I once read a book about how to read good literature. The author made a clear assertion. He said a meal is never just a meal. Now, I am not a lit scholar. I don’t want to argue for the veracity or falsity of his claim. But I would say that the Lord’s Supper is never just a meal. The Lord’s Supper may be a small piece of bread and a little taste of wine but it is a theological feast meant to feed weary travelers not with a substantial eating but an eating done in faith. But this is not to say that the Lord’s Supper is a cognitive event. It is. But it is more than that.
But before saying what that more is let me remind you of the theological purpose of the meal. In Matthew 26:27 it says about Jesus, “And when he had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Here the basic theological categories are all present. We have Jesus, the substitute who will take and drink the cup of God’s wrath on behalf of his people now offering those same people to drink from the cup of blessing. To put it differently, the cup offered by the Father, the cup he would drink upon the cross is full of fiery indignation and is the exact payment for sin owed to an infinite God. Jesus drank from that cup for his people. But the cup offered by Christ in communion is the cup of his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sin. The supper is theologically rich.
Now, having thought about the theological let’s think about the experiential. There is something important I want you to notice. It’s in Luke’s Gospel chapter 22. There in verse 17, Jesus took a cup and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves...” In other words, take this cup, drink and then pass it to your brother. Do you see the implications? When you take and drink from the Lord’s cup of forgiveness and then turn and pass it along you are saying, “Take this brother. This is the gospel. Receive the Lord’s forgiveness.” That’s wonderful. But we are saying more than that.
If we let the Scriptures inform us then we should know that God says in his word, forgive one another as the Lord forgave you. And if that’s the case then the implication is clear. When we pass the cup we are also saying, “Brother, I forgive you.” And when a church understands that it is hard to see how there can be any animosity, any strife, jealousy and backbiting, at least for very long.
Thus, when we think about working hard against the destruction of relationships in our congregations a good place to start is with the Gospel preached and with the Gospel visible in the Lord’s Supper. And when this supper is explained to the people of God the Spirit of God will do his work among us. I remember several years ago explaining this very thing to my congregation just before the Lord’s Supper. A father approached me after the service and told me a story. He said that two of his children were fighting in the back of the van on the way to church that night. But when the elements were passed that evening the children had tears streaming down their faces. They understood what it meant to pass the cup of forgiveness to one another. Do we? Let me put it another way, do we understand that the Lord’s Supper is never just a meal?
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor for Place for Truth.
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