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Some thoughts on the Lord’s Supper
Of all the things we do in a church meeting, few things are more distinctively Christian or more notoriously controversial than the Lord’s Supper. Non believers are not permitted to take part and believers (such as Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley) have gone to the stake over their understanding of it. The reason for that is because your understanding of the Lord’s Supper affects your understanding of salvation. So what exactly is happening when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
There are a variety of opinions on this. At one end of the scale, the Roman Catholic Church says Christ is being sacrificed during this process. However, the apostle Peter, whom the Roman Catholic Church considers to be the first pope, refutes this idea in 1 Peter 2:24 and 3:18. At the other end of the scale, Ulrich Zwingli argues we are simply remembering what Christ has done for us. Just as rosemary is worn on to remind us of the sacrifice of our dead in war, so bread and wine is served to remind us of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.
Few Protestant Christians would disagree with this view. In my experience, most of them agree with Zwingli in practice, even if they do not know his name. But, traditionally, Anglicans have argued Zwingli does not go far enough. The Lord’s Supper may be a remembrance of Christ’s death, but it is more than that. As Paul argues in 1 Corinthians10:16, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” Clearly something more is going on.
The key word is participation. It can mean a variety of things: to share in, possess or enjoy something. In the context of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul was concerned that Christians were taking part in meals that acted as sacrifices to pagan gods. His argument was it was impossible to act as a neutral participant in these meals. ‘Partaking of anything offered to a deity makes them accessories to the sacrificial act and creates solidarity with the honoured deity…1Participating in the Lord’s Supper does the same thing. It creates solidarity with Christ as well as fellowship with each other.
Therefore, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are not simply remembering the sacrifice of Christ – though we are certainly doing that – we are sharing the benefits of his sacrifice. We are strengthening our relationship with him and each other and we can only do that because Christ has died for us, conquering death and defeating sin, so that we could be reconciled to God. We thank Christ and praise him for what he has done when we share in his supper – and we enhance our relationship with him on the way.
1 Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; Baker Academic; Grand Rapids: 2007) p477.
Your brother in Christ , Paul Brigden