The Last Supper
By Dr. Paul Knudtson
“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:23-27
On the Thursday evening before his crucifixion, Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover meal with his disciples (e.g., Mark 14:12, 16). This last supper has become the basis for the church’s practice of the Lord’s Supper (also, Communion, or the Eucharist) that has been practiced by Christians from the very beginning. Thursday of Holy Week, therefore, is a good time to reconsider the meaning of this supper. Its meaning includes aspects that direct our attention to the past, to the present, and to the future.
The “last supper” was a Jewish Passover meal. This meal is an annual festival (in March or April) that is still practiced by Jews today and commemorates the evening in which God acted to bring about Israel’s freedom from bondage in Egypt. This annual celebration is commanded in Mosaic legislation (Exodus 12) and remains the most important annual Jewish festival. The meaning of this meal is articulated in Exodus: “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses” (12:26-27). Jesus reinterprets the Passover meal in terms of himself so that we now recall the redemption brought about through his crucifixion. Jesus instructs his followers to eat the bread and drink the wine “in remembrance of me.” By doing so, Christians continue to “proclaim the Lord’s death.” This means that every time we receive communion we remember again that Christ died for us on the cross in the first century A.D. in the Roman province of Judea. The Passover meal becomes the Eucharist, and we now focus our attention not on the book of Exodus described in the Old Testament, but on Christ’s death for us narrated in the New Testament.
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are not only mentally recalling an event that happened two thousand years ago. This is because the living Christ comes to us even now in this meal. At communion we receive Jesus Christ in the present. The apostle Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, it is not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). This sharing happens now. We receive not only physical bread in this meal, but Jesus himself, “the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Just as the Israelites were sustained during their time in the wilderness by manna or “bread from heaven” (John 6:31; Exodus 16:4; Psalm 78:24), so God sustains us now on our earthly pilgrimage with Christ, “the bread of God . . . that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
Jesus speaks of the future when at the supper he says to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). Also speaking of the future, the apostle Paul says that in this meal we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11). Scripture ties the promise of Christ’s return (or coming) to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises for the future (1 Cor 15:20-28). Christ’s second coming will usher in the age to come in which God will become “everything to everyone” (see 1 Cor 15:28), an age that begins with the resurrection of the dead. The Lord’s Supper is a meal that is a foretaste of the feast to come, that Messianic banquet in which “many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Perhaps there is no better image of the life to come than that of a great banquet (see Luke 14:16-24; Matthew 22:1-14) since a banquet describes a situation of joy, community, hospitality, and abundance—abundance such that no one is left hungry, but instead all enjoy the most delectable food and drink.
Meditation: In what ways has the Lord’s Supper been important in my spiritual life? What aspect of the Lord’s Supper especially strikes me in the scriptural reflections above?
Prayer: We give you thanks, Lord, for giving your own body and blood for us on the cross. May you continue to sustain us with Christ as the bread of God on our earthly pilgrimage, and help us anticipate with joy the feast to come. Amen.
How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
By Stuart Townend
How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory
Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom