This is the third in a series of articles on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The previous two articles were published in the August and September issues of The Diligent. They may be found online at www.firstpreslakewales.org.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (27.1) says, “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits, and to confirm our interest in Him; as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them in the service of God in Christ, according to His word.”
A Sign of Grace
A sign points to something greater than itself. When you are driving you may see signs at the ends and various intersections of a street that bear the road’s name. The sign itself is not the street. It simply functions as an indicator and points to the street whose name it bears. The Lord’s Supper is a sign of Jesus Christ’s death. It is not literally His body that we eat, nor literally His blood that we drink. We do not sacrifice Him each and every time we celebrate Communion, but the elements do signify His body and blood, given and shed for His people (More on this in next month’s article).
Jesus Himself gave the elements this significance when He said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood,” (Luke 22:19-20). It was on the Cross that Jesus gave His body and poured out His blood for sinners (Romans 3:23-25). His death satisfied the need for justice before God and reconciled us with the Father. So, whenever we eat and drink in remembrance of Him we are acknowledging that our salvation is found in Christ alone. Similar to the way in which the Passover meal was a remembrance of God’s salvation for His people from Egypt, so too is the Lord’s Supper a sign of our deliverance from sin by the sacrifice of Christ, our Passover lamb.
A Seal of Grace
Throughout the process of adoption Laney and I have had to secure stacks and stacks of documents that speak to the status of our health, our financial stability, our lack of a criminal record, and so on. Some of these documents had to be notarized. All of them had to bear some form of an official seal or stamp. Without the appropriate authority’s seal the document’s authenticity is uncertain. The sacraments have this function for us as Christians. They authenticate us as Christ’s. John Murray says it like this, “When we partake of the cup in faith, it is the Lord’s own certification to us that all that the new covenant in His blood involves is ours. It is the seal of His grace and faithfulness.”
John Calvin puts it this way, “the chief function of the [Supper]… is to seal and confirm that promise by which He testifies that His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink (John 6:56), which feed us unto eternal life (John 6:55). By this, He declares Himself to be the bread of life, of which he who eats will live forever (John 6:48, 50).” His blood shed accomplished genuine atonement. His death affords us real, eternal life. The bread and the cup function as a seal to authenticate His grace for us as believers.
So then, when the elements are held before you by an ordained minister and the words of institution duly read (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), receive by faith the bread and the cup knowing that they do signify His death, which gives you life, and that they seal, that is authenticate, your forgiveness and eternal life in and through Him.
What’s in a name?
We have several terms that we use to speak of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Some of them have Biblical origins and some do not. We often call this sacrament, Communion, which comes from the Greek for fellowship or participation (1 Corinthians 10:16). Other times we speak of it as the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20). Some call it the Eucharist, from the Greek for thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 11:24). The Roman Catholic Church speaks of this sacrament as the Mass, which seems to be derived from the Latin word missa, found in the liturgical words of dismissal, Ite, missa est, at the conclusion of the Catholic service. The title, Mass, does not have any obvious Biblical connection to the sacrament.
*These name differences are pointed out by Richard Phillips in What is the Lord’s Supper?