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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Lord's Supper

In both the New Testament and the present day church, the Lord’s Supper is known by a number of names. Paul calls it, literally, the supper of the Lord, because Christians keep it on the Lord’s authority and in his honour (1 Corinthians 11:20). Paul speaks of it also as a communion, meaning an act of fellowship, or sharing together, in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16; see COMMUNION). Luke calls it the breaking of bread, referring to part of the meal as a shortened title for the whole (Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7). Another name, the Eucharist (from the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving’), refers to Jesus’ act of giving thanks for the bread and wine (Mark 14:23; 1 Corinthians 11:24).

The last supper

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper while eating a Passover meal with his disciples the night before his crucifixion (Luke 22:8; Luke 22:12; Luke 22:15). (For details of a Passover meal see PASSOVER.) During the meal Jesus took some of the bread and wine from the table and passed each in turn among his disciples, inviting them to eat and drink. The bread and wine were symbols of his body and blood, which he was to offer on the cross as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28; cf. Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:10).

God had once made a covenant with Israel and sealed it with blood (Exodus 24:6-8; see COVENANT). Through Jeremiah he promised a new covenant, one that would bring forgiveness of sins and give new life through the indwelling Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Ezekiel 36:26-27). Jesus established this covenant, his blood sealed it, and the supper he instituted is a reminder of its meaning to those who believe in him. The Old Testament system, having reached its fulfilment, is replaced by the new covenant with its unlimited blessings (Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

When Israelites observed the Passover, they reminded themselves that their lives had been saved only through the death of the Passover lamb. When Christians observe the Lord’s Supper, they remind themselves that they have eternal life only through the death of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23-24; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7).

Christians keep the Lord’s Supper not only in remembrance of Christ’s death, but also in anticipation of his return. When that day comes, bread and wine will no longer be necessary. Christ and his people will be together for ever in the triumphant kingdom of the Messiah. In that day there will be far more blessed fellowship between Christ and his people, likened to a heavenly feast with new wine (Matthew 26:29; Luke 22:16; Luke 22:18; 1 Corinthians 11:26).

The practice of the church

From the earliest days of the church, Christians joined regularly to eat the Lord’s Supper. It seems that at first they ate it as part of their ordinary meals, and may even have done so daily (Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46). Later they ate it less frequently, perhaps weekly (Acts 20:7), but the practice of combining it with a common meal continued for some time.

These common meals were called love feasts, and were occasions when the rich could show love and fellowship by sharing food generously with the poor. At Corinth, however, many of the rich greedily ate their own food, without waiting for others to arrive and without sharing it with others. Instead of being a love feast, it was a selfish feast. Instead of being a supper in honour of the Lord, it was very much a supper for themselves (1 Corinthians 11:20-22; cf. Judges 1:12).

Paul reminded the Corinthian church that if Christians make a mockery of the Lord’s Supper through wrong behaviour, they may bring judgment upon themselves. They must therefore examine themselves and correct any wrong attitudes they may have towards the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:27-34).

Far from being a cause of division among Christians, the Lord’s Supper should be something that binds them together. Christians demonstrate their unity in Christ as they share in the same bread and the same wine. They show that they are united with each other and with Christ in one body (1 Corinthians 10:17; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:18-21).

Eating bread and drinking wine together in the Lord’s Supper is more than just a remembrance of Christ’s suffering and death. It is a spiritual sharing together in the body and blood of Christ, a fresh enjoyment of and proclamation of the benefits of his death. It is not a time of mourning, but a time of joyful fellowship with the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:26; cf. John 6:48-51; Acts 2:46-47).

The Lord’s Supper is therefore an important part of worship in the church. It is enriched when fittingly combined with prayers, singing, preaching, the reading of the Scriptures and instruction in Christian teaching (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Colossians 3:16; see WORSHIP).

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Lord's Supper'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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