28 March 2017

1 Corinthians 11:23-29

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (v. 26)

Psalm: Psalm 127


This is the earliest account we have of the familiar words and actions of the Lord's supper, as Paul wrote his letters before the Gospels were completed. His description fits closely with the other early accounts of the worship, and together they reflect the tradition which the church collectively received "from the Lord" (v. 23) and handed on to following generations.

Bread and wine were staples in Jesus' society, the food of ordinary people - bread because it was easy to make from the wheat which grows well in that climate, wine because it is much safer to drink than disease-bearing water. Jesus chose the most ordinary resources to give expression to the faith he wanted to share with his disciples.

The series of actions which Jesus undertook are described in every New Testament account of the Lord's Supper: taking, giving thanks, breaking and sharing (and the story of the sharing of the loaves and fishes includes the same actions: Mark 6:41). The Greek word for 'giving thanks', 'eucharistesas', gives us the word Eucharist, which some churches use for this sacrament.

Jesus' words identify a range of meanings for the Lord's Supper. It is about his sacrifice - "my body that is for you" (v. 24). It gives us a way to remember him, with a strong awareness of the power of memory to recreate circumstances and events. It enables us to be in covenant relationship with God, a covenant sealed with blood like God's covenant with Moses (Exodus 24:6). Drawing on the tradition of the Jewish Passover, Jesus offers his disciples a resource for finding deliverance and salvation.

Paul ends his account of the Lord's Supper by highlighting its mission focus: we "proclaim the Lord's death", speaking the story out loud. The meal is not a secret gathering of a chosen few, but an event which regularly and publicly recalls the horrific crucifixion of Jesus and presents it as our route to salvation.

To Ponder

  • What ordinary things in your context connect you with God's holiness?
  • John and Charles Wesley saw the Lord's Supper as a 'converting ordinance' through which people could be led to faith. On the basis of your experience of this sacrament, would you agree that it can help people come to faith? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.