Last Supper Byzantine Museum San Giorgio Venice Byz-LastS-BR750 paradoxplace_comThose looking for resources on Maundy — Holy — Thursday and an explanation of Passover and the Last Supper might find the following posts useful:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

(Image credit: Paradoxplace.com)

The Epistle for Maundy Thursday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,

11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

John MacArthur tells us that 1 Corinthians existed before the gospels were written. That makes it:

the first statement of God, in print, regarding the Lord’s Table.  For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul says it was directly from the words of Jesus.  He Himself instituted it.

In the preceding verses, Paul took his converts to task for abusing Christ’s body and blood. MacArthur explains that:

they were coming to the Lord’s Supper drunk, gluttonous, that the rich were stuffing themselves in a gluttonous drunken manner and withholding from the poor so that they had nothing to eat in the love feast which proceeded the Lord’s Supper in that era.  That they came to the Lord’s Supper hating one another, with factions and divisions and bitternesses and unconfessed sin.  And the result of all of it is in verse 20.  Paul says, “When you come together therefore into one place,” and here’s the literal Greek, “it is impossible that you should eat the Lord’s Supper.”  You may be having something you think is the Lord’s Supper, but that’s an impossibility because of your attitude.  Some of you are drunk.  Some of you are deprived.  Some of you are gluttonous.  Some of you are hating one another.  There is bitterness, there is faction, there is division.  There are class divisions.  There are divisions over theological viewpoints.  There are divisions over every conceivable opinion within the church.  There is no real communion of the believers.  There is no real communion with Christ because of all the sinfulness.  You have debauched, desecrated the Lord’s Supper, and what you’re doing is not the Lord’s Supper.  Whatever you call it, it is not.

On that subject, 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 sound a warning against receiving Holy Communion unworthily, because doing so can be fatal:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g] 31 But if we judged[h] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[i] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

The verses in between — this year’s Maundy Thursday epistle — are Paul’s explanation of the importance of remembering and proclaiming the Last Supper until Christ Jesus comes again in glory.

He begins by making it clear that the bread and the cup are God-given, not manmade traditions (verse 23). MacArthur says:

In other words, here is a divine reality. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary reminds us that Paul was not among the apostles at the Last Supper, however:

He had the knowledge of this matter by revelation from Christ: and what he had received he communicated, without varying from the truth a tittle, without adding or diminishing.

Paul quoted Jesus’s words regarding His body and blood (verses 24,25). We hear our clergy recite them in the prayers of consecration used in Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches. Paul was putting Holy Communion into an historical context for the Corinthians — and us.

Paul wanted his converts and us to know that whenever we come together to partake of this most blessed Sacrament, we proclaim our Lord’s death until He comes again (verse 26).

As with John 13, from which we have the gospel readings for Spy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, we find the same juxtaposition of historic events and divine love in the epistle of 1 Corinthians 11.

The Last Supper was Jesus’s and the apostles’ commemoration of Passover. Passover recalls God’s mercy and love in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt when each household sacrificed a lamb. Jesus showed His mercy and love by dying on the cross as the once-sufficient sacrifice for our sins, which is why we call Him the Lamb of God. The night before, even though He knew Judas would betray Him, He washed His apostles’ feet and asked them to follow His example in future. He then broke bread and drank wine with them, recalling Passover and transforming those elements into His body and blood.

MacArthur explains:

If you study the gospels with that in mind, you can pick out just about detail by detail what they’re doing at each point in the Lord’s Supper, the Passover.  Somewhere along the line, at the point of unleaven bread being broken before the meal, Jesus took that bread that symbolized the exodus, broke it and said, “This bread is My,” what?  “Body.”  After the meal He took that third cup, and we know it was after the meal because it says, “After He had supped,” or after He had had supper, it doesn’t mean after He had drunk it first, it means after supper.  He took that third cup and said, “This cup which to you has represented the blood of a lamb at the Passover is no longer representative of that; this cup is My blood which is shed for you.”  And by that, Jesus transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper.  And He said, “Now, when you want to remember, you don’t want to remember exodus, you don’t want to remember Egypt anymore, you don’t want to remember Passover when you think of Savior God, when you think of God as deliverer.  You want to remember My death.  The Passover was a great thing that got you out of Egypt and ultimately into Canaan.  My death is going to get you out of bondage to Satan and ultimately into heaven.  The Passover provided for you only a physical release.  My death will provide for you an eternal and spiritual release.”  And when you want a contact point for God as Savior, for God as deliverer, it isn’t going to be the Passover feast, it’s going to be the Lord’s Supper. 

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The things signified by these outward signs; they are Christ’s body and blood, his body broken, his blood shed, together with all the benefits which flow from his death and sacrifice: it is the New Testament in his blood. His blood is the seal and sanction of all the privileges of the new covenant; and worthy receivers take it as such, at this holy ordinance. They have the New Testament, and their own title to all the blessings of the new covenant, confirmed to them by his blood …

Our Saviour, having undertaken to make an offering of himself to God, and procure, by his death, the remission of sins, with all other gospel benefits, for true believers, did, at the institution, deliver his body and blood, with all the benefits procured by his death, to his disciples, and continues to do the same every time the ordinance is administered to the true believers. This is here exhibited, or set forth, as the food of souls. And as food, though ever so wholesome or rich, will yield no nourishment without being eaten, here the communicants are to take and eat, or to receive Christ and feed upon him, his grace and benefits, and by faith convert them into nourishment to their souls. They are to take him as their Lord and life, yield themselves up to him, and live upon him. He is our life, {cf11ul Col 3:4}.

Paul called upon the Corinthians — and us — to partake of the Sacrament frequently with all reverence. It is a remembrance which, as Henry wrote, confers divine grace and eternal life.

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