The Reminder: Paul reminds them of the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
We’ve seen Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians for how they practiced or behaved during the Lord’s Supper. In fact, their behavior was so bad, Paul says their gatherings could not even be called “The Lord’s Supper.” Now we come to Paul’s instruction on how the Lord’s Supper should be practiced. We have just learned about the rebuke, now starting in verse 23, Paul puts the Lord’s Supper in context. The Lord’s Supper comes from the Last Supper. And Paul offers a recitation of the Last Supper.
Remembering has a way of calibrating us. The Lord’s Supper is like that, it calibrates us. The Lord’s death adjusts us to what matters. The Lord’s Supper prompts us to rehearse and relive the Ultimate Story. We need to be reminded of the old, old story.
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…”
Notice that Paul is saying that this meal, this Lord’s Supper, is something that Jesus Himself told Paul to communicate. “I received from the Lord” Paul is just the messenger. The Lord is the one who ordains this meal. This isn’t just a tradition; it’s an ordinance—it’s been ordained by Christ.
“…that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread.”
The reference to Judas and his betrayal is important. Paul emphasizes that this Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night Christ was betrayed. It’s a point he deliberately makes and it’s a reminder that from its very inception, this meal has been in danger of being taken advantage of. It’s in danger of hypocrisy. It’s in danger of folks who outwardly profess Christ, but inwardly betray Christ.
“…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.”
Paul is reenacting the Last Supper and reminding them of what Jesus said. “This is my body” is a reference to His sacrificial, atoning, substitutionary death for sinners. He did this for you! His Church. His Precious Bride. His Beloved. “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Do this” first of all simply means obedience. “Do this” is a reference to the Last Supper which is now the Lord’s Supper. It means means relive this. Relive the Last Supper. Relive the significance. Relive the meaning. Relive the gospel. Relive my love for you. Relive my self-sacrifice for you. At a minimum, Jesus meant this meal to be a memorial to Himself—a forget-me-not service. I think it’s good and right to view the Lord’s Supper as if you were personally meeting with Him. We should avoid the Lord’s Supper no more than we should avoid the Lord Jesus Himself.
The Lord’s Supper, unlike the ordinance of baptism, is a continual ordinance. Baptism was an entrance ritual. A visible sign of saving faith and regeneration. Baptism is not repeated. But the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance ritual. We do it “until He comes.”
Imagine if Christ made a public appearance to your church…If Jesus were to somehow get the Word to us that He would be visiting your church this Sunday. If that actually happened, there might be some people who had to miss, I suppose? But I bet you could find a little extra time to be with Him. The Lord’s Supper is a delight…not a duty. It’s a memorial of delight. It’s a symbol and an emblem of Christ’s death. Is it farfetched that Christ would establish a memorial that would keep the main thing the main thing?
“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.”
Jesus’ statement that the cup “is the new covenant in my blood” fuses together the language of Jeremiah 31:31 (“a new covenant”) and Exodus 24:8 (“This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you”)
This new covenant is unilateral. Like salvation, and being born again, it’s not something that we do, it’s something that happens to us. The gospel happens to us. Being born (again) is something that happens to us. The Lord has done something for and to the Church. He has grafted us into the New Covenant by His blood. His precious blood. His life given for us.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
He’s coming back. And every time we come to the Table of the Lord, we are reminded, “He’s coming” “Until he comes…”
What wonderful words to the weary believer. “Until he comes…” I think there is a bit of irony in this statement too: Christ’s death. The Lord died for you. This is life-changing. This is by far the most important truth anyone can ever grasp. How can we acknowledge the sacrifice of the Lord in one moment, then get drunk and ignore our brethren in the next moment?
It works like this: When I come to the Lord’s Supper and I have sinned. Let’s say I’ve been impatient with my wife, harsh with my kids, cold towards the needs of others; when I come to the Supper I am rebuked when I observe the sacrificial love of my Lord who died for me.
Paul is saying this to them: How can you treat each other this way, when the Lord has sacrificed for you and died for you? He reminds them of the gospel! Of Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. When we come together as a church, all pretenses need to leave. All snobbery and arrogance need to go. Look around, this is your family. We are to act like family. We are to treat one another with love and respect and concern and care. This is central!
God save us from a loveless Christianity, from a selfish internally focused Christianity! The Cup, the covenant, the blood, the death…all these words speak of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He is the sacrificial Lamb who was put forward by the Father to be the Passover Lamb for us.
We need to remember that.
We Need Reminders!
We need reminders… The Lord’s Supper s a call to remember. Remember the cross. Remember His suffering. Remember His great love. “Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget Thine agony; Lest I forget Thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary!”
The Supper is a call to preach the gospel to ourselves. It’s a call to remember that God has provided everything we need in Christ. Because…we forget. Imagine what the church would be like if Jesus did everything He did; but didn’t institute the Lord’s Supper? Humanly speaking, would the Church survive? I doubt it.
We are a forgetful bunch. Just like Israel. The Lord says in Jeremiah 2:32:
“Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.”
We seem to have a special propensity at forgetting. We quite effortlessly forget. Indeed, the Lord was infinitely wise when he said “do this in remembrance of me”
A well-known painting of the Vietnam Wall depicts a young widow and her daughter standing at the wall, reaching up and touching the name of the husband and father who died. The reflection in the polished granite is not of the mother and daughter but of the husband and father reaching out his hand to touch theirs. New York City made a memorial for 9/11. Why? So that people never forget.
A number of years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Poland and during my time there I had the opportunity to visit the concentration camp Dachau. I will never forget it as long as I live. I strolled through the barracks. I walked through the showers, which I discovered were not showers, they were the gas chambers.
I remember seeing one torture chamber that was a small room about the four feet by four feet. They would punish people by placing as many as they could in this small room for days as a time. Like human sardines. I touched the wall where people lined up to get shot, not full of fresh flowers laying on the ground. The wall was still full of bullet holes nearly worn away. I walked passed the rooms full of hair. I marveled in disbelief at the rooms full of bifocals and suitcases with Jewish names written on them. It was shocking.
I distinctly remember one man. He was a Jewish man wearing a kippa. He was next to me. And he was sobbing. His sobbing wasn’t the sobbing of distant emotion. It was fresh. Like someone who just got the news that a loved one had died. As he sobbed the tears streamed down his face. I remember his face was red with crying. He covered his mouth as he wept. His shoulders bobbed. To this day I have never seen another man cry like he did. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was his first time to this memorial. Certainly he knew his history. But there is something about a memorial that makes it more real.
When you see, and hear, and feel, and touch you can’t help but be moved. Memorials have a way of helping us remember. They have a way of helping us re-live important events.
David Anderson is a pastor/elder at Littleton Bible Chapel in Littleton, CO where he lives with his wife and three kids. David also serves Biblical Eldership Resources in many areas, including hosting their new podcast.