To listen, click on the arrow (the white triangle) and wait until the message begins. It takes about 30 seconds to load.
Names for the Lord’s Supper: The Lord’s Supper
Midweek in the Third Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2017
1 Corinthians 11:20
When we ponder the Passion of our Lord during Lent we don’t simply remember. We don’t simply look back. We don’t only look at the suffering of Christ and His death on the cross. We look also to the place where He directed us on the night in which He was betrayed. In other words, we look to the Lord’s Supper. We ponder the passion of our Lord by pondering how our Lord who suffered gives us in actuality the benefits of that suffering and death in His meal He instituted.
Because these blessing cannot fully be comprehended, it is no wonder this holy meal has come to be called by many different names. As we saw in our first look at the names for the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of the Bread hones us in on the action of our Lord on Maundy Thursday where He took bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. The first Christians celebrated this Meal, as their Lord commanded them to do, coming together every Sunday for the Breaking of the Bread. We then contemplated how the term Mass, which is the sending out, the blessing, the benediction we receive when we have received all the gifts of our Lord in Word and Sacrament in the worship service, really helps us see how the Lord’s Supper itself is the greatest blessing. Following that, we saw how another term, the Eucharist, emphasizes for us how the action of our Lord of giving thanks and then giving the bread and wine and with it His body and blood displays for us the greatest eucharist, Thanksgiving, of all—Christ Himself given to us.
This evening we look at another name used by the early Christians for this great meal, the Lord’s Supper. Before looking at it in the Scriptures, we should consider for a moment the word supper itself. This word has different connotations that are regional and cultural. For some it brings to mind the main meal of the day and eaten in the evening. For others it refers to a light meal late in the afternoon. Perhaps it is odd-sounding that we celebrate it on Sunday morning. However, in the New Testament this word can refer to the main meal of the day, an ordinary daily meal, or even a feast.
And so, the meal our Lord instituted came to be known as a supper. We soon find out, however, that it is not just any supper. The place in the Bible we see Christ’s holy meal referred to as the Lord’s Supper is in 1Corinthians 11. It might also sound odd to us but the first Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the midst of a meal, similar to a potluck or a dinner at church. So the context of what Paul says about the Lord’s Supper to the Corinthian Christians is that they are gathering for a meal and part of that gathering is the celebrating of the Lord’s Supper.
Already in chapter 10 he has reminded them that the sharing in the cup is a sharing in the blood of Christ and the sharing of the bread is a sharing in the body of Christ. In chapter 11 now Paul is addressing a problem they had when the celebrated Christ’s meal. He says it is not for the better but for the worse. In other words, they are gathering for the lesser thing, not the greater thing. When they are gathering for the worse, he doesn’t mean worse in the sense of bad, but just not as great as the greater thing. He says that it has been reported that there are divisions among them. Now, there’s never going to be a time when there aren’t divisions. But what they are doing is unacceptable. The key is when he says, “When you come together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” Yes, they were gathering for their meal and also to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but they weren’t gathering to celebrate it in the way the Lord had intended it.
Paul is addressing their reason they come together, he is not saying that they are not having the Lord's Supper. If it’s not the Lord's Supper they were eating, then why, as we hear later on in the chapter, were some of them getting sick and dying? The problem is that they were eating in an unworthy manner, they were not discerning the body of Christ present in the bread of the Lord’s Supper. They were treating the highest thing as the lesser thing. In coming together to eat the Lord's Supper they were instead eating their own meal. Instead of one Supper, namely, the Lord's Supper, there were a bunch of little suppers going on. It was dividing the church and they were not coming together for the right purpose. Paul is showing them the contrast between what the Lord has given them and what they are making for themselves.
Paul is separating the Supper from the having of a meal for enjoyment. This is the difference between our supper and the Lord’s Supper. As the Church they gather for this, Lord's Supper, for an entirely different reason than they gather for anything else. The Church gathers for the greater thing in distinction to the lesser thing. The lesser thing is not bad, it’s just not the Lord's Supper. It’s even good—God has given us food, and meals to enjoy it with—but it’s still the lesser thing.
