What is This Bread?


Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

On the night before He died, Jesus shared with His disciples the Passover, or the Seder meal. But in the midst of this meal, Jesus served and instituted another meal, a completely new meal, a meal that was to be repeated; it was His Last Supper, or “The Lord’s Supper.”   What is this bread that we and the earliest disciples share and eat?  It is God’s very means of sustaining, forgiving, delivering and protecting us from evil; the very thing we ask for at the end of the Prayer our Lord has taught us to pray!  Think of the last petitions in that prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread, forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

In the Greek the last part of the prayer is better translated as, “Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Wicked One.” In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus seems to be pointing to the devil as the ultimate source of everything that is evil in this world; it’s as if the entire substance of our prayer is directed against our archenemy. And that makes sense because it’s the devil and his minions who do their best to obstruct everything we have asked for in this prayer, which is simply that God’s name and honor, His kingdom and will, our daily bread, and a good and peaceful conscience be given to us.

Dear friends, in our Lord’s Supper we are given faith and strength to know that God the Father is with us, and that He hears every request we ask for in our Lord’s Prayer, and in Jesus name He answers yes!

Tonight as we allow God to prepare us to receive the Lord’s Supper, we also allow His Spirit to answer this question for us, “What is this meal?” 

I.  First, it is a historical meal.  In Exodus 12, we learn that the Seder meal was instituted as a way to help the Jews remember how God led them out of captivity in Egypt towards their promised land.  God alone did that. Not one Hebrew warrior stood against the mighty Egyptians; not one Israelite contributed anything in accomplishing their deliverance!  Freedom came in the blackest night while Hebrew slave families huddled around the Passover table, their bags packed, waiting for deliverance. Why was it called the Passover meal?  Well, it’s because the angel of death visited only the homes of the Egyptians and it passed over the homes of the Hebrew families because they had marked their homes as God directed them—with the blood of a lamb.  The Jews celebrate that event each year with humility and praise through the Seder meal.  In that meal they remember how God alone saved them; in this meal, there is no room for pride. For the children of Israel, independence from Egypt meant dependence on God. In fact, God comes back to this event throughout the Bible as a way of describing himself: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” 

Much later, in the upper room, Jesus would give Passover night an even broader significance. In a time when Jews throughout the world were bringing out their choice lambs to slaughter, eat, and remember the blood and deliverance, Jesus would now show the world that He had been selected as the TRUE Passover Lamb, not just for the Jews, but for all of humanity (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13) came to convey a whole new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is now superior to the Passover meal in that it promises salvation not from physical slavery, but deliverance from the power of sin, death, and the devil.  But this meal is oh so much more than a historical event, because you see, it is also… 

II. A Memorial Meal That Remembers Christ’s Death on Behalf of Us All. St. Paul speaks of Holy Communion as a memorial meal in this way: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

Did you notice that each time Jesus delivered the elements of His Holy Supper that he punctuated it with the need to Remember Him?  Since the bread eaten is Christ’s body “for us” and the wine drank “is the new covenant in (His) blood” then clearly this meal is a memorial or a way of remembering Christ’s atoning death. In churches all across the world, we can find other Christians partaking in the Lord’s Supper tonight and recognizing it as a meal that remembers Christ’s death. But sadly, sometime after the zeal of the Reformation wore off, some churches began to look at HIS Holy Supper as nothing more than a memorial meal.  Now it’s here that we need to turn our hearts towards God and receive everything that He’s lovingly giving to us in this meal, because it is so much more than a memorial meal, you see, it is also a….  

III. Holy Meal, because God’s very Word makes it holy.  When someone asks you “Why do you believe that the bread and wine are holy in the Lord’s Supper?” simply answer that “It is God’s Word that makes it holy!”  You see, the words of consecration that Christ spoke at the Last Supper and which we Pastors repeat each time this meal is served are the very power of God. Now, we do not say that a pastor by virtue of His ordination has the power to transform simple bread and wine into a holy meal, but rather it is the very Words of Christ spoken over the bread and wine that makes it holy; it is God’s Word that brings to us both bread and wine and Body and Blood. But why does God do this?  The answer to this question brings us to our next explanation of what kind of meal this is.   

IV. It is a meal in which God feeds us with forgiveness for all of our sins and serves us an overflowing cup of peace with Him.  In our Gospel reading you heard Christ Himself say, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Friends, if you can only remember one thing about this meal then remember this, IT IS A MEAL OF FORGIVENESS!  Take your sins to this meal and exchange them for God’s mercy and peace!  This is where we learn that this meal is in fact God’s means of delivering us from evil!  You see, just as the preached Gospel announces and gives forgiveness through the cross of Christ to everyone who believes and is baptized, so does this meal. In the Lord’s Supper, that once-and-for-all forgiveness is freely given to each one of us who have been baptized and by faith, believe in His promise.  Be certain of this truth tonight friends as you approach His table, God wants you to experience the assurance that all of your sins, including the ones that are heavy on your heart right now, are completely forgiven.

