Luke 22:14-23 “When the hour came, He reclined at the table,
and the apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you. But look, the hand of the one betraying Me is at the table with Me!
In Jesus’ last meal He instituted what some call “Communion,” some “Eucharist” and some “Lord’s Supper.” Whatever one calls it, its important to remember not only why He did this, but also with whom He shared this table meal. But first, a very brief background sketch is probably necessary (if you know it already, skip to next paragraph):
This New Covenant meal was instituted during an Old Covenant meal called Passover. Passover was a meal practiced by the Jews that reminded them of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. This was a meal designed by the LORD to engage all five senses as well as heart, mind and soul. In their deliverance the LORD saved them by requiring each Hebrew family to cover the doorposts and lintels of their houses with the blood of a pure, innocent, sacrificial lamb, which they are to eat as a special dinner before the Lord. In a terrible moment of judgement under the cover of darkness, the LORD would send a deadly plague throughout the land of Egypt in judgment of their oppression, idolatry and disobedience. This plague would kill the firstborn male of every Egyptian family, as well as the firstborn of all livestock. The only way for a Hebrew to escape the judgment aimed at Egypt was to do as the LORD commanded through Moses: cover the doorpost and lintels with the blood of the lamb. The LORD would see the blood and “pass-over” them, resulting in their salvation. It was this terrible yet redemptive act of God that convinced the Egyptian Pharaoh to set His people free to live and worship Him.
So this New Covenant meal points both backward and forward to redemption. Jesus even says in Luke that He will eat this meal with His disciples again once His Kingdom comes, or is inaugurated, which happened in His resurrection. And though we understand that His Kingdom will not come in its fullness until His second coming, His Kingdom is what many call an “already/not yet” reality (see here, here, here, and here). This gives the New Covenant meal deep significance and mystery.
When we share in this meal together we proclaim God’s reign now made available to us through Jesus, for His Kingdom is among us. God’s sacrificial Lamb is Jesus our redeeming King. So in this meal we see backward into our moment of redemption.
Yet as we share in this meal together we proclaim that King Jesus is coming again and will usher in the fullness of His Kingdom. The resurrected Lord who has conquered death will remove the disgrace of His people forever in the new heaven and new earth at His return. It is then that the sin, death and brokenness of this world will finally be judged once and for all–rebellious hearts, sickness, pain, grief, tears, oppression of all kinds, hunger, death–all that sin has made wrong will be made right. Forever. So in this meal we see forward into our restorative future, which is our certain hope.
Yet as we eat and drink in light of these beautiful truths we are reminded of who we are and the life we are invited to experience now–a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. We have been re-created for this life because Jesus has sent His power-giving Spirit to live within us. And as if that isn’t enough, He invites us to eat this meal “with” Him as His Kingdom people. So in this meal we see that all things are being made new, including our lives. This changes our present.
This meal must become more than merely symbolic for us. It is a moment of faith-forming, soul-shaping, life-giving, mystery.
It is mystery because in this meal though the bread may not become the actual physical substance of the body of Christ (what some call transubstantiation), it does genuinely communicate the spiritual reality of Christ’s presence and saving work. And although the wine may not become the actual physical blood of Christ, it too genuinely communicates the spiritual reality of Christ’s presence and saving work. It is “Communion” because we take this in and by faith, with Christ.
It is mystery because in this meal Jesus is not only present at the table He serves the table just as He served the apostles. It is the “Lord’s Supper” because He serves us and is our gracious Host.
It is mystery because in this meal we remember death so we may celebrate life. We remember the Father’s gracious and faithful love for us as He gave His only begotten Son. And we celebrate with great humility the life He gave so we may experience a life lived with God now and forever. So we call this meal the “Eucharist” because we offer thanksgiving.
Yes, this meal is more than symbol. It is symbol and mystery because Christ is with us, serving and participating with us. In this New Covenant meal, we eat the bread and drink the wine with Christ by faith, trusting what He said is true, and rest securely in the reality that He is our gracious Host and welcomes us to His table. Only a Messiah Who is both King and Lord of the universe could make such a heavenly holy meal earthly possible.
Let us call it Communion because in this moment we commune with Jesus as King and Lord.
Let us call it the Lord’s Supper because He is our gracious Host.
Let us call it Eucharist because we offer “Thanksgiving.”