The New Covenant Supper

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on January 5, 2020.

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:22-26).

On this first Sabbath of January, the first Sunday on which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, I want to begin this new calendar year with an emphasis on the significance of this sacrament of the Church. The Lord’s Supper is referenced in at least five ways in the pages of our New Testament. In Acts, it is called “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, 20:7). In 1 Corinthians, it is called “the Lord’s Table” (1 Cor. 10:21), “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), and “fellowship,” “participation in,” or “communion,” specifically in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17). And in our passage today in Mark (as well as Matthew, Luke, and 1 Corinthians), we read that our Lord “gave thanks” for the supper, using the Greek word eucharisteo, from which we get the liturgical term “Eucharist.” All of these terms refer to one and the same sacrament but with varying emphasis.

Just as the Lord’s Supper may be referenced in different ways, it is also a sacrament of varying theological themes. Many of the themes, more or less, are referenced every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but today I want to highlight four: The Lord’s Supper is a meal of continuity, a meal of atonement, a meal of fellowship, and a meal of proclamation. As such, it is the New Covenant Supper.

A Supper of Continuity

As prepared, the Lord Jesus celebrated some form of the Old Covenant Passover meal with his disciples on the night when he was betrayed by Judas. The Passover meal was instituted at the exodus of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. As instructed by God through Moses and Aaron, every household would take a lamb, a lamb “without blemish, a male a year old,” (Ex. 12:6) to be held four days and then killed at twilight. On that first Passover, the blood of that lamb was painted upon the door posts and lintel of each house, a sign and seal protecting Jacob’s offspring from the plague of death of the firstborn child.

Within each home the lamb would be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Even their attire and manner of eating was important: “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover” (Ex. 12:11). Anything left would be burned as Israel prepared for its exodus.

This meal, however, was not to be celebrated once but was to serve as a “memorial day,” to be kept for generations, a statute forever, (Ex. 12:14). Established as part of an extended celebration, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover would continue as the pinnacle of the Jewish festivals. So, Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover on the night of his betrayal as recorded. Not only would it be Jesus’ last meal before his crucifixion, it would also be the last Passover meal of the Old Covenant. But it was not in the upper room that the last Passover lamb was slaughtered.

It was upon the cross that the Passover lamb of God, without blemish of sin in himself, was sacrificed. His body was the perfect sacrifice, and his blood was painted upon the door posts and lintel of every heart of God’s elect through faith. While the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the upper room, it was upon the cross that the Lord’s Supper superseded the Passover as the covenant meal of God’s people.

Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is a meal of continuity, pointing all the way back to Israel’s redemption from Egypt and pointing to the climax of our redemption, the cross of Christ. As Jesus taught his disciples the continuity of the Passover in his body and blood, so also we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, a perpetual remembrance of the Covenant of Grace.

But why the unleavened bread and wine only? What is the significance of these simple two elements in this supper? In the bread and wine we see the picture of the atoning work of Christ upon the cross.

A Supper of Atonement

This is not to say that our sin is atoned for every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He who was sacrificed once for sin cannot be re-sacrificed, as if he could go to the cross again. But each time we celebrate the sacrament we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 12:26), and by “the Lord’s death” the apostle means its atoning significance.

Remember back with me to Israel’s assembly at the base of Mount Sinai, God’s covenant people assembled to receive his law. Moses sacrificed the animals for the burnt and fellowship offerings. He sprinkled blood from the sacrifices upon the altar. He read the book of the covenant to the people. And then, he took blood and sprinkled it upon the people saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant…” (Ex. 24:8). After this startling event, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain, and there “they beheld God, and ate and drank” (Ex. 24:11). Sprinkled by the atoning blood of sacrifice, they enjoyed a fellowship meal in the presence of their God.

Similarly, as the Lord Jesus and his disciples were eating, “he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’” Christ could point to himself as the perfect sacrifice, because of his perfect obedience. Unlike Adam who disobeyed God breaking covenant with God, Christ, the second Adam, obeyed God in every respect. In both his active and passive obedience, Christ could point to his sinless body represented in the unleavened bread.

But it is not just his body pictured in the sacrament but his body broken and bleeding. The Old Covenant sacrifices gave a picture of atonement, in which an animal was sacrificed for the sin of the guilty. Such sacrifices were vivid but lacking the perfection of a final sacrifice in whom was no sin, the unleavened bread of life. From his body poured his blood upon the altar of the cross yet sprinkled upon his people as the blood of the covenant. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is a supper of atonement, a representation of the atoning work of the Lamb of God.

A Supper of Fellowship

The Lord’s Supper is known by many as “communion,” a word used often but perhaps not fully understood. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, the Apostle Paul comments on the sacrament, asking rhetorically, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The word translated “participation in” is the Greek word koinonia, often translated “fellowship,” or as it is used here “communion.” The implication is that the sacrament represents and spiritually cultivates our union with Christ and one another as the body of Christ.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and by faith we enjoy communion with Christ as he is spiritually present in the bread and wine, “really and truly” (WCF 29.7). As a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace, the sacrament is a fellowship meal in, with, and through the Spirit of Christ. His presence is not in his memory but in his reality. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48), and we feed on him not magically nor fleshly but spiritually in communion with Him by his Spirit. Likewise, we drink his blood (John 6:53), not fleshly or magically but spiritually in communion with him by his Spirit.

In our communion with Christ by his Spirit, we also enjoy communion with one another, a fellowship of the church. The Lord’s Supper is not an individual meal to be eaten in isolation but is a family meal to be eaten in fellowship with one another. Just as we are nourished on the body and blood of Christ unto eternal life, so our fellowship with one another is blessed through our union with Christ in the supper. For we are “members of his body” (Eph. 5:30), a mystery of communion yet no less real.

Calvin explains this mysterious union, symbolized in the bread this way: “for as the bread is made up of many grains of wheat, which are so mixed and mingled that one cannot be distinguished or separated from another, so also there should be such harmony of wills knitting and joining us together that there is neither dissension nor division. …So all we who share in the one bread are one body.”[1] Therefore, we fellowship with Christ in the sacrament and in him so also one another, his body. It was for good reason that Augustine referred to the Lord’s Supper as “a bond of love.”[2]

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 Edition, trans. Robert White (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 644.

[2] Ibid., 645.

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