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, 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.’ 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. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
We begin this week of reflection on the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, or Holy Communion (which ever term you prefer to use) with the earliest account we have of the origin of the service; for Paul’s Letters were written some years before any of the Gospels. The Church at Corinth seems to have been a largely Gentile congregation, so there is no reference to the Passover, which features markedly in the Gospel accounts. In any case, the reason Paul gives us any account at all is that he wishes to contrast the divisions among the Corinthians with the intention of Communion to manifest the unity of Jesus and his disciples, as they share in the bread and wine he gives them. Indeed v 21 says the Corinthians eat their supper separately, so one goes hungry and another becomes drunk: such behaviour is not the Lord’s Supper. As a result every celebration of the Lord’s Supper includes these ‘Words of Institution’ (as they are called) to remind everyone present that this is a very special occasion, not only as a way to remember Jesus , but also to proclaim the significance of his death: it is a new covenant in (or sealed by) his blood. Many of those who became leaders in the 18th century Evangelical Revival rediscovered their faith by prayer and preparation for Communion on Easter Day.
Loving and gracious God, we struggle to understand why Jesus taught his disciples that he had to die on a cross in Jerusalem; and yet we believe that he died for us. As we come to Communion and share the bread and wine, which Jesus gave to us, and for us, so that we would remember him, make that memory really present in our lives, through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Rev’d Professor David Thompson is a retired minister and a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.