“Do This in Remembrance of Me”
This morning we continue our series on the church as we turn our attention to the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. And I want to say a couple of things quickly before we get into the message. If you are not someone who typically takes notes during a sermon, this might be a good morning to give that a try. There’s a few stops we’re going to make this morning, and I’m going to do my best to lead us through that in a way that we can all follow, but taking even a few notes of the big points could be really helpful to you.
I also want to mention one other helpful tool for sermon engagement. Every week we study guides for the sermons that the small groups use in their discussions. And we are going to start working really hard to get those studs guides up on the website with the sermon on Sunday afternoons. That means as soon as the sermon is on the website—usually within the hour or so after the service—you can scroll to the bottom of the sermon page and download the study questions.
Those questions are just a tool to help you respond to the sermon and think even more about how it applies to your life, and I encourage you to use them.
And, as always, I would love to hear from you. If the sermon or the study questions prompt further questions for you or you want to respond in any way, I’d love that.
This morning, as mentioned, we are considering the Lord’s Supper. And there are three big stops we’re going to make as we see what God, in His word, has to say to us about these things. We’re going to consider the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26, the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, and the Lord’s Supper for us today.
So if you’re taking notes, that’s your big outline. Matthew 26, 1 Corinthians 11, and today.
The Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26
Let’s begin by considering the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26, which is the passage which we just read together. And we’re going to look at four points here in Matthew 26: the passover, the bread, the cup, and the promise.
1. The Passover
A helpful starting place for understanding the Lord’s Supper is the Passover meal. We know that this was the meal Jesus was eating with His disciples when He spoke these words. If we go back to verse 17 and 20 of this chapter, that becomes quite obvious, and even more so when we go back to Exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomy and read about the instructions for Passover that the people had (Exodus 12:16-19, Leviticus 23:5-6, Deuteronomy 16:6).
I’m not sure if any of you have had the experience of participating in a Passover meal, called a seder, before. It is a meal rich with symbolic meaning. The people would eat a lamb, just like the lambs who were sacrificed for their firstborn sons on that very first Passover.
They would eat bread made without yeast to remember the speed at which they left Egypt—because they didn’t have time to wait for bread to rise. And as time went on other symbolic elements were added, such as bitter herbs which symbolized the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt.
So it was a meal full of rich symbols. But we should understand that those symbols weren’t empty. They actually did something. They reminded the people of their deliverance from Egypt. Eating the passover lamb was a way of identifying with that great act of redemption, and acknowledging that you were an heir, a recipient, of the grace and salvation God had given His people on that first Passover.
We can think of it this way: the Passover was like a sermon for the senses, using taste and touch and smell to preach about God’s salvation to God’s people. And so the Passover was a really important way of keeping their lives connected to the big story, and of helping them stay faithful to the Lord.
2. The Bread
And so Matthew 26 shows Jesus in the middle of eating this very symbolic meal with His disciples, whose minds and senses would have been full of themes of God’s salvation and deliverance through sacrifice. And in this context Jesus introduces the bread and the cup and the promise.
We encounter the bread in verse 26. “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’” (Matthew 26:26).
“This is my body,” Jesus said. And in the context of such a symbolic meal, Jesus’ disciples would have understood the symbolic nature of His language. This bread represented or symbolized His body. It’s very unlikely that they would have thought that the bread had actually become His body or that He was spiritually present in that piece of bread or anything like that. Besides, He was right there with them in the body.
The bread was a symbol, a representation. Just like it was broken and given to them to nourish them, so Jesus’ own body was going to be broken for them for their spiritual benefit.
3. The Cup
Next we consider the cup. Verse 27 tells us that “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’” (Matthew 26:27–28).
There were several cups of wine served during the Passover seder. Jesus takes one of them—possibly the third—and once again infuses it with new symbolic meaning. “This is my blood of the covenant.”
This phrase “blood of the covenant” comes from Exodus 24. In that chapter, Moses had just come down from the mountain after receiving the Law from the Lord. He built an alter and they sacrificed animals, and collected half of their blood was put in basins. And verses 7-8 read,
“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:7–8).