That’s why we teach that the Lord’s Supper is for real sinners.  If you are sorrowing and struggling over your sinfulness, then Jesus says “Come unto me ye weary and I will give you rest!”  Come unto me and believe that the devil cannot with all of His attacks separate you from God’s love that is yours through Christ Jesus!  This is a meal created only for God’s baptized children who cry out “Have mercy on me Lord Jesus, an unworthy sinner!” 
 

V. But this is also a meal where we confess that all of the miraculous things we receive are completely God’s Work for Us, and not our work for Him.  Just as the Hebrews played no part in their deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptians, we also play no part in our Salvation and the complete forgiveness of our sins.  This is all entirely the work of Jesus.  It was His blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of your sins. In this holy meal, Jesus invites us to eat and drink His forgiveness. Can you see that it is Jesus, not us, who is the one who offers, prepares, and serves this Divine Supper?  He serves us His body “which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). He serves us His blood “which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). All the emphasis is on what He does for us. Our “job” is only to receive. 

VI. Next, scripture makes it clear that that this is a Meal in Which We Eat and Drink Christ’s Body and Blood.  Now most Christian traditions affirm that Christ is present somehow in the Lord’s Supper. But it’s not enough to just say that Jesus is present in this meal. Some Christians today speak of Christ’s “real” presence in the bread and wine as being spiritual.  Some will say that when Christians eat and drink they spiritually ascend to Christ who is at the right hand of God. While these words may seem harmless, we must not be deceived; remember, IT IS HIS SUPPER, NOT OURS!  Jesus clearly says “This IS my body” and “This IS my blood.”  He did not say that this represents my body and blood; nor did he say ‘I am spiritually present in the bread and wine.”  No, our Savior clearly states that the bread IS His body and the fruit of the vine “IS (His) blood of the new covenant!”

Friends, like the ancient church before us, we do not try to explain how this can be? No, instead we simply accept the plain sense of the words that the bread, somehow, is also Christ’s body, and the wine, somehow, is also Christ’s blood and we let it remain within those words.

VII. But this meal is also a Family Meal that gives and Celebrates Unity among all of us who eat it together.  The Lord’s Supper has often been called the Sacrament of unity. Why? In part, because of the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:17 where he writes: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

These words hint towards two things. First, they tell us that the one bread broken and distributed signifies the oneness of the body of Christ, the Church. And while you may be receiving only one small piece of the loaf, every one here is being fed from the same source, Jesus Christ Himself.  

Second, the words of Paul infer that we who receive the one bread become one body; that is, the eating of this meal creates as well as celebrates unity within God’s people. St. Paul’s point is that it is wrong to enter into communion with those with which you have no true unity – and true unity includes recognizing all of the mysteries that are given in His Holy Supper.  For us here tonight, when we respond to His invitation to eat and drink, we are professing that we come together truly as a family that is one body in Christ, one in faith, and one in doctrine. When we eat this meal together, we will as one heart celebrate our Lord’s life, death and resurrection until He returns!

VIII. Finally, this is a Meal that is “a Foretaste of the Feast to Come.”  This phrase, beautifully expresses another aspect of the Lord’s Supper. It is a foretaste of that eternal, heavenly meal that we will enjoy with our God and with all of the dear saints that have gone to glory before us and those that go after us. So this meal points not only backwards but also forward in time. It looks to the past and remembers, looks to the present and receives and gives thanks, and looks to the future and anticipates!  It allows us to see how the Lord has by faith revealed to us that He is our Father in heaven who provides every good thing for us. In this meal God the Father has not only forgiven our sins, but He has also given us the ability and strength to forgive others who have sinned against us. In this foretaste of the Heavenly banquet to come, God is continually leading us away from temptation.  

And finally in the Lord’s Supper, God allows us to look forward into the future and see a time when there will be no more tears or pain, only joy and peace with the God who created us, redeemed us and sustains us in faith. Through this Holy Communion, we are assured that no matter how difficult our current circumstances may be, through our crucified and risen Savior, we shall overcome, and feast with Him in glory forevermore!  How can this Holy Supper do all of this?  Because He says so, and after all God always does what He says He will do!  I pray that God will richly bless each of us this evening as we approach His table to hear, see, touch, smell and taste forgiveness.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN and AMEN!

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