In last month’s Diligent, I wrote an article informing you of the Session’s decision to incorporate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper into our corporate worship on the first Sunday of each month at the 8:25 and 11:00 am worship services, beginning in October. My intention is to write a series of articles over the next few months that will expound upon the Biblical, theological, historical, and practical aspects of this sacrament. As I do so I will be drawing from a variety of resources. I have listed some of these here, if you are interested in reading on your own.
What is a sacrament?
We believe the Lord’s Supper to be a sacrament of the New Testament (Larger Catechism, Q. 168). But what is a sacrament? “A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers,” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 92). In the Reformed tradition we hold there to be two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper, as a sacrament, was instituted directly by Christ in the upper room when He and His disciples ate the Passover meal (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:19-20). The bread and the cup are the “sensible signs” that represent, seal, and apply to believers the benefits of the new covenant in Christ. The bread represents His body, which was given for us (1 Corinthians 11:24) and the cup represents His blood, which was poured out for the forgiveness of many (Matthew 26:28). Whenever we eat and drink in remembrance of Him we proclaim His death (1 Corinthians 11:26) and we have communion with Him (1 Corinthians 10:16) by faith.
The Passover Connection
In his short book, What is the Lord’s Supper? (only 29 pages!), Richard Phillips points out the close connection between Communion and Passover. Quoting B.B.Warfield, he writes, “Nothing can be more certain than that [Jesus] deliberately chose the Passover meal for the institution of the sacrament of His body and blood.”
The Passover was the annual Jewish feast that memorialized Israel’s redemption from Egypt. The Lord had commanded pharaoh, through Moses and Aaron, to let His people go that they might worship Him. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and so he would not relent, despite the nine plagues the Lord sent upon Egypt. Finally, the Lord sent a tenth plague, the angel of death, to take the life of every firstborn son in the land. This plague was not just against the people of Egypt; it was to be against every firstborn son in the land of Egypt. God provided a means of salvation that night for the firstborn of the Israelites – the Passover lamb (Exodus 12). The Lord gave instructions for this substitutionary sacrifice. The lamb was to be “without blemish,” (Exodus 12:5). The people were to eat the flesh of the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The blood of the lamb was to be spread on the door posts and across the lintel (Exodus 12:7). When the Lord passed through in the night to take the life of the firstborn sons, He would see the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelites and He would pass over them, hence the lamb was their deliverance (Exodus 12:12-13). Israel was to eat this meal once a year, in order to remember what the Lord had done for them.
The New Testament sacrament of Communion was instituted during a Passover meal, shared by Christ and His disciples the night before He gave His life as an atonement for sinners on the Cross. It makes sense that He would have done so, in order to make the connection between the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and His own death. The New Testament affirms this association as well. John the Baptist called Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:36). Paul speaks of the Savior as, “Christ, our Passover lamb,” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus, like the Passover lamb was spotless (1 Peter 1:19). His body was broken, His blood was shed, in order that He might be the propitiation for our sin (1 John 4:10). Also, just as the Passover was to be a feast kept by Israel throughout the generations (Exodus 12:14), so too are we to eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of Him, proclaiming His death (and all it’s benefits for believers) until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
More to Come
We have barely scratched the surface of all that is signified and sealed in the Lord’s Supper. Hopefully, over the next few months, we will grow in our understanding of this sacrament and will have a renewed appreciation for this means of grace that is ours in Christ.