The blood of the covenant was the blood that sealed and confirmed the covenant God made with His people.
So when Jesus speaks about His blood being the blood of the covenant, then there must be a New Covenant which is about to be confirmed. And that is a fulfillment of the promise God had made through Jeremiah so many hundreds of years before.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31, 34).
Jesus is saying them that the days where the New Covenant will be made are upon them. And his own blood will be the blood of the covenant. His own blood will be poured out “for many” as a sacrifice to forgive their sins, finally, forever.
His own blood will be the basis for this new relationship between God and His people.
4. The Promise
Finally, let’s consider the promise in verse 29. “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). These words are a promise that Jesus will drink again of the fruit of the vine anew with them in His father’s kingdom.
His Father’s kingdom, in other words, is a real place where there will be real grapes and real eating and drinking. This points us forward to the New Creation.
These words also point us to the reality that there is going to be a period of time until that kingdom fully comes. The language here of “until that day” suggests a substantial wait. But it will come. The day will come when Jesus will be with His people in His Father’s kingdom, in the New Creation, and they will once again take up the fruit of the vine together.
And so these symbols—the bread and the cup—look to what Christ was about to do on the cross, and they look even further to that to the great celebration waiting for God’s redeemed people in the New Creation.
One way that we can try to sum all of this up is to say that Jesus taught His disciples that night that He is the true fulfillment of the Passover meal. Whether they knew it or not, every time they celebrated the Passover they were really looking forward to the true Lamb whose body and blood would provide real freedom and real salvation and real deliverance and bring us into the real promised land of the New Creation. And Jesus is that lamb.
And just like God’s people in the Old Covenant would remember His great saving acts through the Passover meal, so God’s people in the New Covenant would remember and look forward to the fulfillment of all things through these symbols of the bread and the cup.
The Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11
Now I trust you find that helpful and encouraging and edifying. But we want to ask an important question at this point: what does all of this have to do with the church? Because we don’t necessarily get those answers in Matthew 26.
To really learn about the significance of the Lord’s Supper for us today, we’ll need to turn to the one place in the New Testament which discusses this at length. And that is 1 Corinthians chapter 11, our second big stop today.
What we find in this chapter is that the early Christians had understood that what Jesus instituted in the upper room that night was not just something to be done once or twice by the twelve disciples. Rather, it was a pattern for the church to follow. And so they were celebrating the Lord’s supper on an ongoing basis.
And in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul helps them understand what this celebration should and should not look like for the church.
Now this is big passage, beginning in verse 17 and going to verse 34, and we don’t have the time to work through every detail in it. I would encourage you to read this whole passage on your own later. But for our sake this morning we are going to point out two main areas that Paul addresses and teaches on here. First, his teaching on what the supper is, and second, how we are to eat of it.
1. What the Supper Is
The apostle’s teaching on what the supper is comes in verse 23 and following. These are the words we read here at EBC almost every time we celebrate the Lord’s supper. It begins with these words, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.”
This language of “receiving from the Lord” could mean that Paul received this directly from the Jesus by a vision or other supernatural means. It also could be describing the way that Jesus taught this to the eleven disciples, and that Paul learned it from them. But either way, this comes from Jesus Himself.
And in this account, we find some details which Matthew didn’t record which make the ongoing nature of the Supper very clear. “…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23–25).
From the beginning, Jesus designed for the bread and the cup to be eaten and drank in remembrance of Him on a regular basis. And why is that? The answer comes in verse 26.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
So let’s notice something really important here. Paul, following the teaching of Jesus, did not believe that the entire Passover meal needed to be eaten by Christians. He didn’t prohibit that, but these two elements that Jesus highlighted, the bread and the cup, were the elements that were to be eaten and drunk often by God’s people.
And as often as they did that—and if you read this whole chapter, you’ll see it was happening somewhat often—they proclaimed the Lord’s death until He comes.
In other words, the Lord’s Supper, just like the Passover, is a living sermon. It preaches the truth to us that Christ has died for His people, and that the risen Saviour is coming again for His people. These are those same truths we saw in Matthew 26. These are truths that every church is prone to forget and push to the sidelines. And the Lord’s Supper, properly understood and properly celebrated, should ensure that this never happens.
