Take, eat, this is my body … This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. (Mark 14:22,24)
The Last Supper was shared between Jesus and his disciples the evening before the crucifixion. We would date this Thursday night, but by the Jewish reckoning the new day began at sunset, so this was already the day before the Sabbath. Within twenty-four hours Christ would be crucified, killed, and his body placed in a tomb.
Though we call it the “Last Supper” we should more properly call it the “First Lord’s Supper” of the church. Christ instituted this practice for his followers through out the church age, until he returns, to picture his death, to picture the new life we receive through him, and to picture our communion with one another.
Grace revealed: Our need for rest before we work: The Bible gives a consistent imagery of an order to God’s creation that conveys the grace of God toward us – one that has an essential spiritual correlation for us. We must rest before we work. The day begins for mankind with an evening of rest, then after rest we rise to work. In the creation account, human life was created on the sixth day, on Friday, so the first day that humanity lived was the Sabbath – the day of rest – and that day began at sunset.
We are born into this life helpless, and other people, namely parents, must invest in us heavily, with teaching, training, care-giving, before we are able to make much of a contribution to society. An antelope can run the first day of his life, after he is just hours old, but we humans take, on average, a full year before we can even walk.
The spiritual correlation is that we must first rest in Christ in faith before we seek to serve him. We are also born into the new life of Christ helpless. It is good to seek to serve him as soon as we can do something meaningful for him, but let us grasp this principle of grace. The Christian life begins with receiving, not earning. We are first to learn to live in him, to rest in him, to derive our strength from him, before we begin to serve him.
The imagery of the Last Supper conveys this message as well. On the evening of his day of crucifixion, Christ initiated his disciples into the act of receiving his grace. Later they would be sent out as missionaries, giving brave witness for the resurrection, proclaiming the life in Christ. The task was far beyond their own strength to achieve. They needed to learn to derive their strength from him first.
Dependence Revealed: The imagery of eating and drinking: When Christ said, “This is my body … this is my blood,” his body and his blood were reclining at the table before them. It was clearly a symbolic expression. In John’s gospel we read:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)
The teaching that the bread and the drink mysteriously become the body and blood of Christ at communion meal reflects more of a pagan “magical” concept, that grace is dispensed through the physical presence of the thing. The emphasis of New Testament was on the cross as an historical event, and that the communion meal was symbolic of our participation in his death. Just as the bread and wine become part of our bodies, so through grace the righteousness of Christ becomes part of us.
Righteousness revealed: Romans teaches us that not only are we forgiven through the cross, but the righteousness of God is revealed through the cross. It reveals the holiness of God who did not leave sin unpunished.
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)
Now through the cross of Christ and the resurrection of Christ we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We receive not just forgiveness through him; we receive life through him.
Community revealed: Another aspect of this first Lord’s Supper is that it was shared together. We can eat alone in a house or a restaurant, but we would prefer to share a meal with others. And the communion meal especially is to be shared with others, a symbolic of our common faith and of our life together.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17)
As the disciples reclined around the table with Jesus they depicted the first church fellowship. It was yet to be born, still not yet even in its infancy. It was like a child still carried in its mother’s womb, but kicking, ready to come out.
Hope revealed: And there is the image of life, grace, forgiveness, rest, strength, power, and righteousness bestowed by God and received through faith – and it was done in community. It was also done in hope and positive expectation of a final victory. On that occasion Christ spoke of drinking again from the cup in the kingdom of God (Mark 14:25). The cross was not an end, but a beginning. And the Lord’s Supper reminds us that the day will yet come when we will be united with him in eternity, and with all of God’s people.
Victory is coming.