The Church: Feeding on the Living Bread

What is special about dinner today, Mother’s Day? What is special about the meal we celebrate at the end of the service this morning? How important is that meal in the life of the church? Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11:23–32, but you also need the background of Exodus 12 and the whole Old Testament.

You are feeding on Christ. Don’t sin against the body and blood of the Lord. The Corinthian love feast had degenerated into chaos. The feast started out as a fellowship meal, but slipped into a combination of hunger and drunkenness. This church (which receives no praise from Paul on this account, v.17) treated the Lord’s Supper as an ordinary meal. The problems here grew out of the party spirit evident earlier in the book. Don’t treat the Lord’s Supper as something superstitious or magical. The doctrine of transubstantiation led to veneration of the elements, which became a form of idolatry. Do not treat the sacrament casually, as Corinthian church did. This is not just an ordinary meal. Do not come merely out of habit or custom. Do not come if you are not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. This meal is a proclamation of the Lord’s death. In coming you express your trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ. If you do not yet trust, wait until you do before you come. If your life contradicts your profession, make getting that straightened out your priority. God does not take lightly the misuse or profaning of his ordinances. The elements, which were intended as a blessing, become symbols of judgment, and involve God’s actual judgment. The church at Corinth had experienced illness, and even the death of some of its members, because of its abuse of the Lord’s Table, verse 30. God intends for you take his warning very seriously.

Positively, recognize the body of the Lord. Those who abused the sacrament in Corinth failed to discern the Lord’s body, verse 29. “Discern” or “recognize” means to distinguish, to identify something as what it really is. They failed to appreciate the significance of the meal and its elements, which represent the crucified Savior. They missed what Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10, that the one loaf means that we are all part of the same body. You need to recognize yourself as part of Christ’s body. That still involves an understanding of his saving work and its significance for his people—that you, and all other believers, are part of the church because he died and rose for you. Appreciate what Christ did in dying and rising for you. Examining yourself does not mean looking for some special level of spirituality. Rather, the Lord’s Supper calls you to keep short accounts, to deal with sin promptly by repenting and seeking forgiveness, both from the Lord and from others.

Proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Understand the background of the Lord’s Supper. There is a reason that Christ chose the last Passover he observed with his disciples as the setting for instituting the Lord’s Supper. The original Passover began the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The symbolism in the sacrifice of the lamb, the protection offered by its blood, and then eating that meal to be prepared for the journey ahead was rich. Even as the initial instructions are given, God makes clear that his people are to continue to celebrate this meal annually. It was not just a commemoration of an important event (like celebrating July 4), but was a renewal of being God’s redeemed people. As the Passover was celebrated the participants shared in the “bread of affliction” that had marked their slavery. They were now living as those set free. The Exodus, with its Passover, became the major redemptive event in the Old Testament.

Partake worthily. Perhaps it sounds strange to suggest that you partake worthily. Are any of us worthy to come to the Lord? No! That is the attitude of the Pharisee, rather than that of the tax collector. It is precisely the humble heart that is aware of its own sinfulness and unworthiness that is invited to come to the Lord’s Table. Christ did not institute the meal for those who might be perfect, but for sinners. As you partake, you truly feed upon Christ. The focus is not on what the bread and wine are (as if they somehow change), but on God feeding us with the Living Bread (see John 6). “Now, that sacred partaking of his flesh and blood, by which Christ pours his life into us, as if it penetrated into our bones and marrow, he also testifies and seals in the Supper—not by presenting a vain and empty sign, but by manifesting there the effectiveness of his Spirit to fulfill what he promises. And truly he offers and shows the reality there signified to all who sit at that spiritual banquet, although it is received with benefit by believers alone, who accept such great generosity with true faith and gratefulness of heart.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.10).

Look back, at the present, and forward! Look back at the completed work of Christ, entrusting yourself to him, feeding upon him. Right now recognize that you are in fellowship with other believers precisely because of your union with your Lord who gave his body and blood to redeem you. “The Lord’s Supper is a visible sermon in which Christ’s death is vividly proclaimed. This is only possible because of the union and communion with Christ that the Supper entails…. In 1 Corinthians 11…, [Paul] reveals that our participation in the Supper cannot be disconnected from our communion with other believers in the body of Christ. He also emphasizes that the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the death of Christ—a message that is at the very heart of the gospel.” (Kieth A. Mathison, Given for You, pages 233, 235). And look forward in time. You proclaim the Lord’s death, but you do so until he comes. This is not just a memorial feast. It is an anticipation of the great heavenly banquet in the new heavens and earth. Every true Passover feast, every true celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of that magnificent banquet!

So, do examine yourself. Do recognize that you are part of Christ’s body—and come to the Table where his both the host and the meal. Feed on Christ and live as his people.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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