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Meditations and readings for Maundy Thursday can be found here.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

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.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Paul gives us the first description of the Last Supper. The Gospels had not yet been written.

As Paul was not one of the original Apostles, the Lord told him what had happened, possibly during the three days of his Damascene conversion.

Paul states that the Lord was the source of his information on the Last Supper at the last true Passover, which he passed on to the Corinthians when he planted their church; on the night Christ was betrayed, He took a loaf of bread (verse 23).

John MacArthur calls to our attention the juxtaposition of Judas’s evil betrayal and our Lord’s generosity of giving us His body and blood for our spiritual nourishment:

And I think it’s interesting, if you look at verse 23, that he throws that in, “That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread.” Why does he say that? Well, because he wants to set the history; he wants to put it in its historical context, because that has a great deal of meaning.

You say, “But he could have said on the eve of the Passover, or he could have said on Thursday night before the crucifixion. Why does he say “in the same night in which He was betrayed”?

Because the New Testament does something very interesting, periodically, and that is it sets the most glorious, the most beautiful, the most wonderful against the background of the ugliest so that, by contrast, the beauty is visible.

For example, in John 13 that what I think to be the most beautiful passage on love in the Bible next to the story of the cross: Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. All the way woven through the passage where He washes the feet of the disciple is the interlude of Judas who is about to go out and betray Him. And you have Satan entering his heart. Right in the midst of this whole thing.

And so, the contrast between the hate of Judas and the filth of the devil, against the beauty and the love of Jesus, makes it all the more wonderful. At the cross, where you have God the Son dying for the sins of the world, all around it is hatred and mockery and rejection, because that makes it all the more beautiful.

And here in the most beautiful ordinance that the Lord has ever given for the celebration of His Church, set against it is the terrible hatred, cruelty of a betrayal. But that gives it all the more beauty against that dark background.

When Jesus had given thanks, He broke the bread, telling the Apostles that it was His body, given for them, that they should do this — partake of it — in remembrance of Him (verse 24).

Matthew Henry points out that, throughout, bread is referred to as such:

As to the visible signs; these are bread and the cup, the former of which is called bread many times over in this passageWhat is eaten is called bread, though it be at the same time said to be the body of the Lord

MacArthur says:

It was not His body; His body was still sitting there when He said that. So, we’re not talking about literal things.

Remember, that’s exactly what the Jews thought in John 6, “How are we going to eat his flesh? There’s not enough of Him to go around,” they thought.

So, He says in verse 23, Paul does, “That the Lord Jesus took bread. And when He had given thanks” – and that’s eucharisteō in the Greek, from which you get the Eucharist. He gave thanks; He broke it, and that’s so that all could share from a common loaf, and said, “Take, eat. This represents My body which is for you.” This represents My body. What do you mean by that, Lord?

Well, the body, to the Jewish mind, represented the whole man. The total man. The whole incarnate life of Christ. “This bread represents all that I am as God incarnate.” The mystery of the incarnation is there from the day He was born till the day He died, and even when He rose again. The whole of the incarnation is summed up in the term “body.” God in human flesh. “Remember that I became Man and suffered, and was rejected, and was despised, and ultimately died for you.” But the whole thing, not just His death. In the bread is not just His death but His whole incarnation. “This is My body – represents My body which is for you.”

In the same way, Jesus took the cup and said it is the New Covenant in His blood, meant to be taken often in remembrance of Him (verse 25).

Henry tells us more about both the bread and the cup in the Sacrament:

Bread and the cup are both made use of, because it is a holy feast. Nor is it here, or any where, made necessary, that any particular liquor should be in the cup. In one evangelist, indeed, it is plain that wine was the liquor used by our Saviour, though it was, perhaps, mingled with water, according to the Jewish custom; vide Lightfoot on Matthew 26:27. But this by no means renders it unlawful to have a sacrament where persons cannot come at wine. In every place of scripture in which we have an account of this part of the institution it is always expressed by a figure. The cup is put for what was in it, without once specifying what the liquor was, in the words of the institution. [2.] 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.

