The Lord's Supper

The Lord's Supper will be an important part of worship, but it should not be a ceremony. The Greek word used in the expression Lord's Supper is "deipnon" (1 Corinthians 11:32). This word describes the main meal of the day, so supper is a misleading translation for people who think of supper as a small snack. In John 12:2, the same word is used to describe a dinner given in honour of Jesus by Lazarus. A small cube of bread and a sip of wine is not a "deipnon". The Lord's Supper should be a shared meal. Problems arose in the Corinthian church, because some people would not share their food and others could not afford to bring food.

It is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? (1 Cor 11:20-22).

People were keeping their own food or eating as soon as they arrived at the meeting. Paul suggested that those who were too hungry to wait for the rest of the church should eat something at home before coming. However, this passage also tells us what Paul expected at the Lord's Supper.

Paul gave a warning about the importance of sharing with the body.

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement (1 Cor 11:28-34).

He warns that there is so much sickness in the church because they are not discerning or recognising the body of Christ.

By taking verses 28,29 out of context, we make failure to "discern the body" into a mystical sin of failing to honour the bread and the wine. Rather, Paul is warning that they were sick, because they had failed to show honour and commitment to the other Christians. They could avoid this judgement by doing practical things like waiting for each other and sharing food.

Family Meal

The apostle Paul describes the church as the "family of God" (1 Timothy 3:15). The heart of family life is the meals that the family eats together. A family that met together less than once a week would soon disintegrate. The Lord's supper should be a regular part of our life.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer... They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:42,46).

The early church celebrated the Lord's Supper daily in their homes. If the church goes back to meeting in homes, this would become practical again. The daily breaking of bread in their homes was an expression of their covenant with each other.

The common meal will strengthen the unity of the Church. Sharing a meal is the best way to get to know other people. As the believers eat and drink together with Jesus, they will be reminded of their relationship with him. This will flow into their commitment to each other. As they share in the Lord's meal together their relationships with each other will be strengthened. The informality of the meal will allow them to minister to each other's needs, through the power of the Spirit.

Someone should give thanks for the cup at the beginning of the meal. The bread should be broken and shared during the meal. The cup should be shared to conclude the meal. These actions will make it different from other meals and keep the focus on Jesus.

As Jesus is present, there is no need to have a special minister or priest to lead the celebration. The Lord's Supper can be celebrated wherever two or three believers are gathered, because Jesus has promised to be with them. As the bread is broken, any of those present can give thanks. When the bread and the cup are shared, Church members will serve each other. The whole meal will be simple and informal, like the shared meal that Jesus had with his disciples.

Order of Events

The sequence of events at the Last Supper is recorded in the gospels. We should follow the same pattern when we celebrate the Lords supper.

  1. Coming together (Luke 22:14).
  2. Welcome (Luke 22:15).
  3. Giving thanks for the cup (Luke 22:17).
  4. Eating the meal together (Mark 14:18).
  5. Breaking and sharing bread, while eating (Luke 22:19, Mark 14:22).
  6. End the meal by sharing the cup (Luke 22:20).

No Magic

The Lord's Supper should be a celebration with Jesus as the guest of honour. A question that has troubled the church down through the ages is how he is present. Some have suggested that the bread and wine literally change into his body and blood, but this makes Lord's Supper into a magical experience where we receive Jesus by eating special food. This is nonsense, because Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, so we can only receive him through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Magic is doing something physical, like eating, to make something spiritual happen. Trying to receive Jesus by eating a food in a particular way is magic, so Christians should avoid it. Approaching the Lord's Supper this way, leads to an incorrect focus on the moment of eating, hoping that something mystical will happen (often it does not). Concentrating on the bread and the cup as if these had magical properties is misguided.

The Lord's Supper is made special by the Holy Spirit glorifying Jesus in the midst of his people. Instead of nibbling on symbolic tokens, we should ask the Holy Spirit be a guest at a meal shared with our friends.

The Holy Spirit loves to be present with Christians who are committed to each other and share their possessions. He gets really excited when Christians come together in unconditional commitment to each other and often bring a special revelation of Jesus to those present. This is what happened at the village of Emmaus.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:30,31).

The Lord's Supper is a practical experience. It should not be a highly organised ritual slotted in at the end of a worship service, but a meal that the members of a Church share together. The feature that distinguishes it from other meals is the presence of Jesus through his Spirit.

Spontaneity and Participation

During Old Testament times, access to God was only possible through a priest and only those with a special gift of the Spirit could speak on behalf of God or to him. The ministry of Jesus dramatically changed this situation, by giving all Christians direct access to God.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost means that every believer is anointed, so God can speak and minister through any Christian. This brought about a radical change in the nature of worship. Christian worship should be marked by spontaneity and participation.

Unfortunately, this is often not the reality. The weekly worship service has become a highly organised and controlled event, with most people sitting passively during the service. They can sing and clap during the worship, but otherwise they remain quiet.

Spiritual needs are ministered to by the pastor and senior leaders at the front of the meeting following the preaching. This ministry at the front often does not fully deal with issues. The service is very much a performance by the pastor-leader or worship leader, while most of the people watch passively.

This performer/observer divide is not conducive to the one another stuff. Nor does not encourage active Christianity. The presence of the Holy Spirit should bring spontaneity and participation. Their absence suggests that we are not giving him the freedom that he desires and needs to accomplish his purposes.