At the church I’m a member at, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper the first Sunday of each month. There is so much symbolism wrapped up in this ordinance, but in our Western culture, we miss much of this significance.
For instance, let’s take what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11. The full context is 11:17-34, and the major thing Paul relates the Lord’s Supper to is unity. He spares no words with condemning the “divisions [that] exist among” them (v. 18). The early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper as part of a meal they called the Love Feast, and in Corinth, there were select groups celebrating to excess while others went “hungry” (v. 21). There could hardly be a more visible expression of disunity in a local church.
So Paul could tell them that because they celebrated in this way, they weren’t even observing the “Lord’ Supper” (v. 20). After reminding them of how Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he says they are to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,” and that included observing it appropriately (v. 26). That meant examining oneself for unconfessed and unrepented of sin (v. 28). And he brings it back practically to the issue of unity in how they celebrated together (vv. 33, 34). The subject of unity pervades the whole discussion.
Now we have to wonder: why is unity so central to Paul’s discussion? Well, for one thing, factions were one of the root issues there at Corinth (1:12). Another is that true “love” is a defining mark of a Christian (John 13:34, 35; 1 John 3:14; 4:20). Even in how they handled spiritual gifts, they needed to be guided by “love,” or else it meant absolutely “nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
But I believe there is more to this than simply the struggle the church at Corinth faced. The fullness of this subject has to do with the origins of the Lord’s Supper, and that was the Passover meal. When we look at that feast and what it represented, some pretty exciting things become clear.
We find the instructions for the first Passover in Exodus 12. Israel is still in bondage, and the Lord has carried out nine plagues. They are on the eve of the final one: the death of the firstborn. As the Lord is giving instructions, He says to Moses, “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household” (Exodus 12:3).
The Passover was celebrated by the entire nation, but it was observed as families. True, the Lord made provision for smaller families to share a lamb together. Yet the primary emphasis is upon the household. This could include grandparents, children, whoever lived together as a household. There was a corporate element, but this emphasis upon the family cannot be overlooked.
Then as He gave instructions about how the lamb was to be slaughtered, the Lord says, “Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two door posts and on the lentil of the houses in which they eat it” (v. 7). Then a few verses later, He says, “When I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt,” speaking specifically of killing the firstborns (v. 13).
So to summarize this, the Passover was a national feast, but it was celebrated by families, covered by the blood of a spotless lamb. And you know what? That is exactly what a church does when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Remember, it was a Passover meal Jesus was observing when He established the ordinance, and He highlighted certain elements of that feast (Matthew 26:17-29). But that’s another post.
The point is that our Lamb has died in our place, we are made one family through Him, and we are covered by His blood. So when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is an opportunity not only to reflect upon the Lord’s death, but to reaffirm our love for God and for one another. We are made “one” through the Holy “Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). We don’t often think about this with the Lord’s Supper, but this truth is there when we consider the background.
And so whenever you and your church celebrate the Lord’s Supper next, think about this. The Passover was observed by families covered by the blood. That is what you and your church are. Are you willing to commit yourself to them in love and unity? We should. We are a family after all, and it was the blood of our Savior that brought us into that family. Maintaining unity is a way we honor Him in celebrating this ordinance.