(Before we get started, I ask for your prayers this morning. I am in Idaho right now chasing elk and bears and covet your prayers for favorable wind, cool weather, and sound strategy.)
In southern Colorado and northern New Mexico rest the Sangre De Cristo mountains. This is Spanish for the ‘blood of Christ’ mountains. They are characterized by the reddish glow at sunrise and sunset, especially when adorned with pure white snow. Although I have never hunted these mountains I have viewed them with reverence an awe. Not only for their physical beauty, but for their name. The picture above captures the purity of freshly fallen snow infused with a scarlet glow. This physical image, helps me understand how washing in the blood of Christ results in a spiritual covering as white as snow. The blood of Christ was spilled on our behalf at the cross, to fulfill the laws of atonement in the old covenant, and to usher in forgiveness of sins under the new covenant. We proclaim and re-enact this spiritual truth by physically taking part in the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, or the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Table (by whatever name you prefer).
The question becomes, “Is participation in the Lord’s Supper symbolic?”
The answer is “Yes”…but probably not symbolic of what you may think.
Sometimes, before embarking on what could be a twisty tangled theological road, it behooves us to establish some context. Our context is found in Matthew 26:17, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” This verse establishes two things: it was the first day of the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” and it was the “Feast of Passover”. We see this again in Luke 22:7 where it says, “Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” The “Feast of Unleavened Bread” was celebrated for 7 days. It was a memorial, or a remembrance, to all Hebrews, of their time in slavery to Egypt. In fact, it was a celebration of their deliverance out of slavery, or ‘out of Egypt’. The “Feast of Passover” was a celebration of the Hebrews escaping judgement by the Lord when he struck down the first born of the Egyptians, but “passed over” any house which had the blood of a lamb painted on its doorposts and lintel.
It is under this context that we pick up the reading again in Matthew 26:26-28, “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
The unleavened bread Jesus broke with His hands, symbolized the deliverance of God’s people from slavery and bondage. The cup they drank from symbolized their deliverance from judgement of sin. It is no accident that the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus Christ, the bread of life, the unblemished lamb of God…on the very same night the Jews were celebrating the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” and the “Feast of Passover”. We must remember what Jesus said previous to this in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, recorded in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Both of these “feasts” were fulfilled by Christ on the Cross. We are indeed freed from slavery and bondage to sin as evidenced by Christ’s body broken for many. We are indeed freed from the judgement of death as evidenced by Christ’s blood poured out for many. Again, the original “feasts” are physical things which speak to spiritual truths. The physical bondage of the Hebrews under Egypt represent our spiritual bondage under sin. The physical judgement of the Lord on Egypt’s first born represents the spiritual judgement of the wicked by the Lord. The only way we (humans) are ever going to understand the spiritual truths of freedom and redemption in Christ, in the Lord’s Supper, is to first understand the original memorial meaning of the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” and the “Feast of Passover”.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 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.”
Paul tells us to “remember Christ” everytime we partake of the Lord’s Supper. This does make the Lord’s Supper a symbolic memorial, however, it makes it a memorial to the fulfillment of the original Law. We are remembering that Jesus indeed…fulfilled. We are remembering that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough. The Law, which established right and wrong, is still in place…but the atoning for sin ‘sacrificial rite’ part of the Law, has been fulfilled. It took the Presence of God Himself, as the sacrifice, to cover the debt. Therefore, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper today, God’s Presence is still covering the debt. Think about it like this, when Jesus took the sins of the world onto Himself and God the Father poured out His wrath on Him…the debt was paid. Yet, sin continues. People still sin. It still takes the Presence of God to cover the debt. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper today, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. It is through the ingestion of His Presence; that we proclaim the fulfillment of the Law in Christ; that we rejoice in being passed over; that we celebrate our liberation; and that we are the mouthpiece of His redemptive message…until He comes to gather His elect and to separate the sheep from the goats.
Until that time…the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of His promise to remake us as white as snow by the washing in His blood.