Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask.
Remembering. Belonging. Anticipating.
Those three words come to mind when I think of the Lord’s Supper. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is an important piece of Sunday morning worship, but it can often feel mundane, and I’ve often felt full of guilt or condemnation. When the church lights go down and somber music on the piano begins to play, usually the pastor asks you to search your heart for unrepentant sin. Crippled under the weight of my perpetual sin struggles during the Lord’s Supper, I usually end up feeling frustrated instead of rejoicing in what Christ did on the cross.
But all of this is the exact opposite of how we should approach the Lord’s Supper! When properly understood, communion should be a continual point of celebration for believers. But what exactly are we celebrating? Here are three things the Lord’s Supper is for.
Three Reasons Why We Take the Lord’s Supper
Remembering. When Christ met with His disciples for His last meal before His death, He shared the cup and the bread and told them to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Paul later reminded the church at Corinth that they are to remember Christ when they eat the bread and drink the cup (1 Cor. 11: 23-26). We take the Lord’s Supper to remember what Christ accomplished on the cross, and because of this, it should be a regular, ongoing act instead of a onetime event like baptism. “Faithful, believing remembrance has as its goal the renewing of our relationship with Christ.”1 Since sanctification is an ongoing process, partaking in communion and remembering what Christ has done is a vital aspect in sustaining our Christian life.
Belonging. The Lord’s Supper speaks to two senses of belonging: with Christ as part of the new covenant and with fellow believers in the church. Jesus tells His disciples that the “cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). To make sense of that, we need to remember back to the Old Testament promises.
Both Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 anticipate a day when God “will make a new covenant” with His people (Jer. 31:31) and give them a new heart and place a new spirit—His very own Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27). In His offering of the cup, Jesus signaled the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant, in which God’s people, for centuries, had to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins.
However, in this time of the new covenant, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12, emphasis added). In following Christ, we become part of this new covenant, having “been crucified with Christ . . . Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:19–20). Celebrating the Lord’s Supper reminds us that we now belong to this New Covenant family, in which God has made us alive by filling us with His Spirit.
Thus, not only does the Lord’s Supper remind us that we belong to Him, but also that together as a church we belong to one another. We are “one body” in Christ (1 Cor. 10:17), and taking the Lord’s Supper together reminds us that we all belong to him.
There’s a reason we don’t take communion at home by ourselves. “The bread is in fact a double symbol, not only of Christ’s own body, but of the church as the body of Christ—a united whole.”2 The act is meant to strengthen and unify the body of believers as we collectively remember Christ’s work on the cross and rejoice in the forgiveness we’ve received.
Anticipating. In several of the Gospels’ accounts of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16,18), Jesus reminded His disciples that “I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” In this, Christ was telling His disciples and the church that partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a rehearsal and a foretaste of what is to come.
We eat a little wafer and drink a cup of juice today, but we do so in anticipation of one day feasting together in the great marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9)! Thus, the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of expectant hope in Christ’s return to finish what He has begun.
As Gregg Allison summarizes, “[T]he Lord’s Supper is a . . . celebration of victory because Jesus, through his sacrificial death that has defeated sin and death, will return to establish the kingdom of God in its fullness.”3
What a Gift
If we approach the Lord’s Supper only burdened with guilt and warned about unrepentant sin, lest we be rejected, then we miss the very heart of what the Lord’s Supper is for.
Yes, we must repent from our sin and approach the table with reverence, but in doing so we must keep our eyes on the beautiful truths the Supper reminds us of: Christ has redeemed us, made us part of His new covenant people, and charged us to await His anticipated return together with bated breath. What a life-giving gift He’s given His church!
Looking back on the “why” behind taking the Lord’s Supper, I’m reminded to approach this time with not only a repentant reverent heart but also a heart that quickly turns to the beautiful, redemptive work of Christ. What a gift to remember His work on the cross, my belonging to Him and the church, and to anticipate when He’ll return again one day and set all things right.
Audrey is an acquisitions editor on the academic publishing team. She attended seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and lives close by in Youngsville, NC. She loves spending time outside with her husband and their three small, rambunctious children and spends rare moments of free time discovering new children’s books and running. Follow her on Twitter: @AudreyAGreeson.
1. John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 282.
2. Jurgen Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit, as quoted by Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, ed. John S. Feinberg, Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 408.
3. Allison, 409.