In the Lord’s supper, we show and experience that Jesus himself is the food and drink that keeps us alive.
LD 28 q&a 75.
How does the Lord’s supper
signify and seal to you
that you share in
Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross
and in all his gifts?
In this way:
Christ has commanded me and all believers
to eat of this broken bread
and drink this cup
in remembrance of him.
With this command he gave these promises:
as surely as I see with my eyes
the bread of the Lord broken for me
and the cup given to me,
so surely was his body offered for me
and his blood poured out for me
on the cross.
as surely as I receive
from the hand of the minister
and taste with my mouth
the bread and the cup of the Lord
as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood,
so surely does he himself
nourish and refresh my soul
to eternal life
with his crucified body and shed blood.
LD 28 q&a 76.
What does it mean
to eat the crucified body of Christ
and to drink his shed blood?
to accept with a believing heart
all the suffering and the death of Christ,
and so receive
forgiveness of sins and life eternal.
to be united more and more to his sacred body
through the Holy SPirit
who lives both in Christ and in us.
Therefore, although Christ is in heaven
and we are on earth,
yet we are flesh of his flesh
and bone of his bones,
and we forever live and are governed
by one Spirit,
as the members of our body are
by one soul.
LD 28 q&a 77.
Where has Christ promised
that he will nourish and refresh believers
with his body and blood
as surely as
they eat of this borken bread
and drink of this cup?
In the institution of the Lord’s supper:
The Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, 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 Cor 11:23-26).
This promise is repeated by Paul where he says:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it no a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Cor 10:16,17).
LD 29 q&a 78.
Are then the bread and wine
changed into the real body and blood of Christ?
Just as the water of baptism
is not changed into the blood of Christ
and is not the washing away of sins itself
but is simply God’s sign and pledge,
so also the bread in the Lord’s supper
does not become the body of Christ itself,
although it is called Christ’s body
in keeping with the nature and usage of sacraments.
LD 29 q&a 79.
Why then does Christ call the bread his body
and the cup his blood,
or the new covenant in his blood,
and why does Paul speak of a participation
in the body and blood of Christ?
Christ speaks in this way for a good reason:
He wants to teach us by his supper
that as bread and wine sustain us
in this temporal life,
so his crucified body and shed blood
are true food and drink for our souls
to eternal life.
But, even more important,
he wants to assure us by this visible sign and pledge,
first, that through the working of the Holy Spirit
we share in his true body and blood
as surely as we receive with our mouth
these holy signs in remembrance of him,
that all his suffering and obedience
are as certainly ours
as if we personally
had suffered and paid for our sings.
LD 30 q&a 80.
(See this article.)
LD 30 q&a 81.
Who are to come
to the table of the Lord?
Those who are truly displeased with themselves
because of their sins
and yet trust that these are forgiven them
and that their remaining weakness is covered
by the suffering and death of Christ,
and who also desire more and more
to strengthen their faith
and amend their life.
But hypocrites and those who do not repent
eat and drink judgment upon themselves.
LD 30 q&a 82.
Are those also to be admitted to the Lord’s supper
who by their confession and life
show that they are unbelieving and ungodly?
No, for then the covenant of God
would be profaned
and his wrath kindled
against the whole congregation.
according to the command of Christ and his apostles,
the Christian church is duty-bound
to exclude such persons
by the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
until they amend their lives.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper
All four gospels tell us that Jesus, in the night he was arrested, instituted the Lord’s Supper. At the end of the Passover meal he broke some bread and gave it to his disciples. He also gave them the customary last cup of wine (the “cup of thanksgiving”). Then he gave the bread and cup a special meaning: “This is my body.” “This is the new covenant in my blood.” He told his disciples to keep doing this to remember him by.
Look up the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. What was Jesus claiming when he said: “This is the new covenant in my blood?”
From the Bible we know that the disciples did this faithfully. It became a central part of their worship. See for instance Acts 2:42:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
“This is my body”
Jesus said about the bread: “This is my body.” How literal should this be taken?
The Roman church had developed the idea that, whenever the priest consecrates it by speaking the words of institution, the bread physically becomes the body of Jesus in a most profound way. This is known as the doctrine of transubstantiation. The Reformers rejected this teaching, because it led to idolatry.
Some Protestants go the opposite way. They say that blood and wine are merely signs of Jesus’ body and blood, and nothing more.
