The Remembrance Supper
R. G. Harrison, New Zealand
Biblical facts, spiritual verities, must be accepted by faith ; but there may be times when some feel the need for some "evidential" assurance as they face fierce sceptical and agnostic criticism in colleges or universities. One such assurance is "Leslie's Four Marks".
The deliverance of Israel from Egypt and the death and resurrection of our Lord are fundamental, basic premises on which the Jewish and Church eras respectively rest. If these cardinal facts are doubtful the whole structure of Scripture collapses, because all Scripture is either the prelude to, or the development or corollary of, these facts. Both events are remembered passionately and regularly, at the "Passover" by the Jews, and at the " Lord's Supper" by Christians.
Evidence of Christianity. A Mr.Leslie many years ago, realizing the "evidential" challenge, wrote a treatise Short and Easy Method with the Deists, which has long been recognized for its unanswerable arguments for the veracity of the Bible. Sir Edward Denny, writer of the hymn "Sweet Feast of Love Divine" (and many others), was so impressed by the cogency of Leslie's work that he reduced it to pamphlet form. Leslie asserts that any "fact" which has the four following "marks" or criteria cannot be false:—
1. That the matter of fact be such as may be judged by men's outward senses, i.e., it is public.
2. That there should be a sufficient number of witnesses to put the matter of fact beyond the possibility of collusion or fraud, i.e., it be well attested.
3. That public memorials be kept up in celebration of it, involving outward actions to be performed, i.e., such as a "recurring Remembrance Supper".
4. That such memorial and such actions be instituted and do commence from the time that the matter of fact occurred, i.e., "the Remembrance Supper" must have commenced at the time of our Lord's death.
The Passover and the Lord's Supper have all these "four marks" of authenticity, the four undeniable proofs of their historicity.
Keeping the Supper. Moving on from the "fact", why do we go to this Sunday morning service ? You say, "To break bread". Correct, but could it be that these words have differing implications and connotations for different folk?
One night after my wife had been hospitalized for a "coronary", she was back home peacefully sleeping, when she was jolted wide awake by my shouting out, "Where are you ?". I gave as my reason that I had put out my hand, thought she was not beside me, and feared she had collapsed with another "coronary". The real reason, of course, was that I was only half awake and was not fully aware of what I was doing. How often in life this is true, "We are not fully aware of what we are doing". This can be the case on a Lord's Day morning.
How it Commenced. The Remembrance Supper was instituted by our Lord at the close of the final Passover Feast which He so intensely desired to celebrate with His disciples before He suffered, Luke 22. 15. The Passover was a ceremony which reminded them all that as the result of the death and blood of another—a lamb—Israel was saved from judgment and emancipated from Egypt. Before the Passover function finished, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave to them saying, "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me". Likewise also the cup about which He said, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you", vv. 19, 20.
Could this possibly be a once-for-all ceremony when the Saviour Himself was present? The word "remembrance" implies a commemoration in the absence of the one remembered; in fact, it could imply the start of recurring ceremonies of remembrance of One who was about to leave them, One who was about to die. This meaning is confirmed by the revelation to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. 25, 26. The Lord said to him, "This cup is the new testament in my blood : this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me". Then Paul adds by the Spirit, "as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come".
Was it Kept ? Did the disciples subsequently honour their Lord's request ? In Acts 20. 6, 7 we find Paul arriving at Troas and remaining seven days until "the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread". Obviously they must have had opportunities during the week "to break bread" for purposes of food and fellowship, but the first day of the week ceremony was something special. The "first day" of course was "the Lord's Day", the day of the Lord's triumph when He rose from the dead— the day after the Sabbath which was the Jews' sacred day. Thus it marked the difference between the Jewish and Christian eras, Matt. 28.1 ; Mark 16. 2; Luke 24. 1 ; John 20. 1.
Even the Roman historian, Pliny the Younger, when he wrote a letter (about A.D. 110) to the Emperor Trajan seeking guidance on how to deal with the growing numbers of "followers of Christ", spoke of the major "hall mark" of the fraternity. He said it was their custom to gather regularly before dawn on "a certain day" to bind themselves to commit no evil conduct, and later in the same day to meet to celebrate "a harmless meal" (A. Miller). Surely this is an unwitting pagan commentary on the dedication of the early Christians to their Lord's request to do this "in remembrance of me".
What was the Meaning ? We
should doubtless seek to find out the full import of this breaking of bread and drinking of the cup. Could these elements of bread and wine have been the actual body and blood of the Lord ? We must answer this, because our Lord said on the night He was betrayed, "This is my body", "This is my blood", Mark 14. 22,24.
