The Lord's Supper (Holy Communion)
In the night before the Lord Jesus was delivered up to be crucified He celebrated the Passover with His disciples. It is often referred to as the Last Supper. During this meal He introduced something new that the disciples were to do so that they would remember Him. It was very simple involving only a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. The bread symbolised His body given for us and the wine represented His blood poured out for us. In the early Acts it seems to have been celebrated regularly. This may be known as the Breaking of Bread, the Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.
Why should we participate in the Lord's Supper?
Below are the verses that refer to the Lord’s desire for us to remember Him in this way. Primarily, we break bread because the Lord asked us to remember Him in this way and we want to do what pleases Him. Apart from baptism, this is the only sacrament that the Lord has asked us to keep. It is very simple and uses items that are readily available to many. It is an act in which anyone, regardless of disability or state of health, will be able to participate.
“And as they were eating, Jesus, having taken the bread and blessed, broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And having taken the cup and given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. For this is my blood, that of the new covenant, that shed for many for remission of sins.” (Matthew 26v26-28).
“And as they were eating, Jesus, having taken bread, when he had blessed, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, Take this: this is my body. And having taken the cup, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank out of it. And he said to them, This is my blood, that of the new covenant, that shed for many.” (Mark 14v22-24).
“And having taken a loaf, when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22v19-20).
“For I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was delivered up, took bread, and having given thanks broke it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye announce the death of the Lord, until he come.” (1 Corinthians 11v23-26).
How often should we break the bread/take Communion?
“And it came to pass as he was at table with them, having taken the bread, he blessed, and having broken it, gave it to them” (Luke 24v30). The two at Emmaus are brought to remembrance of the Lord by His breaking bread.
“And they related what had happened on the way, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread”. (Luke 24v35).
“And they persevered in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2v42) OR “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (KJV)
“And every day, being constantly in the temple with one accord, and breaking bread in [the] house, they received their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2v46). Did they break bread daily?
And the first day of the week, we being assembled to break bread, Paul discoursed to them.” ...“And having gone up, and having broken the bread, and eaten, and having long spoken until daybreak, so he went away”. (Acts 20:7&11). They certainly were breaking bread on the first day of the week. It was the purpose of their gathering together.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of the Christ? Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf”. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
“For first, when ye come together in assembly, I hear there exist divisions among you, and I partly give credit to it. For there must also be sects among you, that the approved may become manifest among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). They obviously came together for the breaking of bread despite corrupting it and making it a ‘glory feast’.
“For I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was delivered up, took bread, and having given thanks broke it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also he cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye announce the death of the Lord, until he come.” (1 Corinthians 11: 23-33). It is a continual event that we are to keep doing to keep the Lord in remembrance with the ever apparent hope of his coming before us. It is a remembrance that is only needed until we enter his very presence.
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom is with some; but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25).
These scriptures show clearly that the ‘breaking of bread’ was to be a continual remembrance and that the early church remembered the Lord in this way regularly. Acts 20:7 seems to imply that being assembled together to break bread on the first day of the week was normal. Certainly it is clear that the early Church regarded the breaking of bread as the reason for their being together even when, in the case of Corinth, they weren’t doing it in the right spirit.
It is the closest expression of fellowship between believers ...
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of the Christ? Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf”. (1 Corinthians 10v16-17).
In Corinth there were a lot of things that weren’t quite right in the assembly there and Paul had to write the Epistles to the Corinthians to help them. One thing that was evident was that there were sects and groups forming within the church that was causing division and strife. These groups were forming around adherence to the teaching of leaders but Paul was reminding them that the thing that is to draw believers in one, united church was not a leader or doctrine but the Lord's Supper/breaking of bread/communion. It is only there that we remember the Lord and realise that He alone is the centre of every Christian gathering.
There was a serious sin being committed by one brother in the church at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 5). Many of the brethren there ignored it, implying that it had nothing to do with them, but others were so concerned that they went to Paul asking him what he thought they should do about it. Paul reminds the Corinthian church that if they are breaking the bread with a brother or sister then they are united with them. Therefore, they were to take responsibility for dealing with something so serious because if it remained then it might discourage the Lord’s people or put people off coming to the Lord. Paul advised them that as the sin was so serious and the brother was unrepentant of it that the Corinthians should expel him from their fellowship completely. This must have been executed in a loving spirit for it had the desired effect and in 2 Corinthians 2 Paul replies to their concern about the fact that that the brother had repented and whether they should accept him back into communion with them again. Paul says they should bring the brother back at once and confirm to him their love for him.
This was a difficult situation but it demonstrates that no Christian can ignore who they break bread/take communion with. They were not simply individuals remembering the Lord but were a united church/assembly when they break bread and drink of the cup of blessing. They were to take responsibility for maintaining a testimony that is commensurate with the Lord’s present glory.
Many places have substituted this for a ‘church membership’ but it is clear in this verse (and implied in others) that the Lord' Supper/Breaking of Bread is the closest and highest form of fellowship two Christians can have with each other because it is the remembrance of our mutual Lord Jesus and a clear demonstration of his ‘body’ (the Church) on earth awaiting His return.
Who is intended to partake in the Lord's Supper?
“And having taken the cup and given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it.” (Matthew 26v27).
“He gave it to them, and they all drank out of it.” (Mark 14v23).
The breaking of bread is to be enjoyed by Christians. If you look at John 13v27 and Mark 14v20 it is obvious that the Breaking of Bread was introduced by the Lord after Judas had left. It was to be enjoyed by those who loved the Lord.
“Be not diversely yoked with unbelievers; for what participation is there between righteousness and lawlessness? or what fellowship of light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6 v14).
This is one of a few scriptures that demonstrates quite clearly that believers are not to be connected in partnerships with unbelievers. Therefore, the breaking of bread is to be exclusively for people who have believed and trusted in the Lord Jesus.
Therefore the ‘breaking of bread’ is a communion, set on by the Lord Jesus himself so that his own might remember Him regularly. It is a simple symbol enabling almost every brother or sister in Christ to join in no matter if even they have some disability, blindness, deafness, dumbness and so on. It is a physical act with spiritual meaning. Those who break bread must be believers and not unbelievers. In other words they are members of “the body of Christ”, the Assembly, the Church, the Bride of Christ; redeemed and bought by His blood.
Proving ourselves: The need for self-judgement
One final, but important thought on the breaking of bread comes from 1 Corinthians 11:27-29:
“So that whosoever shall eat the bread, or drink the cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty in respect of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and thus eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. For the eater and drinker eats and drinks judgment to himself, not distinguishing the body”.
We should remember the Lord at the Lord's Supper in a spirit of self-judgement. We have to “prove ourselves” which means that we need to be mindful of our place as a sinner saved by grace. We should seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our failings and set right anything we may have realised that was done wrong to others. This doesn’t mean that we don’t break bread but we are to judge ourselves before we eat. We need to really consider ourselves before we come to the ‘breaking of bread’. Are we really valuing what the Church means to Christ? Have we left anything unresolved that might mar its purity and preciousness in our hearts? Have we said or done something that needs to be prayed about and for which forgiveness must be sought before we take part, for without doing this we are “not distinguishing the body” as something precious and valuable. We shouldn’t just turn up but also enjoy our link with the Lord Himself. We must make sure we are not bringing anything unjudged to the remembrance of the Lord (and thus affecting the ‘body’ and local assembly/church of believers) without first seeking forgiveness and dealing with it.