For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Jesus himself directed that we should remember his death by breaking bread and sharing the cup. This simple ritual reminds us that the death of Jesus is central to our faith. It is Jesus’ death, especially the shedding of his blood, that redeems us, making forgiveness of sins possible, making our salvation possible. The connection with forgiveness is apparent in the book of Matthew:
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)
Scripture also says:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Ephesians 1:7)
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that:
…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)
Some people claim that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, or that it was really someone else that was crucified, not Jesus himself. On the contrary, the death of Jesus is an essential part of our salvation. Without the death of Jesus there would be no forgiveness of sins; there would be no salvation for anyone. Breaking bread together and sharing the cup together reminds us that Jesus died for us.
The details of how the bread and cup are shared vary widely among followers of Jesus. The New Testament provides few specific instructions, so there should be freedom among God’s people for various practices. A few clarifications, however, may be helpful:
- Jesus refers to the cup as the “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29), so it is generally understood that Jesus was sharing grape juice or wine.
- We share the bread and cup “in remembrance” of Jesus and his death, not in the sense of repeating his sacrifice, for scripture indicates that Christ was sacrificed once for all:
He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:27)
- The statements by Jesus “This is my body” and “This is my blood” are widely understood to be figurative, that the bread and wine represent his body and blood, not that they literally are his body and blood.
Let’s remember that Jesus died for us, so that we might live. Let’s share the bread and the cup in remembrance of Jesus. Let’s “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
For Further Reflection
Matthew 26:17-30: The Last Supper. (Also Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39)
1Corinthians 11:17-34: Paul’s instructions.
Matthew 26:47-27:54: The trial and crucifixion of Jesus. (Also Mark 14:43-15:39; Luke 22:47-23:49; John 18:1-19:37)
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