In Christian Worship, the two sacraments that the Lord Jesus Christ instituted are observed: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. While Holy Baptism can occur on an infrequent basis, Holy Communion is to be a part of worship on a on going basis. (See the postings on Holy Baptism and Holy Communion at ExtremeTheology).
Christ told his disciples that they would be observing his gift of his body and blood, found in the bread and wine on a frequent basis when he said “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The early Church viewed Holy Communion as so important that it was part of their corporate worship since it was included with proclamation of the Word and prayer (Acts 2:42).
In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he deals with the misuse of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. First, the Lord’s Supper is only for Christians. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul instructs the church not to include allow pagans to participate in Holy Communion since they are partaking of the Christ’s body and blood.
Second, Paul instructs the church on the proper means of means of observing the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Paul instructs the church that the Lord’s Supper is part of Christian worship. The Corinthians where treating the Lord’s Supper more like a picnic where each brings their own food and those who were poor were excluded. Paul later instructs believers to eat at home prior to coming to worship if they are hungry.
Paul then gives the words of Christ that they are to use in the Lord’s Supper. These are the words that many churches use today as part of their celebration of the Holy Meal.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Given the abuse of Holy Communion by some, Paul states the reason some were sinning against the body and blood of Christ by eating the bread and drinking the cup in an unworthy manor. While we do not know what they were doing that was unworthy, we know the result in that many had become sick and weak whiles other died. While these did not lose their salvation, there were consequences to their actions. Paul then provides the proper way to approach the table; the believer examining themselves before they receive the bread and wine. This is why we have confession and absolution prior to the Holy Communion.
The focus of Holy Communion is not what we do for Jesus but what Jesus does for us!
The Early Church
We have many writings from the early church fathers about what they believe, taught and practiced in regards to the Lord’s Supper. Here are two good examples of how important the early Church thought of Holy Communion:
St. Clement of Rome wrote in 80 AD
"Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin. For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity."
Justin Martyr wrote in 151 AD
"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66).
Other quotes can be found at Cyberbrethren.
You and Your Church
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I believe about the Lord’s Supper?
- What does my church teach about the Lord’s Supper?
- How often does my church observe the Lord’s Supper?
- Does my church have a time of confession and absolution prior to the Holy Meal?
- Does my church only allow those of the faith come to the Lord’s Table?
- When my church observes the Lord’s Supper, do I make it a point to attend that service?