The synoptic Gospels record the Lord’s institution of “the Lord’s supper”, which followed the celebration of the passover feast with His disciples, of which His death was the great antitype, John 19. 36; 1 Cor. 5. 7. “The Lord’s supper” likewise celebrates His death, for by it we “proclaim the Lord’s death till he come”. Paul “received” the truth of “the Lord’s supper” by revelation from the Lord, as he wrote “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you”, 1 Cor. 11. 23, doubtless to put on record for all time its true nature, purpose and prospect. Having regard to the many deviations which have since arisen in its practice, the Lord’s wisdom in granting such a revelation to Paul to preserve its truth can only excite our wonder and praise.
In Paul’s communication of that truth to the Corinthians, it was meant to correct their misapprehensions of its nature and purpose, and so to bring about its proper observance by them. The manner of their observance of the supper was such that Paul wrote, “When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper,” 1 Cor. 11. 20 R.V. Although they were “together” as of physical presence, they were divided,”, hear that divisions exist among you”, v. 18 R.V. Such divisiveness, to which the apostle had previously called their attention in 1. 10, was shown in the fact that in their celebration of the supper they had not waited “one for another”, 11. 33, and some were “hungry” and others were “drunken”, v.21. Their conduct showed that they had moved away from that which marked the early church, when they “had all things common”, Acts 2. 44; 4. 32. Those who were affluent were replete with food and drink, while others who were poor, were hungry when the celebration of the supper moved to its climax. Such a celebration had degenerated into partaking of a common meal, in which social distinctions were evident,” that they which are approved may be made manifest among you,” v.19 R.V. Some had “houses to eat and to drink in” and others had not, v.22. Those who had houses had better “eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgement”, v. 34 R.V.
It was therefore necessary that Paul reaffirm the nature of the Lord’s institution of the supper, even as the Lord Himself reaffirmed the nature of the institution of marriage in order to correct prevalent misconceptions concerning divorce, Matt. 19. 3-8. Paul showed the supper to have solemn, if also blessed, overtones. It concerned the Lord’s betrayal on that fateful “night”, His body, His shed blood, His shameful “death”. These were not subjects for gluttony or drunkenness, but for solemn remembrance, “this do in remembrance of me”, vv. 24, 25. The manner of their celebration of the supper was “unworthy” of it, and made them “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”, v. 27, and therefore amenable to God’s judgment in this life, by sickness and even death, vv. 29-32.
The Lord’s supper is a memorial feast, for it is “in remembrance of me”. It therefore looks back to the time of His passion:
Our souls look back to see
The burden Thou didst bear,
When made a curse upon the tree
For all our guilt was there.
The feast also looks forward “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come”, v. 26 R.V. Every celebration of the supper is a milestone on the way to His coming; it is only “til, he come”. Then He will celebrate it new with us in His Father’s kingdom, Matt. 26. 29. Thus the Lord’s supper is at once retrospective and prospective—“That darkest and that brightest day meeting before our sight”.
It is also a proclamation, “ye proclaim the Lord’s death”. “Proclaim” is the word used for preaching, in such scriptures as Acts 4. 2; 13. 5, 38; 15. 36; 17. 3, 13, etc. The well known hymn stresses this aspect of the feast:
No gospel like this feast,
Spread for Thy church by Thee,
No prophets nor evangelists
Preach the glad news more free.
It proclaims the Lord’s death to God, to angels and demons, to those who may witness the supper and to those who partake of it.
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