The Blessing of Body and Blood
Four years ago, Kristi Northup posted a blog entitled, “How Receiving Communion Every Week Has Changed Me - This act of worship brought me closer to Jesus.” Kristi is executive pastor and worship leader at Saints Community Church (Assemblies of God) in New Orleans, LA.
In this blog, she recounted how she and others started this church. Because the neighborhood was predominantly Catholic, they designed a worship experience that would seem familiar to them. An aspect of that design was the decision to hold the Lord’s Supper at every weekly worship service.
Like many of us, Kristi did not grow up in a church with that practice. Her prior experience of the Lord’s Supper was monthly, and even intermittently, whenever the worship leadership felt like it.
As I’ve heard people say many times, Kristi feared that a weekly experience of the Lord’s Supper/Communion would somehow dilute its value. Here is the testimony of what actually happened.
“When I started receiving communion more regularly, I began to have a number of meaningful experiences. First, I became more aware of my own sin. This was different than my devotional time. It was a quiet moment when I specifically asked the Lord to reveal whether there was anything standing between us. I’ve been a little surprised at how many times the Lord has spoken to me then and there.
“In time, I began to understand the suffering of Christ more deeply. Reflecting on His death every seven days, I’ve realized things I had never fully understood about the cross.
“At some point, I began to see with spiritual eyes those across the world receiving communion. It gives me a sense of solidarity knowing that on this Lord’s day, millions of believers are remembering His life, death and resurrection through the cup and the bread.
“More than anything, communion has taught me to submit whatever I am facing to the Cross. I want to respond in the way that Christ responded on the cross. It has made me a better Christian. It has drawn me closer to Jesus.
“Occasionally, someone will ask me, ‘Doesn’t it get old, doing communion every week?’ My response is always the same: ‘It absolutely never gets old.’”
I don’t share this pastor’s perspective to advocate for a change in our practice of communion, only to explain why we’re taking a Sunday to emphasize Communion and to illustrate its meaning with this one person’s experience.
CONTEXT – The Last Supper Jesus shared with His disciples occurred on the FIRST DAY OF THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD (17). That day was reserved for preparations for the Passover meal, one of the most important feast days in the Jewish faith. Because of they were required to remove all trace of leaven to be removed from their homes, the Passover also came to be known as the “Feast of the Unleavened Bread.” (Exodus 12:1-20; Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 9:1-14; 28:17; Deuteronomy 16:1-8.) It’s important to note that the current Jewish observance of the Passover was first laid down in the second century. We have no records of the ritual from the time of Christ.
Jesus explained the New Covenant with a new use of some elements of the Passover.
1. The bread took on a new symbolism. (26)
In the celebration of the Passover, the bread (“matzah”) is unleavened to symbolize the oppressiveness of their slavery and remind them of the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt (they couldn’t wait for bread to rise).
Jesus made the bread a symbol of His BODY, an offering for sin. AS THEY WERE EATING, presumably between supper and the third cup. He BLESSED it. This may’ve been the traditional blessing, or a new blessing Jesus created for this occasion. The method of blessing the bread and then distributing it to all the diners was symbolic. The bread symbolized God’s blessing, obtained by the person praying, then shared with the persons he served. He GAVE IT TO THE DISCIPLES. In the modern tradition of Seder, the blessing and distribution of the bread follows the second cup and precedes supper.
2. The cup took on a new symbolism. (27-28)
In the celebration of the Passover, the four cups of wine symbolize four promises of salvation made in Exodus 6:6-7.
- Salvation from harsh labor.
- Salvation from slavery.
- Salvation from Egypt. The parting of the Red Sea, the Egyptian army destroyed.
- Becoming a nation at Sinai.
Christian tradition holds that Jesus used the traditional third cup as the occasion for His own use of the bread and cup. Jesus made the cup a symbol of His BLOOD, which created a NEW COVENANT between God and man.
His sacrifice confirmed the COVENANT, the relationship between God and His people. The Old Covenant had been confirmed by blood, the blood of animals sacrificed to obtain the forgiveness of sins. Similarly, but permanently, the New Covenant was confirmed by the BLOOD of Jesus, shed upon His cross. Some manuscript copies of Matthew do not have the word “New” in verse twenty-eight, but that’s not important as it is assumed from the context.
His sacrifice made forgiveness possible for MANY people. This statement fulfills the promise of salvation in Isaiah 53:12 and the promise of a New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:34.
3. The promise of a heavenly kingdom. (29)
Jesus did not share food with His disciples until after His Resurrection. His statement expressed confidence they’d be together in His Father’s Kingdom. In this new ritual, Jesus shared with the Eleven the benefits of the Kingdom before He achieved them on the cross. This is a unique honor and blessing on those who had followed Him most closely.
What did He mean by “His Father’s Kingdom?” The Kingdom of God, which, at various times in the gospels, was already present or soon to come.
In the New Heaven and New Earth? If so, Jesus has, in this ceremonial and personal act, tied together the past, present, and future. The Last Supper reminds us what Jesus did in the past; it is to be practiced in the present; it will be part of the future celebration that will accompany the establishment of His kingdom.
Jesus explained the New Covenant with a new use of some elements of the Passover.
Jesus gave a more extensive explanation of the meaning of consuming His body and blood in John 6:53-59 (NLT).
53 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
John reports that this teaching perturbed many of Jesus’ listeners, even spawned some arguments. Taken literally, the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood would’ve have been two of the most repulsive things to suggest to a Jew. I’m sure even Jesus’ disciples, who routinely heard Jesus say things that were so radical they were difficult to accept or so new they were difficult to understand, even they must’ve been perturbed at Jesus’ use of the bread and cup. To us, it is so familiar, it's hard to understand the emotional impact it had on the Eleven as they reclined at the table with Jesus.
On his website, Bob Sawvelle described the importance of Communion in this way:
“There is something ‘more’ to communion and the sacraments than what most of us Protestants have been taught or have understood. Communion confers grace, the grace that was purchased for us at Calvary. The precious blood of Christ, His body that was wounded for our healing. Communion is a divine enablement, because grace isn’t only forgiveness of sins, but also a divine empowerment.
“Grace affects something; it causes change. Through grace, we are changed from glory to glory. It causes us to be someone we could not be on our own. When in faith we receive the [Lord’s Supper], we are appropriating the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. That’s forgiveness of sin, that’s healing for your body. That’s healing for hurt emotions, that’s deliverance from oppression.
“Faith has a lot to do with what you receive. If you place no value on the [Lord’s Supper], you won’t take part in the benefits Jesus intended, and it will become purely a symbolic act. However, if you do place value, appropriating by faith what Christ has done for you, the Lord’s grace—divine enablement—is given.”
Bob Sawvelle is a senior pastor and founder of Passion Church in Tuscon, AR. I agree with his assessment of the value and power in the Lord’s Supper. As Baptists we believe the bread and cup is a serving of food. Its use in worship does not change their physical properties one bit. However, with the power of Christ, taken in faith, they become more than symbols. The sharing of the bread and cup are powerful acts that fully render the word “communion;” they draw us closer to God and closer to one another. When we are obedient to remember Jesus in this way, we receive the life-giving benefits God provides in this service of worship.
Kristi Northup’s testimony: https://influencemagazine.com/practice/how-receiving-communion-every-week-has-changed-me retrieved on 29 September 23.
David L. Turner, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 11, Matthew, 2005, pp. 337-340.
James G. Emerson Jr., A Christian Seder, 1979.
Ben Witherington III, Smith and Helwys Bible Commentary, Matthew, 2005, pp. 481-487.