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Jesus mandated His disciples to remember one, very specific event. It is found in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, “when He had given thanks, He broke it [bread] and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also 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.’’ ” [Emphasis added – TS] The words, “do this” are an imperative verb form, that is, an authoritative command, which means we are obligated to obey His instruction. Of all the things Jesus did during His ministry, He only asked His disciples to remember His word (John 15:20) and this special, memorial feast. So, what is the communion and its purpose? And, when should we partake of it? If we read Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:19-20, along with 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, we can identify three distinct elements as part of the supper: the bread, the cup, and prayer. Let’s look closer at each of these.
The BREAD is not just any bread; it is something special. It is not magical, nor unusual. It is simply the same type of bread used during the Jewish Passover meal, which was an unleavened, flat bread (Exodus 12:15-39). Jesus took it and used it as an instructive symbol for His body, which was crucified upon the cross. When we eat the unleavened bread, we are to remember what He did for us. The symbolism is further seen in John 6:51, which records Jesus describing himself as “the bread of heaven.” In that discourse, Jesus reminded the Hebrews about the time God provided a bread-like substance from the heavens while they were wandering in the wilderness (John 6:49). Just as that manna (bread) descended from heaven, Jesus had descended from heaven.
The CUP was also part of the traditional Passover dinner of the Hebrews, with wine being served on four different occasions during the meal. When Christ offered the fourth cup, He used it to speak of his blood that would be shed during the crucifixion. The symbolism is better understood in light of Leviticus 17:11 which says that “the life of the flesh is in blood.” Why remember the blood? Because blood gives us all the elements necessary for life and just as blood gives life to the body, Jesus’ sacrifice gives life to the sinner. When we drink from the cup, it is, again, to remind us of what He did for us.
What was inside the cup Jesus used? He called it “the fruit of the vine” (Luke 22:18). There are many fruits, but very few grow on a vine. The most common vine-grown fruit in that part of the world back then were grapes. The juice, or wine, of grapes was a very common drink at that time. According to several historians and scholars, the wines produced in that era were often watered down (for preservation purposes and to produce a greater quantity) and were also weaker in alcoholic content than our modern, genetically engineered versions. Thus, we drink grape juice during the communion.
PRAYER is the third element of the memorial supper. Matthew 26:26 says Jesus “blessed” the bread and cup while Luke 22:19 says He “gave thanks.” As we participate in the supper, all three components of the memorial should be present, just as Jesus did it and instructed us. The purpose for doing all this is explained further by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:20-29. He states that it is not only to remind us of the great sacrifice Jesus made, but it is also a mutual communion (a joint fellowship, 1 Corinthians 10:16) between the members of the body of Christ, as well as, a time of self-analysis and re-dedication to the Lord. We are to eliminate every outside thought as we focus solely on remembering His great love and sacrifice for us. This is why we pray, individually, after partaking of each element. In doing so, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
Finally, let’s look at when we are to participate in what is called the “Lord’s Supper.” While the Passover was an annual event for the Jews, according to the mandate in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:14), the first Christians participated in the Lord’s Supper after His ascension, on the day when the church began (Acts 2:42). According to Acts 20:7, we again find the disciples participating in it on the first day of the week. Therefore, since they did it in that way, then we simply follow this divinely approved example. Today, on every first day of the week, Christians all around the world participate in this memorial of the death of our Savior. Not once a year, or a quarter, but every Sunday so our focus and dedication to Him remains constant.