s sacrifice.

Many Protestants hold the memorialist viewpoint which is that the Lord’s Supper is not more than memorial, that the elements are not changed, that Christ is not actually present in them, that there is no sacrifice being made, and that it is not a sacrament by which salvific grace is received. Protestants usually call it an ordinance rather than a sacrament to make these tenets clear.

A memorial can be a monument of stone, or a ritual, or even a simple ceremony. The point of a memorial is to help us remember something or someone. Memorialists are remembering the Lord’s person and His act of sacrifice as they celebrate and partake of the Lord’s Supper in a simple ceremony, thus some have called it a Remembrance Meeting. It is only in a figurative sense that they are making His sacrifice present in the bread and cup when they say of them “behold, the body and the blood of the Lord”, and sanctify them with prayer and thanksgiving. This means they are making them present to their thoughts, or remembering them. The elements serve as a picture telling the story. This is not a mystical presence as the Roman Catholics , or even the Anglicans, teach. The Lord and His sacrifice, as it is memorialized, is made present, in the figures of the bread and the cup, to our minds and spirits only in the sense that they are recalling to memory the things of Christ to meditate on them. The teaching is that as we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we show in a figure, a picture, that we partake of His sacrifice made for us. This figure displays the fulfillment of the Passover typology by Christ, and that we have already partaken of Christ Himself by faith believing (see for example Romans 10:9-10). This is a profession of faith which fulfills, as is supposed, the typological requirements of sacrifice from the Old Testament. The requirement being that the one for whom the sacrifice was made must also partake of that sacrifice. This typology inheres in both the Passover sacrifice, made before the Law, and sacrifice made under the Law. A memorialist believes that we partake of the true sacrifice, fulfilling the typology, by faith believing. This is derived from passages like that of Romans 10,

But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:8-10)

The polar opposite to the memorialist viewpoint is the Catholic doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as the Eucharistic Sacrifice. An understanding of this doctrine is useful to us. The teaching here follows a chain of logic starting with the nature of sacrifice in the Old Testament as a type for Christ’s sacrifice and how we receive benefit. The Passover sacrifice of a lamb, whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts, and its flesh eaten, is the prophetic type for calling Jesus Christ the “Lamb of God”. And Catholics believe that the fulfillment of the type in detail requires that those for whom the sacrifice is made must also partake literally of the sacrifice. The word, manducate is used, it means to actually chew with the mouth (literally: to use your jaws and teeth). Catholic doctrine teaches that we must manducate the flesh of Christ. Thus Jesus’ words in the Sixth Chapter of John,

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (John 6:53-57)

The question rightly arises about how Catholics think this might actually be done, because this is taken as literal rather than metaphorical. How can one literally eat, manducate, the Lord’s flesh? An especially difficult thing to do considering that He is bodily in Heaven. The answer to that is found in the institution of the Lord’s Supper at that Passover feast where Jesus as master of the feast said, “… Take eat …”:

And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. (Mark 14:22-24)

Catholics teach that the Lord embued His disciples, who became the Apostles, with the authority and power to make His body and blood truly be present in the elements of bread and wine. They believe that just as Jesus Christ was clothed in human flesh at His incarnation, so also He becomes clothed in the bread and wine at the Mass. Catholics teach that those Apostles have passed this power and authority down to their successors in the Church from generation to generation. That is the concept of Apostolic Succession. And thus, His body and blood which are nowhere to be found on this earth, are truly present in the elements of bread and wine for the Church to literally partake of in fulfillment of the prophetic type of sacrifice shown in the Passover lamb. This event in which His body and blood become present in the elements is often called, by some, Transubstantiation. Catholics teach that this is the only basis for salvation, that only they have the proper authority to perform this, authority given by Christ to the Church through the Apostles and passed person to person, down throught the ages. Catholics believe that this proper succession has only been maintained by them, but not by Protestants.

