Tradition has it that on a Thursday in 33AD, Jesus broke bread and passed a cup with His disciples. We now call this the Lord’s Supper and celebrate it in remembrance of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood. Much ink has been spilled on the various ways that we are to understand this sacrament/ordinance. Catholics and the Orthodox have the Eucharist as the high point of their liturgy. Many Protestants equally seek to be faithful to this means of grace and have very high views on it’s place within worship (e.g., Lutherans, many Presbyterians and Reformed, as well as traditionally Baptists, especially of the Reformed variety). But despite all of the different views and perspectives that we have on the Lord’s Supper, imagine sitting with Jesus and experiencing the last supper:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28)
I wonder what went through all of the disciples’ minds. Some had come to understand the direction things were headed, yet some were still a bit misguided in their Messianic expectations (“When is Jesus going to set up his kingdom for Israel?”). Yet there’s no doubt that when Jesus spoke the words “new covenant” and “poured out” and “forgiveness of sins” that the big picture started to enter into the minds of some of the disciples, at least in seed form.
Approximately two decades later, Paul writes on this very event, using essentially the same sources as the gospel writers. He is helpful in fleshing out the theology of this event when he writes,
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” (1 Cor. 11:17-22)
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another–if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home–so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.” (1 Cor. 11:26-34)
Paul is really helpful in fleshing out Jesus’ point. Actually, this has come to be one of my favorite passages by Paul. Yet I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to be with Jesus when He introduced this sacrament to His disciples…
Something bigger was going on than a small group of people in a small city in a small area of the Roman Empire could really understand. The universe was on the brink of something transformational. Something amazing. Something… redemptive.