He goes on then to call them back: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that 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.’” The Words of Institution invite us to contemplate the very nature of food. The word supper calls your mind to food. So let’s contemplate food for a moment. It’s kind of gross to think about, but what is your refrigerator? What exactly is this appliance built to do? You put food in there, and for what purpose? So you can eat the food, but the reason you put it in the fridge is to keep it fresh so you can eat it. Your refrigerator is a morgue.
The nature of food is that your earthly life is sustained only by taking food, killing it, whether animal or vegetable, and before it totally rots, sucking out the energy from it by consuming it. You know this to be true when you forget about that little container of leftovers that has gotten shoved to the back of the refrigerator. The smell and the look give it away. This is the nature of food. You stay alive in an earthly way because something else dies. From the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, it was every green plant for food. After the flood it was extended to animals. Jesus reflects on this—the nature of food—a lot in John 6.
In John 6 Jesus teaches about His flesh and blood. The chapter begins with the feeding of the five thousand. The people are hungry but there’s not enough food. He takes the food from the boy and gives thanks. He gives it to the disciples and they are to distribute it. Can you imagine them trying to parcel out a few loaves of bread and a couple fish? Nevertheless, they distributed it as Jesus said, they gave it away. Had they kept it they would have remained with a little. Because they gave it away they had a lot more left over. Afterwards, when He went away and the crowds then followed Him, He says that they followed Him not because of the miracles they saw, but because they got their stomach full. They missed the point. He says, “Don’t labor for the food that rots, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”
There’s a distinction between the food you seek and the food I give you. He says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” “They grumbled about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” What does He do? He pushes harder: “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” It sounds like a metaphor, but He ups the ante, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
The food that perishes sustains you for a while. When Jesus gives Himself away there is an abundance. When He gives His life away it becomes the source of life forever. “The bread I give for the life of the world is My flesh.” You cannot spiritualize flesh. How can He give us His flesh to eat, they say. This gives Jesus an opportunity to back off, but He pushes it further: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”
Paul goes on to say that if you eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner you eat and drink to your judgment. Jesus says, “For My flesh is true food.” It is the real deal, it is the true food. All other food is a shadow, a picture of the true food. My blood is the real drink. Jesus says, “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me.” The Father is the eternal source of life. He gives His Son. Jesus says, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He comes to be food and to be food that actually gives you life forever. He was born in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem means House of Bread. He was laid in a manger, a trough where animals feed. He has come to be bread, food for the world.
Now all of this sounds strange to our modern way of thinking but that is because we have hidden from our sensibilities the nature of food, what it really is. What it means that He has come to be food is that He has come to die in order to supply us with what we need for life that never ends. Paul is showing the Corinthians that they are settling for something lesser, eating meals, which is what everyone already does anyway, when they have been given a gift beyond compare, the Church coming together for a food that never dies, to give life that never ends. When we say the Lord’s Supper we’re not simply saying it belongs to Him but seeing the very nature of it, that He gives Himself for the life of the world. It’s the Lord’s Supper because the Supper you are eating is the Lord Himself.
This is one of the petitions from the Prayer of the Church in the funeral liturgy: “Grant that all who have been nourished by the holy body and blood of Your Son may be raised to immortality and incorruption to be seated with Him at Your heavenly banquet.” The food we eat here will not prevent us from dying. But being nourished by the body and blood of Christ will bring about for us that we may be raised to immortality and incorruption to be seated with Jesus at the Father’s heavenly banquet
We saw food at the beginning, in the Garden, and it traces all the way through the Scriptures. Toward the end, in Revelation 19, we are shown this: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give Him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and His Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’”
There is that word again, Supper. It doesn’t necessarily imply an evening meal, but rather a feast. Is there a union more intimate than you and food? It actually goes into you. It’s life is poured out for you to have life. Jesus is that but in a greater way. He is brought into you and you live forever. Luther says that all other food you change into yourself, but this food changes you into itself. You eat this Lamb and it gives you everything it is. Jesus Himself is the Lamb and He gives you Himself.
That Scriptures refer to this Meal as the Lord’s Supper means that we should not take over this Supper. It is not our supper. It is the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate it the way our Lord has intended it. He intended it for us to eat and drink, to be filled and sustained with all the blessings of God and heaven forever. Amen.
Pastor Paul L. Willweber
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California