Catholics call the Lord’s Supper a true sacrifice. It is not a re-crucifying of Christ, rather it makes His sacrifice present, yet it is truly that same sacrifice. Catholics say that Christ’s once for all time sacrifice, His passion and death, was a bloody sacrifice. They say the sacrifice in the Mass is "unbloody". This is a subtle but absolute distinction, about which there is no confusion in Catholic doctrine. Protestants would do well to take note of this because it is common to hear Protestants say that Catholics re-crucify Christ at every Mass. That is absolutely not the Catholic teaching. But there is not intention to argue the issues here, only to state the facts of doctrine.

Between memorialist viewpoints and Catholic doctrines there are variations to be found. My point here is not to sort them all out, nor to establish any particular viewpoint. Instead my point is to examine the idea of sacrifice and how it might be found in the Lord’s Supper.

The first thing is that we must always be aware of the central importance of the mystery of godliness as stated by Paul,

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

Our salvation is accomplished by the death of the Lord. He, God, in a human body, died on the cross for our sins according to the Scriptures. His blood was shed for the remission of sin. This is the central, single most important tenet of our faith.

To reject this is to reject the faith. John says in his First Epistle,

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Denial that Jesus is God in human form is denial of the faith. There is no intermediate possibility. Belief and unbelief, salvation itself, hinge upon this teaching of the Scriptures. We cannot call ourselves Christian unless and until we believe this truth.

But there is more, Jesus, God in the flesh, died in the flesh, was buried in the flesh, rose again in the flesh, ascended into Heaven in the flesh, and will return again in the flesh, all according to the Scriptures. This is Paul’s Gospel,

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

We have no other means of salvation than the sacrifice Christ made in His body for us. By faith we are united to Him by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the central and vitally important doctrine of Christianity. It is called the mystery of the faith.

We celebrate the mystery of the faith in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus, Christ and Lord, is given preeminence when we break the bread, eat it, and pass the cup, drinking from it, in remembrance of Him. What does Paul say?

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. (1 Corinthians 11:26-29)

By eating and drinking we shew, or proclaim, declare, preach the Lord’s death til He come. Here are declared the points of the Gospel of our salvation that Paul preached: explicit death, implied burial, implied resurrection, implied ascension into Heaven, and explicit return. If we preach His death we preach His sacrifice for redemption and we preach that He is God in the flesh. We preach this by eating and drinking. The mystery of godliness is celebrated. Sacrifice is central, we are to discern the Lord’s body.

Now a Catholic would say that this confirms their doctrine of the presence of Christ in the elements. A Protestant would say His presence is a metaphor. Both would, and must, say that our minds, our thoughts, the intent of our hearts, our faith, must be aware of and attentive to the mystery of godliness, if we are to be properly disposed to “discern the Lord’s body and blood”. All will agree that here there must be no other object or subject than the Lord Himself, that He, Jesus Who is God in the flesh, must and shall have the preeminence.

This is the preaching of Christ and Him crucified, an offense to some, foolishness to others, but to those who believe, life everlasting. Jesus said unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood that we have no part with Him. Many left because of that saying. His question at the end of His discourse in John Chapter Six was, “… will you go away too?”. And that is where we stand at the Lord’s Supper. By partaking we answer that we will stay.

Some say that by faith they eat His flesh and drink His blood when they eat the bread and drink the cup. Others say that by faith they believe, partaking of Him and His sacrifice in a figure when they eat the bread and drink the cup,. But we all declare that we need and trust in the efficacy of His body hung on the cross and His blood shed: His sacrifice, for salvation. And that we by faith and in faith partake of those elements that declare His body and blood. This is the least that Paul means when he told us we must discern His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. For some it is but the beginning of what Paul meant, for others, memorialists, it is the sum.

