Jesus' Memorial Meal
Please read Luke 22:14-20 in your favorite Bible, then read this article.
As we will see this morning, the Lord’s Supper is a moving memorial to our Lord Jesus Christ. However, that does not guarantee that there won’t be moments of levity when you combine a tiny piece of bread, a thimbleful of juice, and children.
For instance, one young man received the bread but made a face after he began to chew it. “My Jesus tastes STALE!” he complained.
Another story is told of the young boy who hurriedly drank ten or more cups of grape juice when the tray was passed to him. His poor mother’s embarrassment was multiplied when they had to stop the service to prepare more cups so that everyone might be served!
Amusements and distractions aside, the Lord’s Supper is an important part of Church life. An obvious but overlooked fact about the Lord’s Supper is that Jesus instituted it to be a Memorial Meal. It is said repeatedly that we are to do it IN REMEMBRANCE of Jesus. This makes it a perfect subject for Memorial Sunday, or, as we have chosen to name it, “Church Heritage Sunday.”
Another aspect of that first Lord’s Supper was that it came as something of a surprise to Jesus’ disciples. They had gathered expecting to observe the Passover, and suddenly Jesus was using parts of the tradition in an entirely new way. The reason He gave for this new meaning and function referenced His death. And although Jesus had warned them about His impending suffering and death, it was nothing the disciples wanted to hear.
As I studied this week, I have been impressed anew at the historical importance of this event. It marks a special, pivotal moment of our faith-history when Jesus began to care for His followers to prepare them for His physical absence. He had the Church on His mind as he passed the cup and broke the bread.
I am also impressed with the spiritual power of the Lord’s Supper. The BREAD and the CUP are symbols, but they are more than that as well. We call this service of worship “Communion” because there is a spiritual kinship between us and with Christ. This is a significant spiritual experience for all who have faith to sense it.
Jesus commanded us to remember Him with the bread and the cup.
1. Jesus set up that Passover meal to be a memorial meal. (14-16)
Verses seven through thirteen set the scene: An UPPER ROOM was prepared for Jesus and His disciples. Verse fourteen is the start of the meal itself. Two details are given here to show us that the meal began as expected: in the traditional way.
- WHEN THE HOUR CAME = the traditional time (sundown) arrived.
- They were RECLINED AT THE TABLE. In that culture, people laid sideways on the floor to eat off a low table.
However, on this night there would be surprises. The first surprise is found only in Luke’s version: Jesus held this first-ever Lord’s Supper BEFORE the Passover meal, not afterward as Matthew and Mark tell it.
Verse fifteen reveals the mind of Jesus: He was EAGER to share the meal with them. In a way typical to His culture, Jesus worded this in an emphatic way that doesn’t appear in English translations: He said, “with desire I have desired.”
This emphasis is an insight to the human side of Jesus’ nature. First, His love for the disciples: Jesus and these men had spent three years together, day and night. Second, His natural, sentimental feelings about this being their last meal together. This is also a clue that what is happening has immense significance, and that Jesus has been thinking about it/planning for it for a long time.
The meal was also a prelude to His suffering. Following this meal lay a brief interlude in the garden, then His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Jesus felt natural human emotions about the sacrifice that lay ahead. Later in this chapter Luke will record Jesus’ struggle to accept this outcome.
Verse sixteen revealed the future = “I WILL NOT EAT IT AGAIN UNTIL IT FINDS FULFILLMENT IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” The Kingdom of God will not be fulfilled until the Second Coming. This fact fits with Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians 11:26; we are to observe the Lord’s Supper UNTIL HE COMES.
2. The meal has spiritual symbolism. (17-20)
(Jesus’ use of symbols was typical in His culture. He did not intend any of these associations of Himself with the BREAD and the CUP to be taken literally or explained physically.)
The cup is a forward-looking, hopeful symbol, looking ahead to the Second Coming. (17-18, 20) One general characteristic of Luke’s gospel is its orientation toward the future. Interestingly, Luke has a CUP both precede and follow the BREAD. There are two cups: one in v. 17 and another in v. 20. There is no reliable way for us to associate these cups with the four cups of diluted red wine traditionally drunk during the Passover meal. That is okay as this was a new ceremony, associated with the New Covenant, made possible by the shed BLOOD of Jesus.
With the first CUP, Jesus had the disciples DIVIDE the remaining wine between them; He did not share it with them and explained why. The second cup is the opposite: it’s meaning was explained without any description of its use.
The bread is a backward-looking historical symbol: a remembrance of Jesus. (19) Jesus did not share the bread with them either. He GAVE IT TO THEM. In the Passover meal the unleavened bread symbolized the Hebrew slaves’ hasty departure from Egypt.
The word for GAVE THANKS is eucharisteo, which is the origin of the name our Catholic friends use for the Lord’s Supper, calling it “The Eucharist.”
He explained it was a symbol of His body and that both the bread and cup were in REMEMBRANCE of Him. Luke is the only Evangelist who has this command. Paul picked it up in his instructions regarding communion (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Today, on Memorial Day, do we need to explain the importance of remembering? It is Jesus’ command that His people look back to His sacrifice and ahead to His Second Coming in sharing the bread and cup. The method and the frequency of the sharing are unimportant. What matters is the reasons we have for sharing them.
The offering of Jesus’ BLOOD on the cross completed the Old Covenant. That is how He can say His BLOOD is the NEW COVENANT. In the Old Testament, the blood of the sacrifice was spattered on the people and on the holy objects of the temple to consecrate both. Jesus’ BLOOD would not be used in that way, but it had the same effect, nonetheless.
Jesus commanded us to remember Him with the bread and the cup.
1 Corinthians 10:16 calls this meal our PARTICIPATION in the BODY OF CHRIST. This means the meal has a spiritual significance that is more than an exercise of memory and a renewal of hope. It is a vital connection with Jesus; a communion with Him and with one another that transcends the consumption of the elements.
In Luke’s account, Jesus said the BREAD was His body, GIVEN FOR YOU. The CUP, He said, was His blood, POURED OUT FOR YOU. We can safely say that while Jesus is the object of this ceremony, we are the beneficiaries. It was for our sake that Jesus instituted this Communion service.
This means, most importantly, that we are responsible to observe it. It is a gift to us that requires regular use. It is a command we are to obey. Jesus left it to us to decide how we will observe it and how often we will observe it, but the observance of communion is mandatory.
Being the recipients is also a blessing for us. Remembering Jesus keeps Him at the center of our lives, as churches and as individuals.
Because something deeply spiritual happens when God’s people celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is a blessing and an encouragement to His people an important part of our walk of faith.
Zondervan Bible Commentary (One-Volume Illustrated Edition),
Luke, Laurence E. Porter
Hard Sayings of Jesus, F.F. Bruce
The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Luke, Darrell L. Bock
One Perfect Life, John MacArthur
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Luke, Walter L. Liefield