2. How We Are to Eat It
So in brief, that’s Paul’s teaching on what the Lord’s Supper is. And we’ll come back to some of these truths in a few minutes here. But next, let’s consider what 1 Corinthians 11 teaches us about how the Lord’s Supper was to be eaten.
Many scholars believe, given the language used in this whole chapter, that the Lord’s Supper was celebrated by the early church in the context of a whole meal. Listen to verses 20-22: “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?” (1 Corinthians 11:20–22a).
And then verses 33-34 say, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home” (1 Corinthians 11:33–34a).
Now scholars don’t all share the same opinion on how this happened. As I read through commentaries and articles this week, I found some who think they ate a meal and then celebrated the Lord’s Supper at the end. Others think they celebrated the Lord’s Supper first and then ate the meal afterwards, like a potluck after the service.
But here’s the important part: almost everyone agrees that “The Lord's Supper” and the full meal were distinct from each other, even if they were happening in the same event. Scholars agree, just based on a careful study of this chapter, that “The Lord’s Supper” refers to the sacred symbolic celebration involving bread and wine, and not to the whole meal itself. And scholars agree that over time, the early churches began to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on its own, apart from the whole meal.
And as I read 1 Corinthians 11, I think that was a good development. It actually seems to be what Paul was arguing for. Think of verse 22: “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” Or verse 34: “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home.”
It sounds to me like this is saying something like, “This whole meal deal thing doesn’t really seem to be working out for you. So when you come to eat the Lord’s Supper, don’t come hungry. Don’t come expecting a full meal to fill you up. That’s not the point of the Lord’s Supper. The point is to share these symbols together as you proclaim the death and return of Jesus.”
And one of the ways Paul makes that point is by arguing that the “together” part of the Lord’s supper was really important. He shows that there was a really tight connection, or at least there should have been a tight connection, between the church being together and then eating the Lord’s Supper together.
It started up in verse 17. “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” (1 Corinthians 11:17).
“Come together.” Those two English words come from one Greek word which is used five times in this passage. It comes again in verse 18: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church…” And verse 20. “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” And verse 33: “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” And finally, verse 34. “So that when you come together it will not be for judgement.”
Do you get the point and see the picture? The Lord’s Supper is a celebration for the church to do all together when they have come together. And that’s why Paul was so disgusted that some people were going on ahead of each other. Because that’s not the point. In fact, when they don’t do this together, it so changes things that it’s no longer the Lord’s Supper they are even eating.
Verse 21 & 21: “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…”
When you don’t do it all together, as a body, it stops being the Lord’s Supper. And this seems to be the best way to understand verse 27: “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.”
This one single verse has caused so much anguish for people throughout the years. I’ve been taught, and it’s probably slipped out of my mouth at times, that eating in an “unworthy manner” means eating with unconfessed sin in our hearts. And so our minutes before we partake, instead of being focused on Christ and His grace and forgiveness, our minds are filled with sad replays of our life the previous week, trying to think if there’s some little sin somewhere we committed that we didn’t quite ask forgiveness for yet.
And certainly, we should be horrified at the thought of remembering and proclaiming Christ while knowingly cherishing some sin. But in the context of this passage, what does it mean to eat and drink “unworthily”?
Verse 29 shows us. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).
And what does Paul mean there when he says “the body”? I would argue that, given the context of the passage, it’s impossible to remove the idea of the church as the body of Christ from this phrase. Because that’s what Paul’s whole critique is about: people who were going on ahead and eating and drinking with little awareness for the rest of the church.
One chapter earlier, 10:16-17 reinforce this truth for us. “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 Corinthians 10:16–17).
The bread represents the body of Christ, and at the same time we are that body, that one body, because we all share in the one Christ and partake of the one bread.
That word “participation” in that passage is where we get our word “Communion” from. And our shared communion with Christ in the Lord’s Supper has a big role in making us one as a church body.
So of course we confess our sins. But in the context of 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, “eating in an unworthy manner” has more to do with our heart and attitude towards the church. We should recognize that we are eating together.