An old acquaintance of ours contends that when the invocation has taken place, when the emblems are consecrated by the priest, they become the actual body and blood of the Lord. In fact, he believes the Lord is then present on the altar as a sacrifice efficacious for the pardon of sins of the living and of the dead. Perhaps we are startled by such views, or on the other hand, we may never have given the matter much thought. In either case let us never forget God gives the lie to such assumptions, because when our Lord said, "This is my body". He was actually present at the table. Therefore the bread and wine could not be an "extra-corporeal" part of His body or some "mystical transmutation". What He was saying in fact was that the disciples were handling the vivid symbols of His body and blood, symbols of that dissolution through death, which would take place on the morrow when He would die a vicarious death for them. There at Calvary He was offering that one sacrifice for sins forever. As the writer to the Hebrews says, "after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down", Heb. 10. 12. Surely no truth is more unequivocally stated, "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many", 9.28. "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all", 10. 10.
If like our friend we make the ordinance of the "remembrance supper" every time it is celebrated "a means of grace", we undermine the unique worth of that one efficacious sacrifice at Calvary. The Lord's words are not "do this" for salvation, but "it is finished"—"done is the work that saves, once and forever done". God now looks with perfect satisfaction on His Son seated at His right hand, the One who appeared once in the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, 9, 26.
Is there a Sacrifice to Offer ? But
is there no thought of sacrifice implied in the Remembrance Supper, no sacrifice expected of those who participate ? Certainly there is! Think of the dissertation of our Lord regarding His Person, Work and Words, given at the supper table and afterwards, John 13-17. Let us sense His yearning concern for His disciples, how He longed that they would more fully appreciate the conflict He was facing on their behalf. Yet the little they did sense made their hearts go out to Him, and made them sad and apprehensive. Well might He say, "Let not your heart be troubled". If we catch only the merest echo of that farewell spoken to them, and to us who believe on Him through their word, a responsive sacrifice of praise will arise from our hearts. As Hebrews expresses it, "let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually ... the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name"; then it continues, "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased", Heb. 13. 15, 16.
A sacrifice is something costly. David said, "neither will I offer . . . unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing", 2 Sam. 24. 24. The sacrifice of praise will cost "time" and "time" may cost popularity, progress, promotion. Spiritual things always involve cost in one way or another; but for all it will mean "time" to meditate on the Word of God. Might we suggest that we learn by heart such chapters as Genesis 1, 2, 3, 22, 37; Exodus 12; Psalms 22, 69, 88; Isaiah 53, John 1, 3, 18-21 ; Colossians 1 ; Hebrews 1 ; Revelation 1, 5, etc. As we write them out to learn them, the Spirit of God will flood our hearts; we will be meditating on God's Beloved Son. The sacrifice of praise and worship will flow there and then, and audibly and spontaneously at the Remembrance Supper.
In the words of Frances Ridley Havergal we are challenged :
I gave My life for thee, My precious blood I shed . . .
I suffered much for thee. More than thy tongue can tell...
Great gifts I brought to thee What hast thou brought to Me ?
A Matter of Response. Never treat the Remembrance Supper casually. Israel was told never to appear before God empty, Exod. 23. 15; 34. 20. Surely such a sentiment will strike a responsive chord in our hearts; but there will always be the great divergence between the 50-pence and the 500-pence debtors, Luke 7. 41, 42. May ours be the grateful heart! Remember, if we offer praise glorifying God, we prepare a way for Him to show us His salvation, Psa. 50. 23. Let us all spend time meditating in the Scriptures.
But what about children at the Remembrance Supper ? We know that for those brought up to know the Scriptures, no subject interests them more than the story of the Lord Jesus. They quickly sense reality and sincerity and, although they may not understand the import of much that is said at a worship meeting, they can react to the reverent attitude adopted before our Lord. As a visitor and virtual stranger (especially to the younger folk), we had broken bread in an assembly up the East Coast of the North Island. After partaking of the emblems we then spoke briefly regarding the Lord. Sitting opposite with her parents, was a tiny two-year-old girl, all attention. As soon as the meeting finished she walked round the table to us, and raising her pretty little face, waited to be kissed. Explain it as you will, we felt at the time and still believe, it was the child's reaction to words spoken about One whom she loved in her childlike way, and knew as "A Friend for little children".
The Father's Desire. Truly all hearts, young and old, should be moved at the Remembrance Supper. Thanksgiving, praise and worship will then flow unhindered, both audibly and in silence, John 4. 23.
Concluded from page 62
the need for repentance, the death and shedding of blood of the Lord Jesus, His resurrection, faith, forgiveness of sins, must be preached and stressed, as must the new birth.
Oh that God may help us, and enable us to recover the vision, so that we, as local assemblies, do not perish by being unuseable in the divine hands.