Past and Present in the Lord’s Supper

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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"This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me. . . . This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it."

1 Corinthians 11:24-25

Today we pick up where we left off before my August sabbatical from writing new Daily Reflections. As you may recall, we had been working our way through 1 Corinthians. Most recently, we had been focusing on 1 Corinthians 11:17-32, a passage that dealt with various abuses in the practice of the Lord's Supper among the Christians in Corinth. Paul's chief corrective strategy was to draw the attention of the Corinthians to the meaning of the Lord's Supper by reminding them of the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. There, he told his followers to eat the bread and drink the cup "to remember me" (11:24-25).

Jesus' so-called "words of institution" underscore what we might call the past and present dimensions of Communion. The elements of this sacrament point back to something that happened in the past: the sacrificial death of Jesus. They remind us of an absolutely crucial moment in history, thus anchoring our faith to God's activity in the past.

Even beyond this, the elements of the Last Supper point back even further to the Exodus, when God delivered his people from Egypt. The death of Jesus, along with his resurrection, is the new Exodus, which includes deliverance from sin and death for all people.

The present dimension of the Lord's Supper happens in us as we remember Jesus. The very act of remembering brings into the present the reality of the past. Moreover, as we celebrate Communion, we have communion (that is, deep fellowship) with Christ and through Christ with his people. Thus, the Lord's Supper is not just an occasion to think back to what happened in the past. It is also a time to experience once again the life, love, and grace of God in Christ right in the present moment.

As you know, Christians explain the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper in different ways. Some emphasize his presence in the elements of the Supper. Others point to the presence of Christ through the Spirit. This is not the place to sort out these issues. For now, I simply want to underscore the fact that Christ is with us in his Supper, not just in our act of remembering his death in the past, but also in his presence and activity in the moment. When we pause to remember him, he is with us to heal, forgive, encourage, bind up broken hearts, renew, empower, and call us into his service.

In tomorrow's post, I'll talk about how the Lord's Supper has a future dimension as well. For today, I want to encourage you to think about how your experience of Communion has both past and present dimensions, and how these dimensions lead you into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How does receiving Communion help you to remember what Jesus did in the past? In what ways have you experienced Jesus being with you in the present when you have come to his Table?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for giving us a way to remember you, to rehearse in our hearts your passion, to anchor our faith in your saving work for us. Thank you for the fact that our faith in you is based, not on speculation, but on what you have done in history.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being present with us in your Supper. When we receive the sacrament, you are there. You are active. You move within us. You surround us with your love. You embrace us with your grace.

Gracious Lord, may we experience in your Supper all that you have intended. Most of all, may we experience you as the one who gave your life in love for us. All praise be to you! Amen.