The Reformed churches have rejected both of these views. On one hand, it should be clear that the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine. On the other hand, when a believer eats the bread and drinks the wine, he has real fellowship with Jesus’ body and blood.
Look up 1 Cor 10:16-17. What does the word “participation” mean in these verses?
The Belgic Confession summarizes it as follows (Art. 35):
[Christ] testifies to us that as certainly as we take and hold the sacrament in our hands and eat and drink it with our mouths, by which our physical life is then sustained, so certainly do we receive by faith, as the hand and mouth of our soul, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Saviour, in our souls for our spiritual life.
It is beyond any doubt that Jesus Christ did not commend his sacraments to us in vain. Therefore he works in us all that he represents to us by these holy signs. We do not understand the manner in which this is done, just as we do not comprehend the hidden activity of the Spirit of God. Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what we eat and drink is the true, natural body and the true blood of Christ. However, the manner in which we eat it is not by mouth by in the spirit by faith.
Calvin famously said that we eat Jesus’ body and blood with the mouth of faith. This shows that the Lord’s Supper is not about physical eating; it is a spiritual activity. On the other hand, the Lord’s Supper is a real “participation” of the body and blood of Jesus.
The most important meaning of the Lord’s supper is that Jesus’ suffering is our “food and drink”; the crucified Lord is the one who sustains our life. But the Bible brings out two additional meanings.
First, we share pieces of the same bread and wine from the same cup (or bottle); we have this meal together. This illustrates the unity of the Christian church. We belong together because we have one Lord. This has practical consequences: we must love each other.
Look up 1 Cor 11:17-34. What serious problem was there in the church in Corinth, that became especially visible during the Lord’s supper?
Second, when Jesus instituted he said: “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mat 26:29) He also told many parables about the Kingdom of God using the image of a wedding banquet. In a way, the Lord’s supper is a picture of the heavenly feast that we can look forward to.
Who may participate?
The Lord’s supper is reserved for people who know the Lord Jesus, and have committed to serving him. The church has always been careful about this, especially because of the serious warning in 1 Cor 11, that you “eat and drink judgment on yourself if you do not discern the body.”
Only serious, committed, confessing Christians should participate in the Lord’s supper. If you live a sinful life and are not sorry for it, you should stay away and first repent. The elders of the church will actively keep away people who live such an unrepentant life.
But this does not mean that only perfect people may come. In some church communities (e.g. the Netherlands Reformed Churches) only very few people feel worthy to come to the table. But that is not right. Our Form for the Lord’s Supper explains:
But all this, beloved brothers and sisters, is not meant to discourage broken and contrite hearts, as if only those who are without sin may come to the table of the Lord. For we do not come to this supper to declare that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves. On the contrary, we seek our life outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ and, in doing so, we acknowledge that we are dead in ourselves.
To participate in the Lord’s supper, you need not be a perfect believer; but you must be sincere.
In the Reformed churches, we allow people to participate after they make public profession of faith. They declare solemnly to the whole world that they love the Lord and want to live for him. Before making public profession of faith, a person will first be taught the basics of the Christian faith. This was the original purpose of catechism classes.
- Do you think is right to think of the Lord’s Supper as a New Testament version of the Passover? Why, or why not?
- When the Lord’s supper is celebrated, the minister will make a “show” of breaking some bread and pouring out the wine. Is that important? Why or why not?
- In the early church, the Lord’s supper was celebrated toward the end of a meal with the church. (See, for instance, Jude :12.) What did this meal show? Do you think we should do something like that?
- Why did the Reformers think that the Roman “mass” and its doctrine of transubstantiation is idolatry?
- In the early church, the Lord’s supper was celebrated every week. The Canadian Reformed church order requires churches to celebrate it at least once every three months. What do you think?
- Some people promote paedocommunion, the idea that younger children of believers should also participate in the Lord’s supper. (After all, they are also baptized!) What do you think of this? What about older teenagers?
- Suppose someone from another church visits our worship service and wants to participate in the Lord’s supper. What responsibility do the elders of the church have in this case (“fencing the table”)? How does your church regulate this? What do you think about this?
All: Memorize q&a 76. Choose one of the seven discussion questions above and write or type an answer with explanation (at least 150 words).
Older students: Also memorize q&a 78, and read the article Rejecting the papal mass: on Heidelberg Catechism q&a 80.