A study of the Lord’s Supper is an experience because of the depth of meaning it contains. It was during the age-old celebration of the Passover on the eve of His death that Jesus instituted a significant new fellowship meal that Christians observe to this day. It is an integral part of Christian worship. It’s designed to remember the Lord’s death and resurrection and to look for His return in the future. All of Christianity, hangs on the resurrection, if Jesus did not rise for the dead all faith is to no account.
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-14
The Passover was the most sacred feast of the Jewish religious year. It commemorated the final plague on Egypt when the firstborn of the Egyptians died and the Israelites were spared because of the blood of a lamb that was sprinkled on their doorposts. The lamb was then roasted and eaten with unleavened bread. God’s command was that throughout the generations to come the feast would be celebrated. The story is recorded in Exodus 12.
During the Last Supper—a Passover celebration—Jesus took a loaf of bread and gave thanks to God. “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table.” Luke 22:19-21
They concluded the feast by singing a hymn (Matthew 26:30), and they went out into the night to the Mount of Olives. It was there that, as predicted, Jesus was betrayed by Judas. The following day Jesus was crucified.
The accounts of the Lord’s Supper are found in the Gospels (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:7-22; and John 13:21-30). The apostle Paul wrote concerning the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.
Paul includes a statement not found in the Gospels: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-29.
To partake of the bread and the cup “in an unworthy manner” means to disregard the true meaning of the bread and cup and to forget the price the Lord paid for our salvation. It means to allow the ceremony to become a dead and formal ritual and to come to the Lord’s Supper with unconfessed sin. In keeping with Paul’s instruction, we should examine ourselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup. This means to ask for forgiveness of one’s sins and to forgive others who have sinned against you. It is make certain your heart is in the right place before participating in the Eucharist.
Another statement Paul made that is not included in the gospel accounts is “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” 1 Corinthians 11:26. This places a time limit on the ceremony—until the Lord’s return. From these brief accounts we learn how Jesus used two of the frailest of elements as symbols of His body and blood and established them as a monument to His death. It was not a monument of carved marble or molded brass, but of bread and wine.
Jesus declared that the bread spoke of His body which would be broken. There was not a broken bone, but His body was so badly tortured that it was hardly recognizable (Psalm 22:12-17; Isaiah 53:4-7). The wine spoke of His blood, indicating the terrible death He would soon experience. He became the fulfillment of the countless Old Testament prophecies concerning a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53, 44:6, 47:4, 49:7, 49:26). When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” He indicated this was a ceremony that must be continued in the future. It indicated that the Passover, which required the death of a lamb and looked forward to the coming of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, was fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper. The New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant when Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), was sacrificed (Hebrews 8:8-13). The sacrificial system was no longer needed (Hebrews 9:25-28). The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Christian Communion is a remembrance of what Christ did for us and a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice.