No doubt we are all very familiar with the passage in 1st Corinthians 11: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NIV)
The problem is those words are so familiar to us that we, unfortunately, sometimes pass right over them without understanding their meaning. For example, has it ever struck you as a bit odd that Jesus would command us to remember something which we did not experience? If I were to say to you, “Remember our trip to Hong Kong?” How, could you, if you were not on the trip? How can we remember Jesus when we haven’t seen Him; how can we remember the Last Supper since we weren’t there?
The key is to understand that for the Jewish people remembering meant something much more than merely recalling to mind. In his book, The Power of the Blood Covenant, Malcolm Smith describes it this way: “To remember meant to re-create the past event, bringing it into the present moment by reenacting it, employing rituals and symbols to do so. ...to remember meant that the persons remembering totally identified with and participated in all the powers and effects of the original event. Every year the people of God in the Old Testament “remembered” their deliverance from Egypt in exactly this fashion, reenacting it in the Passover meal.” (Malcolm Smith, The Power of the Blood Covenant, Harrison House Publisher, Tulsa, OK, 2002, p. 163)
That is the kind of remembering Jesus wants us to do. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are supposed to be reenacting the Passover meal Christ ate with His disciples.
Another thing we tend to skip over is that word ‘covenant.’ Jesus said that the cup is a New Covenant in His blood. But what is a covenant? We don’t have time to do the subject justice, but I will briefly mention a few of the characteristics of covenant.
Our society and culture trains us to think in terms of contracts. Contracts are based on self-interest. For example, if I offer someone a contract to paint my house, I’ll try to negotiate the best service I can get at the least cost to me.
In contrast, covenants always keep the benefit of the other person in view. For example, when we enter into a marriage covenant, it is supposed to be for the benefit of our spouse. Our culture tells us the lie that marriage is a 50/50 arrangement. In reality, it is supposed to 100%/100%. Think about the implications. If spouses would learn to always think and act in the best interests of their marriage partners, there would never be any divorce. By entering into covenant with us, Jesus pledges Himself 100% to our good and wellbeing.
Another characteristic of covenant is that it always involves a vow or a pledge. In Bible times, when people entered into covenant, they would sacrifice an animal. Then they would split the carcass down the middle and walk between the pieces. What they were saying was, “If I fail to keep this covenant, may what was done to this animal be done to me.” In others words, when you entered into covenant with someone you pledged to fulfill the terms of the covenant with your life. That’s exactly what Jesus has done for us.
Entering into covenant also involved eating a meal. They would cook the animal they had sacrificed and eat it together. This type of sharing or communion demonstrated that there was peace between the people in the covenant, and that they were united.
Another aspect of covenant is an obligation to help the other person keep the covenant. If it looked like a covenant partner was having trouble meeting the conditions or terms of the covenant, the other partner would step in and do everything he could to help him keep from defaulting on it. In the New Testament, this help in keeping covenant is called ‘grace.’ For example, Paul writes in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (NIV) It is God’s grace which helps us keep our covenant relationship with Him.
Let’s bring all of this together. Jesus and His disciples ate a meal together in which they reenacted the Jewish people’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery in the Passover. During the meal Jesus instituted a New Covenant through which we are delivered from the slavery of sin. In this covenant meal He was calling His disciples into peace and unity, both with God and with one another.
He took bread, and called it His body. He broke it. And, by doing so, He was making the pledge of the covenant by metaphorically walking between the pieces. He took a cup and identified it with the covenant sacrifice.
Each Lord’s Day we reenact the covenant. As we eat the bread, we renew the covenant pledge. As we drink the cup, we accept the covenant sacrifice. It follows that if you are not in the New Covenant, this is not for you.
By eating this meal together, we are declaring that we are united and at peace with each other. If that is not true – if you are not at peace with someone in the body; if you are divided from a fellow believer in Christ – then as you partake, pledge to get the problem resolved so that the declaration of unity will be reality.
There are some who say that they are not worthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper. They’ve messed up in the previous week. They haven’t done very well in keeping the covenant. My friend, we never were worth. We’re not in the New Covenant because of our goodness, but because of God’s goodness! We haven’t kept the covenant during the last week? That’s precisely why we need grace. That’s why we need to renew the covenant pledge today.