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What is the Eucharist?

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Let Us Eat:

Feasting is such a large part of the fabric of human culture. Whether we are discussing Italian heritage, African tradition, or Southeast Asian customs, food becomes a gathering of sorts that speaks to the communal camaraderie shared among the peoples. Similarly, the table pays immense dividends in the redemptive historical narrative of Scripture.[1] In the garden of Eden, it is through the eating of the “fruit” that Adam and Eve broke their covenantal commitment to the covenant of works. Conversely, it is Christ—the second Adam—who drinks from the cup of wrath that allows His covenant people to drink it anew in peace and mercy (cf. Matt. 26:27-28; Lk. 22:20, 42; 1 Cor. 10:16-17). In addition, it is the Passover meal in Egypt that signifies the redemptive covenant Yahweh bestows upon the nation of Israel (cf. Ex. 11-12). While in the New Covenant era, Christ recapitulates the communion table for the people of God—the church (cf. Matt. 26:27-29; Mk. 14:22-25; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).


Covenantal Etiquette:


The Eucharist, also known as communion, plays an enormous role in the life and vitality of the church. It speaks not only to the covenantal elements found amid the work and Person of Christ, but, also, to the familial unity that is shared by the church herself. It is, as the Reformers so eagerly sought, the drama of the Gospel within the communal worship of the assembly of saints—seeing the Word. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek eucharistia which means “thanksgiving.” It is an ordinance that captures the New Covenant era and renews those vows amid the gathering of God’s people. Three main components can be gleaned from the Eucharist: (1) receiving the benefits of Christ, (2) commemorating the death of Christ, and (3) renewing the covenant in and with the body of Christ.


Receiving the Benefits of Christ. When communion is taken corporately, it is embraced mystically and covenantally in all the benefits of Christ through the blood shed of the cross. The church is strengthened anew through the heralding of the Gospel in the act of communion because it speaks to the fulfillment found in the sacrificial Lamb. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” says Paul, “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’” (1 Cor. 11:23-24). It is not that the accidents themselves—the bread and the wine—have any intrinsic power, but its ordinary form signifies covenantal realities. Michael S. Horton asserts that “those who receive the reality—namely, Christ and all of His benefits—the sacraments signify and seal the passing from death to life, judgement to justification, bondage to liberty.”[2]


Commemorating the Death of Christ. In demonstrating the Eucharist, the church not only clings to the benefits of Christ, but she commemorates His death to which all blessings are purchased. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,” proclaims Paul, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26, italics mine). John Calvin in his commentary notes,

Paul now adds a description of the way in which the memorial ought to be kept, viz. with thanksgiving. It is not that the memorial depends completely upon the confession of our lips, for the main point is that the power of the death of Christ should be sealed upon our consciences. But this knowledge ought to move us to praise Him openly, so as to let men know, when we are in their company, what we are aware of within ourselves in the presence of God. The Supper, is therefore, if I may say so, a kind of memorial (quoddam memoriale) which must always be maintained in the Church until the final coming of Christ; and which was instituted for this purpose, that Christ may remind us of the benefit of His death, and that we, on our part, may acknowledge it before men. That is why it is called the Eucharist. Therefore, in order that you may celebrate the Supper properly, you must bear in mind that you will have to make profession of your faith.[3]

The church is reminded, then, that the salvation to which they appeal to is not one that is merited upon their own works, but rather is given in account as a covenant of grace. The Eucharist, then, becomes a significant reminder of the free gift of grace in salvation. Bobby Jamieson rightly concedes that the “acts of breaking and eating bread, of pouring out and drinking wine, dramatically present the events of the Gospel to our sight and taste.”[4] It reminds us that salvation belongs to the Lord (cf. Ps. 3:8; 62:1).


Renewal and Communion of the Body. Furthermore, the Eucharist conveys not only the renewal of the people of God in Christ Jesus, but their ecclesial commitment to one another as the covenantal people of God. The Apostle Paul’s contention with the church of Corinth was due to their inappropriate administering of the Lord’s table. Meaning, there was division among them whether that be socially, racially, and/or economically.[5] For, in the first place,” asserts Paul, “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are division among you” (1 Cor. 11:18). Therefore, Paul corrects the church of Corinth and calls them to “wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33). All of which is cemented upon the fact that though they may exhibit differing qualities amid worldly standards, their union as a body is predicated upon the covenantal blood of Christ. Thus, the church comes to the table unified and equal in the eyes of the Lord. Jamieson rightly contends that the “Lord’s Supper gives expression to our union with Christ and therefore our unity in Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we commune with Christ together, and therefore have communion with each other.”[6]


A Seat at the Table:


By the grace of God, Jesus Christ has given us a seat at the table. No longer are we called slaves, but rather He has allowed us to dine with Him as friends of the living God (cf. Jn. 15:15). The church’s engagement in the Eucharist, then, speaks to the insurmountable grace that has been lavished upon us in the work and Person of Jesus Christ through the power of His Holy Spirit. The covenant people of God, therefore, must be a people that is not defined by sociological categories nor by economical gains. Rather, the identity of the community of saints is the shared communion that is mutually contained through the covenantal Lord of the universe Himself. And in so doing, the proclamation of our message is not the strength nor moral high ground that is taken by the church herself, but that all righteousness, virtue, and love is grounded in the sacrificial Lamb of God. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***


[1] See Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 777-785. Horton seeks to understand the sacraments/ordinances not through a philosophical grid, but rather through the covenantal context of the biblical narrative.

[2] Ibid., 799. [3] John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, trans. John W. Fraser (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 250. [4] Bobby Jamieson, Understanding the Lord’s Supper, Church Basics (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2016), 27. [5] Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical & Pastoral Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 180. [6] Jamieson, Understanding the Lord’s Supper, 27.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5).  He is a Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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