The Lord’s Supper is a crucial point for Jesus, the disciples, and every follower of Christ. The meal of the Passover was celebrated by God’s people year after year for centuries to commemorate what God did for his people when he delivered them from captivity in Egypt and to look forward to the day when the Messiah would come and complete the job. When God’s people went to the effort to come to Jerusalem and prepare the Passover meal, they identified with their God and not another, and they identified themselves with these people—these people who owed their very existence to the gracious salvation of God.
On this night, however, Jesus breaks with tradition and takes the meal upon himself. Everything the people of God have been waiting for is now fulfilled in him.
Jesus took the bread, spoke the traditional blessing and passed it out. The common practice was for the bread to be passed out in silence as each member at the table allowed the significance of the act to sink in. On this night Jesus broke the silence with, “Take, this is my body.” This bread the disciples and their people took for centuries represents the body of this man, Jesus Christ. In his telling, Luke adds, “which is given for you.” For the disciples, this is a vivid image. Animals were sacrificed over and over by the hundreds of thousands to cover the sins of God’s people. But they cannot complete our forgiveness, so they needed to return the next year and repeat the ritual. Sacrifice, sin, repeat.
Jesus’ body will be given in the same way the lamb’s body was—it will be sacrificed. But unlike the lamb, the Lamb’s sacrifice will cleanse us once and for all of our sins.
Jesus took the cup, spoke the traditional blessing and passed it out. Like the bread, the traditional practice was to pass the cup in silence as each person there prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus, however, again broke the silence with, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” In the Old Testament, when a covenant was struck between two people or between God and his people, it was sealed with the shedding of blood. In their minds the life of a thing was in its blood, and to shed it was the most solemn act possible to signify that the covenant was sealed and both parties were bound by its terms.
This new covenant will be sealed with the literal blood of Jesus Christ, and it is sure. This new covenant does what no other covenant or sacrifice could do—it forgives every sin. God told Jeremiah about this sacrifice by saying, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more” (31:34). Isaiah describes the act of the cross this way: “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressor” (53:12).
Because of the cross, Jesus now stands between God’s justice and my sin. Instead of receiving the just punishment of my sins, I now receive forgiveness and grace because Jesus bore my sin on the cross.
With each element, Jesus not only told us what it meant, he commanded us to take and eat and drink. We take in, we consume, the body and the blood of Jesus each time we take communion. It is a powerful and public act of identification and consecration. When I take communion, I tell the world I belong to this God and not another. I tell the world I belong to these people, the Body of Christ here on earth. I not only identify with the other believers in my church, but every believer across the globe and across time. Many believers take communion openly and proclaim their allegiance with Christ. Many believers huddle in dark corners due to persecution and take the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I belong to them and they belong to me. It is an acted parable; the acting of the story is the telling of the truth of it.
Take and eat and take and drink for, “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54).