Q – I have a friend who’s considering coming with me on Sundays in the future. We got to talking about stuff last night, and he mentioned how important communion seemed to be in the Bible, and he quoted “do this as often as you think of me.” Knowing GCA doesn’t do communion every Sunday, I was wondering if you could give me a good response for him as to why we don’t?

Jim – Of course I can give you a response. That’s my gig. But, first we have to go back and talk about your friend’s misquotation. Jesus never said, “do this as often as you think of me.” That’s the beginning of your friend’s dilemma. He has misplaced the emphasis, from God’s ordered commands to his personal (or church-inherited) feelings.

Let me put that a better way. God did not leave it up to individual people, or groups of people, or churches to decide when they should take the Lord’s Supper. He was actually quite specific, but people are largely ignorant of that fact. If we simply partook of that memorial when we felt like it, or thought of Christ, then we might never take it, or take it every waking moment. God did not leave things in such random order.

The Church at large, however, has managed to muddy the waters, as they usually do. Some churches partake of communion each and every Sunday morning, like the Church of Christ. Some do it at every Mass, as the Catholics do. Some take it once a month, as the Lutherans and most Grace Churches do. Some take it whenever it occurs to them. But, they all miss the Biblical/historic imperative.

The Lord’s Supper is a memorial. That’s why Christ commanded that we do it “in remembrance of me.” That notion, that the memorial is done in memory of Christ, has led folk to think that Christ instituted the event out of thin air as a means of remembering his sacrifice. But again, that misses the whole point.

I assume your friend is basing his misquotation on Paul’s words from 1 Cor. 11:25-26 –

“This cup is the new testament in my blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”

As you can see, it does not say to drink the cup or eat the bread as often as you think of Him. It says to think of Him as often as you take the cup or eat the bread. That’s a big difference. Again, it’s a matter of misplaced emphasis. We do not take part in the Lord’s Supper just because we managed to remember Him. We are instructed to remember Him on those occasions when we partake of this ceremony.

And, that’s where things get really interesting. What ceremony was Christ talking about? What cup was he drinking? What bread was He eating? What was He memorializing with His disciples when He spoke these words, and what was the import of those words?

When Moses delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt, he instructed them about a very specific meal that they had to eat in a very specific manner and at a very specific time. He told them to be fully dressed, to have their sandals on their feet, to eat with their staff in their hands – ready to walk, ready to move out – and to eat it with haste.

The people of Israel were to eat that meal with very specific bread. It was unleavened bread. It did not rise. It was flat bread. Leaven is a type of sin all through the Bible. People get raised up in their sin. But, this bread had no leaven. In fact, their entire household had to be free of leaven. And, they ate bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of their captivity.

The main course of their meal was a lamb. It had to be a young lamb, without spot or blemish. They had to live with that lamb in their homes for several days before they slew it. They could not break a single bone in the lamb. It had to be drained of blood and roasted completely. It could not be seethed in water or boiled. No blood, no water. They had to eat the whole lamb, and nothing could be left over until the morning. And, the blood of that innocent lamb had to be splattered on the doorposts of their homes.

And, they had to eat it on a very specific night. It was the night when the death angel would kill the firstborn of every household that did not have the lamb’s blood on their door. Every firstborn child and every firstborn beast died that night. There was screaming, wailing and crying in Egypt. But, the blood of the lamb on the door protected the families of God. They sat and ate their herbs and unleavened bread. They consumed their lamb. And, they sat prepared to be delivered, fully dressed and prepared for their flight from bondage.

“And, thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment; I am the LORD. And, the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 12:11-13)

Now, this was such an important event in the life of Israel, that God wanted it to be memorialized through all time, and to all generations.

“And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever.” (Ex. 12:14)

Now, when God says to keep something as a memorial forever, I assume that what He wants is for Israel to keep that feast as a memorial forever. Simple enough.

Now, what was the occasion of the Lord’s Supper?

“Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.” (Luke 22:7-14)

Jesus kept the Passover with his apostles. And, when they sat down, they all knew what this feast was meant to memorialize. They were there to remember God’s deliverance from Egypt.

Together, they ate their lamb. It was the night before His crucifixion. The next day, at exactly three o’clock, as the ceremonial Paschal lamb was being sliced open by the High Priest, Christ cried out in agony in died. Later, when the Centurion came to break His legs and guarantee His death, it was obvious that Jesus had already succumbed. People don’t normally die that quickly in crucifixion, so the soldier jammed a sword into Christ’s side, piercing the sack around his heart and producing blood and water.

Being the perfect Lamb of God, whose blood was sufficient to cover us from the wrath of death and the plague of judgment, Christ’s bones were left intact and His blood ran from His side. He was “roasted,” if you will, in the torment of His Father’s fury.

Anyway, they had eaten the lamb and the bitter herbs. But, then Jesus did something remarkable. Jesus picked up the unleavened bread – the type of the sinless person – and He declared that the bread was His body. He, being the sinless person, taught His disciples the meaning of all those hundreds of years of eating that bread. It was pointing to Him. Then, the bread being hard bread, He broke it. That was startling to them, I’m sure. He said that this bread not only symbolized His body, but that it – the bread and His body – were broken for them.

And, just as Christ died as the Paschal lamb, he was put in the grave Wednesday night at the very moment that the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the high day, began. His death fulfilled both the Passover and the Unleavened Bread. And, of course, He rose three days later, fulfilling the Feast of First Fruits.

Anyway, back in the upper room, the only thing missing from their Passover memorial was blood. There was no blood on the doorpost. God had not included blood as part of the memorial. It was just the eating, just the supper that served as a touchstone of remembrance. The blood on the door was only required at that first Passover for protection from the death angel.

But, Jesus took up the cup of wine. He drank from it and declared that the wine in the cup was now representative of His own blood, which would be given for them. His blood would usher in the New Testament, or New Covenant of salvation by grace through faith, without the works of the Law. This was the Covenant that was promised in Jeremiah 31 to establish Israel in God’s everlasting love. Jesus said that this cup – representative of His spilled blood – symbolized the inception of that covenant agreement with God. The new era was beginning.

Now, here’s the point – though I suspect that you’ve gathered it already – Jesus and His apostles were memorializing the deliverance from Egypt. But, Jesus took the elements of the supper and applied them to Himself. They knew that they were commanded by God to keep that memorial every year, generation after generation, on the 14th day of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew religious year.

They were not to stop performing the memorial, but Jesus said that they were to change the focus of it. No longer were they to remember the flight from Egypt, because it was merely a type and foreshadow of the spiritual deliverance from sin that would be accomplished when Christ laid down His life, fulfilled the types, shed His own blood, and became God’s own slain lamb. The death angel would, in effect, pass over everyone who was covered by the blood of God’s chosen lamb. So, the Passover supper was changed from a memorial to Israel’s physical deliverance, to a memorial to Christ’s all-sufficient deliverance.

With that in mind, look at Jesus’ words –

“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.”

No longer were they to take that memorial bread as a means of remembering God’s deliverance from the death angel or from Egypt. Christ was the new focus of the memorial. They were to remember Him. The lamb, the bread and the wine that had always meant one thing to them now meant something else. They were to continue the action, but change its meaning.

And, Paul’s words are just as specific –

“This cup is the new testament in my blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”

It’s not just any old cup; it’s this cup. It’s not just any old bread; it’s this bread. And, when you eat that specific bread and drink that specific cup, you do it not to remember the deliverance from Egypt, but now you do it in remembrance of Christ. Same action – new focus. Same memorial – new object.

And, the phrase “as often as ye eat” does not say, “eat this bread often.” It simply says that when you perform that memorial, you no longer show God’s deliverance of Israel, you show Christ’s death and deliverance from sin. And, we’re to keep that memorial until Christ returns, because God specifically said to do it forever.

