THE LORD’S SUPPER -- IS IT ABOUT EATING?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (NIV)
David H. Stern’s JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY may be helpful in better understanding the Lord’s Supper. From page 227 (about Acts 2:42):
Many Christians assume that this refers to “taking communion” and have an image of the early believers meeting in homes (v. 46) to eat a tiny wafer of bread and drink a symbolic amount of wine or grape juice just as Christians do today in their churches. However, the context is not twentieth century Christianity but first century Judaism; and for Jews then as now, fellowship was mediated by meals. To say that the early Messianic Jews broke bread is to say neither more nor less than that they ate together.
The meaning of eating together must be grasped. First of all, when possible, religious Jews begin a meal with bread and say over it (a blessing). Then they break off a piece of the loaf and eat it, so that the blessing of God specifically for this provision of bread to eat will not have been said in vain.
Yeshua (Jesus) knew and observed this practice, but he also gave an additional meaning to the act of breaking bread when he said, as he broke the matzah at the last supper, “This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in memory of me (Luke 22.20). This practice became part of the Torah (for Christian Jews) so that the early believers were to recall Yeshua’s death for them as they began their meal. Then, after that, the entire meal time was to be devoted to fellowship, “communion” in the ordinary sense of the word, not in the technical, Christian sense (wafer of bread, cup of wine).
Yet this fellowship was not mere worldly socializing that ignores God. [Stern then quotes a second-century rabbi] -- If there is no meal there is not [study of] Torah, and if there is not Torah, there is no meal.
Stern (page 144) describes the cup in his notes on Luke’s account of the last supper: Luke is the only of the four writers describing the establishing of the New Covenant who mentions both a cup of wine before the meal and after. The Seder (Passover meal) requires four cups of wine, two before the meal and two after. Each is identified by one of God’s promises in Exodus 6:6,7:
1. I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt;
2. I will deliver you out of their bondage;
3. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgments;
4. I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God.
Stern says Luke describes the cup after the meal, the third of the four cups, corresponding to Exodus 6:6, “I will redeem you.” Thus Yeshua used the “cup of redemption,” as the third cup is called, to inaugurate the new covenant, which redeems from the “Egypt” of bondage to sin all who trust in God and his Messiah…Even though it (the New Covenant) is “not like” the Covenant through Moshe…the New Covenant renews and restores what the Mosaic Covenant promised to the Jewish people.
Jesus’ words with this cup: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20 NIV).
Since the Lord’s Supper is so central to the Christian life, it’s a mystery to me why we don’t have more information and instruction about it in Scripture. I Cor. Chapter 11 tells us the most. It gives us first a story about how some in the church just didn’t get it! They gathered to eat and party, perhaps celebrating their newfound freedom in Christ. Friends pot-lucked (tailgaited?) in a big way, not waiting or sharing with others.
In rebuking them, Paul said, IT’S NOT ABOUT EATING!!
But did Paul go on to give them HOW-TO instructions on doing correctly? No. He just retold the story of what Jesus did on the night he was betrayed. He told of the significance at the moment, and what should be the significance to those at Corinth (and to us today). Basically, he told them, FIGURE IT OUT!
Since we don’t have HOW-TO instructions about the Lord’s Supper, what are we supposed to do? The early church observed it during a meal together. Because of persecution (and maybe to resolve abuses like that in Corinth) Christians near the end of the first century often gathered around just bread and wine. Later, the elements were further reduced to tokens or symbols of the original bread and cup.
The forbears of our movement two hundred years ago were used to taking communion twice annually, with just bread and wine, but enough to make a full meal. Our practice of taking the Lord’s Supper at least weekly, with only token, symbolic bread and fruit of the vine, evolved during the 1800’s. Churches of Christ have practiced this now for well more than a century.
Since there are no God-given HOW-TO instructions, the Lord’s Supper is practiced many different ways among our brothers and sisters. I have had Jewish matzah, home-baked “unleavened” bread, wafers, commercially prepared bits or “breads,” regular loaves of bread, etc. I’ve taken grape juice most often, but sometimes wine (red or white) -- from trays of small cups or from a single chalice. The elements have been taken sitting, standing, with a prayer before each, one prayer before both, taken simultaneously or individually, or by intinction (dipping bread into the cup). There have been lengthy meditations shared before distribution and there has been little or nothing said other than prayers. IT’S NOT ABOUT EATING!
What is it about? We only have what Paul told the Corinthians: (I Cor. 11: 23-34)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
And when I come I will give further directions.
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