We share in Christ together. And so the Lord’s Supper is the last place in the world for disunity and tension and strife and selfishness.
The Lord's Supper for Us Today
So let’s review where we’ve been. We’ve reviewed the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26, and seen how it was a fulfillment of the Passover meal. Jesus infused the bread and the cup with their true significance as symbols of His saving death and promised return.
We’ve also reviewed the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians, seeing how the Supper is to be an ongoing repeated celebration in which we remember and proclaim the death and return of Christ. It is a living sermon that helps a church stay centred in the gospel. And we saw how we are to eat it: as a church, all together, participating in Christ together.
And I hope you’re aware that we have come nowhere close to touching on everything in these above passages, and we certainly won’t get anywhere close to saying everything that needs to be said in these next few minutes.
But in our last step this morning we’re going to consider the Lord’s Supper for us today, and I’m going to try to pull together everything we’ve seen to present two big interconnected ideas. First, the Lord’s supper is a means of grace, and second, the Lord’s supper is about the church and for the church.
1. The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace
Let’s start with that first idea: that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. Throughout church history, many church traditions have maintained that the Lord’s Supper is not just about what happened in the past, but that it brings real spiritual benefit to the people of God as they share it together.
And you might think, “That’s a silly idea. We’re Baptists and we know that all we’re doing is remembering what Christ did. That’s it. These are just symbols and it is just a memorial.”
But here’s the question I want to ask: is it ever possible to “just” remember Christ? Is it possible to meditate on His death for us and His promised return and not receive spiritual benefit from that process?
Is it possible that, as a church, we’d eat and drink together by faith and not experience the grace of Jesus Himself through that event?
When we look back in history we can see how Baptists of the past answered those questions. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, one of the landmark statements of a Baptist understanding of Scripture, said this about the Lord’s Supper:
“The Lord’s supper was instituted by the Lord on the same night in which He was betrayed. It is to be observed in His churches to the world’s end, for a perpetual remembrance of Him and to show forth the sacrifice of Himself in His death. It was instituted also to confirm saints in the belief that all the benefits stemming from Christ’s sacrifice belong to them. Furthermore, it is meant to promise their spiritual nourishment and growth in Christ, and to strengthen the ties that bind them to all the futures they owe to Him. The Lord’s supper is also a bond and pledge of the fellowship which believers have with Christ and with one another.”1Second London Confession 30:1.
This very Baptist statement of faith goes on to say, “Those who, as worthy participants, outwardly eat and drink the visible bread and wine in this ordinance, at the same time receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and receive all the benefits accruing from His death. This they do really and indeed, not as if feeding upon the actual flesh and blood of a person’s body, but inwardly and by faith. In the supper the body and blood of Christ are present to the faith of believers, not in any actual physical way, but in a way of spiritual apprehension, just as the bread and wine themselves are present to their outward physical senses.”2Second London Confession 30:7.
As we eat and drink with our mouths, our souls, by faith, lay ahold of the living Christ and receive His grace anew. This is what the Bible teaches, and this is what Baptists throughout history have believed. Eating and drinking and remembering are one of the ways Jesus feeds and sustains our souls as we believe in His promises. They are a means of grace.
2. The Lord’s Supper Is for the Church and About the Church
So that’s our first point. And let’s now consider this very interconnected second point, which is that the Lord’s Supper is not an individual event but something we do together. It’s for the church and it’s about the church. Just think to that first night in the upper room. Jesus gave these elements to the disciples, plural. “Drink of it, all of you.” His blood was “poured out for many.” When He said He’d drink of it new with “you,” that was a plural “you” (Matthew 26:26-29).
From the beginning, the Lord’s Supper was not an individual experience between me and Jesus but a shared meal between us and Jesus. And that got even clearer in 1 Corinthians 11.
Bible scholar Thomas Schreiner has written, “The Lord Supper is not merely a meal where I celebrate what Jesus did for me. It is a communal meal where the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ, give thanks for what Jesus did for us. A new family has been forged through the sweat and blood of the Savior.” 3 Baptist Foundations, p. 136.
I’m concerned that here in North America our celebrations of the Lord’s Supper are often off-the-mark on this area. First of all, they often aren’t really celebrations. They feel more like a funeral than a rehearsal for a great wedding feast. We’re all focused on the bad stuff we did in the past week instead of our gracious saviour. And we seem to intentionally ignore the people around us, avoiding eye contact as we try to pretend we’re actually all alone.
And I don’t think that’s what we see in Scripture. What we see there is a whole lot of togetherness. The Lord’s Supper is about the church. The Lord’s Supper is a family meal for the people of God.
1 Corinthians 10 spoke to this when it says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). Jonathan Leeman, commenting on this verse, wrote, “Partaking of the bread shows that we are one body. It reveals who the body of Christ is. It makes us visible to the world and each other. The Supper, we might say, makes the invisible church visible.” 4Leeman, Jonathan. One Assembly (9Marks) (Kindle Locations 949-951). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
And that’s why we’re talking about the Supper in this series on the church. Because the Supper is for the church. The Supper is a part of what makes the church the church.
Anybody can gather and sing and hear God’s word being preached. And we do invite anybody to do these things with us. But only God’s people, only the church, take up the bread and the cup and eat and drink together.
That’s why we say something like “If you know Jesus as your saviour, and you are following Him as your Lord, we invite you to partake with us” before we eat together. That’s a historic practice called “fencing the table,” and it’s one of the ways we ensure that the Lord’s Supper is what it should be.
Christians have always held that the Lord’s Supper isn’t for everybody. If it’s an expression of our unity as the people of God, then only the people of God, only the church, should be eating the meal together.
And maybe this idea of the church telling people who can and who can’t celebrate Communion with us seems difficult to you. If so, I’d point you back to the messages from the past few weeks, especially the idea of the keys of the kingdom.
The local church has the job to affirm or deny confessions of faith and confessors of faith in Jesus. And the Lord’s Supper is one of the ways that we actually do that, one of the places where we actually see that happening.
Now I’m going to take one step further here as we talk about the Lord’s Supper and the church. We’ve been seeing that the Lord’s Supper is a family meal for the visible people of God. And what did we learn last week? How does someone take their place among the visible people of God? Through baptism.
Now I want to be clear here: Emmanuel Baptist Church does not have an official position on whether or not you must be baptized before you participate in Communion. But it seems very clear to me, from the pages of Scripture, that things should most definitely happen in that order.
Again, I think back to last week. What is the first step of being a follower of Jesus, the citizenship ceremony in the kingdom of God, the port of entry in to the church? Baptism. And so shouldn’t it follow that, unless there were some very unusual circumstances stopping someone from being baptized, baptism should happen before Communion?
Or just think to those words again: “If you know Jesus as your saviour, and you are following Him as your Lord, then we invite you to share with us.” And the question I’d ask is this: is someone truly following Jesus as their Lord if they are not obeying His first command, which is to be baptized?
I know that’s a hard question. It’s perhaps even an offensive question if we think that the church is just a religious club and Communion is between me and Jesus. But if we understand that the church is the assembly of the citizens of the kingdom, and the Lord’s Supper is one of the main ways that this invisible kingdom becomes visible and expresses their unity together, then I hope that you’ll understand that this an important question. And I pray that this question encourages you to think more deeply about the importance of both baptism and Communion for our life together as a church.
What about Today?
Now let’s end on this obvious point. We can’t meet together right now. And as a church board we’ve decided that, given what we see in 1 Corinthians 11, it doesn’t seem wise to try to celebrate the Lord’s Supper for the time being. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper requires being together as a church in a meaningful and and a visible way.
But here’s where we’ll end: the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, but it’s not the only means of grace. Remembering and proclaiming the death and return of Christ are practices we are able to do now in different ways.
So I would encourage you in this time of being away from the Lord’s Supper to make sure that your heart doesn’t forget what He did for you. Take regular time to mediate on His word. Take regular time to remember the gospel and that you are forgiven and free not by works but by Christ who died and rose again.
Let’s make sure to work on our unity as a church in this time. Like I pointed to last week, our unity as a church is far more important than our opinions about many lesser matters.
And let’s pray that the time will come soon when we’ll be able to gather and remember and proclaim Christ together.