By the way, there is also a very, very significant eschatological emphasis of this memorial, as well. Jesus also said –

“And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

Matthew and Mark record it as –

“Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark. 14:25)

So, there’s still a future fulfillment of the Lord’s Supper to come. I believe that it is fulfilled in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, but that’s another subject.

There is also a very rich historical covenant aspect to the Supper. The children of Israel were in Egypt because of the Abrahamic Covenant. And, they were delivered because of God’s faithfulness to that covenant. And, it was the Abrahamic Covenant that inspired the New Covenant, the inception of which was established around that table in the upper room.

So, there’s tons of teaching involved with the Lord’s Supper that is largely ignored by most churches. As for me, and for GCA by extension, we’re trying desperately to adhere to the Bible. And, where it’s as clear and specific as it is on the Lord’s Supper, we stick to it, despite our traditional histories and church-born mistakes.

And, by doing it once a year, on the specific day that Jesus said to do it, it’s a much richer, deeper event. It’s not just a passing thing we do so regularly that we forget why we do it. And, that’s a vital part of Paul’s teaching on the subject. The Corinthian church had begun taking the Lord’s Supper as part of a regular feast. He came down on them like thunder and told them that doing it wrong would bring judgment on them. In fact, he even declared that there were sick and dying people in their midst because of their failure to take the Lord’s Supper in a proper manner. So, this is not something to be taken lightly, or treated trivially. I take those warnings very seriously, even if no one else seems to. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. And, the wrong way is presumption against God, which He takes so personally that He is willing to curse people over it.

Don’t mess with God’s design. That’s the message.

We are planning to do it again this year on Passover. That’s what we’re directed to do, and we’ll continue doing it until Jesus returns. Soon after that event – His return – we’ll drink it new with Him in Heaven. That will be a good day. (I am the master of understatement.)

Q – I was confirmed in my grandparent’s Lutheran church. I escaped from that not knowing much about the why’s of communion, or what it really means – I was mostly worried about screwing up the answers the pastor would ask when he quizzed me in front of the church.

Jim – I was also confirmed Lutheran and used to teach catechism classes…pitching right in to make new Lutherans. That was me, boy. We used to take communion the first Sunday of every month. I was an acolyte when I was younger and I always liked Communion Sunday because we got to light more candles. More things to do, more time in front of the congregation looking Godly. What a deal. Plus, on communion Sunday we didn’t recite the Apostles’ Creed, we recited the Nicene Creed. A very important distinction, apparently – although it was lost on me.

I’ve wrestled with the communion question for years and years. But, when I really applied the test – “what does Scripture actually say?” – I found that it was not confusing in the least. It was very concise and very sensible. I like that about the Bible. And, if we’d just do things God’s way, I think we’d all be much happier, and much less perplexed.

By the way, there’s infinitely more to say about communion. For instance, the terrible misquote – “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthy, 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.” If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It’s usually followed by some legalist tirade from the preacher commanding people to examine themselves and determine their worthiness, or be guilty of Christ’s blood. But it’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

The word is “unworthily” not “unworthy.” It’s an adverb. Adverbs modify the action, not the actor. How we eat and drink is what’s important. We must do it “discerning the body and blood of Christ.” That’s how you drink in a worthy manner.

If it were a question of personal worthiness, we’d all be dead. NO ONE IS WORTHY!!! That’s the whole point! It’s a memorial to grace, not our fleshly worth!!!

And, if we approach that memorial looking inward to determine our own level of righteousness, instead of looking outward and upward to the finished work of Christ, we place ourselves directly under the very judgment Paul was warning against.

Okay, I’ll stop now or I’ll start ranting.

Hope this helped. If it raised more questions than it answered, let me know. We’ll keep digging into the Word together until we’ve settled the matter.

Thank you for your candor and your question.