I grew up in a fundamental Evangelical Christian church that took Communion once a month. The only passages that I actually remember concerning the Sacrament were from 1 Corinthians 10,11. The focus every time that we came to the Lord’s Table was on “examining” ourselves and confessing our sins. It was always a very somber time without any joy, but plenty of condemnation.
I believe it’s important to clarify something about these passages. Paul was not articulating what we would think of as “Communion Doctrine Basics”. Paul had already delivered his Communion teaching to them in person (1 Cor.11:23) and in his letter, he was addressing some very specific problems that they had, within their church.
**We see these problems listed in 1 Cor.11:17-31
- They were divided at the Table and not united. (V.18,19)
- They were acting gluttonous and not sharing (V.21,22)
- They were shaming the poor (V.22)
- They were not discerning the body (V.29-31)
It’s this last point that I want to focus on because misunderstanding it used to corrupt The Lord’s Supper for me. We could analyze what Paul was saying about discerning the body within the context of Corinth and that would be fruitful, but I want to go back to the foundation of Communion. The words of the Word, Jesus himself and what he said about the Sacrament and the Body.
THE LAST PASSOVER SUPPER ~
We know that Jesus initiated “The Lord’s Table” immediately before the Cross, at the Passover meal. Jesus introduced the Eucharist as “my body” and “my blood”. I agree with the Protestant reformers that the Roman Catholic church was (and is) mistaken to take these words literally, but there is still profound truth unveiled when we refer to it in this manner.
Jesus declared that “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” in Luke 22:20. Matthew 26:28 recorded it this way ~ “For this is My blood of the covenant, being poured out for many, for forgiveness of sins.” They both mean the same thing because one of the main aspects of the New Covenant is that God “remembers our sins no more…”
But, there is more detail given in John that I have never heard associated with “The Lord’s Table”. I believe when given in light of what Paul and Hebrews later say about the Body of Christ, it will add a lot of clarity to what Jesus was conveying to the faithful 11 Disciples.
Judas was included in the foot-washing and even the bread of the Table before Jesus excused him and gave the “cup of the blood”. So Jesus said in John 13:10b,11 “you are clean, but not all of you.” 11For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
*Clean is the same word as pure. Like when Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart…”
Why was Judas unclean? Simply because He no longer believed in Jesus (John 6:64). When Jesus later described the truths behind the unity that He was establishing, he made it very clear why those remaining 11 were clean.
John 15 “3“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
Judas was unclean because he did not receive Jesus’ 1st Word. From John 1-John 12, Jesus articulated very clearly, over and over again what his 1st Commandment was.
If you examine John 1-12, you will see that is the only thing Jesus ever asked of anyone and he said it almost 100 times! Judas demonstrated his lack of faith when he left to betray the Lord.
It was only at that point that Jesus gave the Cup and the single New Covenant Commandment and explained the most profound mysteries ever written on pages to his remaining faithful few.
For sake of brevity, I must skip most of it and focus only on the Communion/Body aspects.
John 15:3-5 ~ 3“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
This is equivalent to Christ being the Head of the body language that Paul used so many times. Jesus was conveying to those who partook of the First New Covenant Communion that they were connected to him. He had made them clean. He had connected them to him. “Stay connected in love”. (Abide in my love paraphrased)
DISCERN THE CLEAN BODY~
Jesus did not instruct the disciples to examine themselves for sin and confess it all “under the blood” so God could forgive them. Jesus gave them the blood for forgiveness and told them to partake of it. Believing in Jesus’ words allowed them to receive forgiveness and revealed to them that He had cleaned them!
Remember that all of this forgiveness, cleanliness and unity in Christ’s body was immediately before the Cross! At the same time that Jesus was calling them his purified branches, he was prophesying that they would all leave him! (John 13:36-38)
Jesus didn’t give them Communion because they had forsaken all sin…he gave them communion as they were about to embrace sin and forsake him!
Because “The Lord’s Supper” is all about remembering what Jesus has done and not remembering what we have done. To focus on our sin during the Lord’s Supper is to ignore the Cross. We are not even supposed to remember the Cross in light of our sin, but in light of God’s love. Don’t think about your sin “causing Jesus to be crucified on the Cross”, think about Jesus causing your sin to be crucified in Himself on the Cross!
Some Christians seem to think the Cross was because their sin was separating them from Jesus, but Jesus was revealing that the Cross separated us from our sin and connected us to him!
Consider Paul’s take on the clean and pure body of Christ within the context of Marriage in Ephesians 5 ~ “25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”
The language is clearly connected to Jesus’ words in John 15. This is not some future event that the church is sitting around, twiddling their thumbs waiting to happen. Jesus has sanctified us once and for all through his body on the Cross!
Perhaps an aspect of “discerning the body correctly” for us today, would be to remember that Jesus has purified us and joined us to him! What if we focused on those truths and their implications while we partook “in remembrance of him”?
The author of Hebrews described in many ways how inferior the Old Covenant way of bloody animal sacrifices was versus Jesus’ “The New and Living Way”. In Hebrews 10, it is written about how Jesus had replaced the old ~ “9then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL.” He takes away the first (Old Covenant) in order to establish the second (New Covenant). 10By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
….19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful!”
Religion tries to convince us that we need to sanctify ourselves to “get connected to God” and yet Jesus revealed that he has cleansed us and He has connected us to God. This is God’s will. Only believe.
I can’t help but mention John 6, where Jesus clearly pointed forward to the Communion and the Cross . He had just surpassed Moses’ “bread from Heaven” experience and the the Jews were totally worked up. John6: 28Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
Please read John 6:26 through the rest of the chapter and consider Jesus’ words in John 6:63,64 ~ 63“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64“But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.
**Thanks to Stan Newton’s book “Kingdom Communion”.