MacArthur says that covenants in the ancient world had to be ratified in blood, hence the sacrifices in the Bible, culminating with the Crucifixion:

In the Old Testament, God said to Israel, “I will lead you to the Promised Land. I will pass over your house and not execute your firstborn if you will sign on the dotted line.” And what did they sign with? The blood of a lamb on the doorpost and the lintel. And that was the fluid that ratified the promise, “God, you do your part; we will do our part.”

And throughout all of the Old Testament, God continued to say, “You’ve got to ratify the promise in blood. And they sacrificed animal after animal after animal after animal so that the blood flowed through the land of Israel through all of its history as the people continued to renew the promise over and over and over and over again.

And in fact, when covenants were made in the East, in the ancient East, they weren’t made by signing your name at the bottom. An animal was killed, and the blood was sprinkled on both parties. You were both doused in blood as a sign you were going to keep your promise. A covenant ratified by blood.

And Jesus says, “There’s a new covenant. God is making a new promise. You know what that promise is? It isn’t anymore the old one of law. It isn’t anymore the old one of you have to do this sacrifice and this sacrifice and this one. It’s a brand new promise. Here it is: I will forgive all your sins for all time.” And that was new. They had to make sacrifices continuously. “I will make one sacrifice forever, and that will be Christ. And His one sacrifice and His one ratification by blood will end the sacrificial system for good. That’s a new promise.”

God says, “I’ll give you total forgiveness forever. I’ll give you eternal life forever by the blood of Christ.” And it was as if on the cross Jesus was taking His blood and signing on the dotted line. That’s the new covenant: the blood of Christ. Not the blood of a lamb on a doorpost, where God says, “I’ll take you out of the land and get you to the Promised Land.” That’s temporal and impermanent. But the blood of the new covenant, where God says, “I’ll take you into heaven, and I’ll forgive your sin forever, unconditionally because of Jesus Christ.” That’s the new covenant.

And so, He says, “The cup represents the new covenant. No longer do you need to go back to the blood of the Passover; come back to the blood of the cross …”

Jesus said that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim His death until He comes to us once more (verse 26).

Both commentators say that we must receive the Sacrament often.

Henry reminds us that, just as we cannot go without nourishment of the body, we must similarly feed our souls:

It is moreover hinted here, concerning this ordinance, [1.] That it should be frequent: As often as you eat this bread, c. Our bodily meals return often we cannot maintain life and health without this. And it is fit that this spiritual diet should be taken often too. The ancient churches celebrated this ordinance every Lord’s day, if not every day when they assembled for worship. [2.] That it must be perpetual. It is to be celebrated till the Lord shall come; till he shall come the second time, without sin, for the salvation of those that believe, and to judge the world. This is our warrant for keeping this feast. It was our Lord’s will that we should thus celebrate the memorials of his death and passion, till he come in his own glory, and the Father’s glory, with his holy angels, and put an end to the present state of things, and his own mediatorial administration, by passing the final sentence. Note, The Lord’s supper is not a temporary, but a standing and perpetual ordinance.

However, in the verses that follow this reading, Paul warns about taking Holy Communion unworthily and says that some of the Corinthians experienced illness and death because of it:

1 Corinthians 11:27-34 – profaning Holy Communion, sickness, death, judgement

This is why most churches have strict rules about receiving the Sacrament. A few let anyone receive Communion, although that should not be the case. At minimum, one should be baptised, as in the Anglican Communion, although personally I would go further. Some denominations stipulate that only their members are allowed at the Lord’s Table, e.g. conservative Lutherans, Reformed churches and the Catholic Church. Some Reformed churches ask that visitors introduce themselves to one of the greeters when entering church for a Communion service for that very purpose.

One should understand the significance of this generous sacrifice the Lord made for our sake and commanded us to remember often in His memory. It is not to be received lightly, but with solemn reverence.

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