It may seem as if I’m equivocating between views, but I’m not. I am trying to make the point that at the very least we must have an acute awareness of the sacrifice made by the Lord as we partake. It is His command that we do this in remembrance of Himself. And we are remembering that He is the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. If some say Catholics make too much of it, certainly then those who don’t have in view Christ and Him crucified must be making too little of it . If it is thought of only as a vague ceremony, or a necessary ritual, by either a Catholic or a Protestant, and not a lively communion with the Lord, if it isn’t as Paul said,

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)

then we cannot be doing it justice.

So then, sacrifice is central in the Lord’s Supper, even from the minimal memorialist viewpoint. The bread and cup are blessed, therefore they are set apart for God’s use, they are sanctified to stand as figures of the sacrifice made one time for all time by Christ. Because of the holiness of Christ, of His sacrifice, of His blood, the figures of those things take on some element of holiness. Also in the purpose for which they are sanctified, and by the fact that they are sanctified, they take on some element of holiness. In these figures Christ is portrayed, body and blood and sacrifice. He is set before us, if only in a figure. His sacrifice is made present to our hearts and minds. And that presence must have some measure of substance because Paul warned us to partake worthily. The elements may be simple but they cannot be thought to be common. There is a deep mystery expressed here, the mystery of godliness.

We are not repeating His sacrifice, made once for all time, none further being necessary or possible. When we know that we are declaring, proclaiming, preaching His death, and we know that we are confessing our faith, we know that we discern His body and His blood. The Lord’s Supper commands our thoughts to the body and blood of Jesus, to His sacrifice on the cross. The bread and wine holds before our eyes and hearts a reminder that He is the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world, and worshiped in Heaven as such. The spiritual truth here is that we partake of Christ’s sacrifice for us by faith believing in Him for salvation.

In addition to this, there is another sense of sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper. In our worship there is a sacrifice of praise that we bring to the Lord. It is a sacrifice of praise by which, as the Catholics say, the “Church sings the glory of God in all creation. It is only possible through Christ; he unites the faithful to His person, to His praise, to His intercession. Praise is offered to the Father through Christ, and with Christ to be accepted in Christ. It is praise and thanksgiving for all that God has made: good, beautiful, and just, in creation and in humanity. We express gratitude to God for all His benefits in creation, redemption, and sanctification.” The Scriptures say,

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

There is yet another, related, aspect of sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper. Fundamental to true and spiritual worship is our sanctification. Worship begins with personal submission to the Lord, presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to Him by holy living, Romans 12:1. The Lord’s Supper provides a time to rededicate ourselves to Him, to reaffirm our faith, and renew our minds. What we have here is a sacrifice of ourselves, by our lives and by our praise, to the Lord. This is a sacrifice we may make at the memorial of His sacrifice. If we partake and say “Amen, these things are so”, must we not then also be such that they are indeed true, so that our Amens are true? Or as the Scriptures say,

Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. ( 1 Timothy 2:19b)

Fundamental to our sanctification is thankfulness for our redemption. At the Lord’s Supper we celebrate His love for us, proved in the body of His Son dying on the cross,

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

As we partake and think on these things we are moved to return His love for us,

We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

When we say “Amen”, and make our Amen true, we participate in the offering of our Lord, we are imitating Him. Individually and together as the Church, we and us, are doing this implicitly. This is our sacrifice united with Christ’s sacrifice, and we are making it known to all. It is Christ’s sacrifice which makes communion possible across all generations. In this sense His sacrifice is made present again and its fruits applied. Our correct response is to present ourselves as living sacrifices to Him (Romans 12.1). And this is a time when we ought make intecession for all.

To partake of the Lord’s Supper as we’ve said implies obedience, remembrance, profession of faith, confession of sin and need for salvation, thanksgiving, and communion with the Lord, and it is an anticipation of His imminent return. In all these things there is the sense of dedication of ourselves to Him when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. This renewed dedication is truly a sacrifice of praise.

Because of these aspects of sacrifice being present, and being presented to us, and seeing the intended result, we call the Lord’s Supper God’s work and say that we should prefer nothing to it.

©FH 2012

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