Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Lord’s Supper
For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Matthew 26:28NKJV
This morning we continue our journey through the Larger Catechism as we examine Question 168, which asks, “What is the Lord’s supper?” It gives the answer, “The Lord’s supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.”
The Catechism gives no less than eight questions in its teaching on the Lord’s Supper! Therefore, since many of the things mentioned in today’s answer are taken up again, becoming the focus of later questions, let us only consider those things that are unique to Question 168. As we saw earlier (Q. 162), sacraments are holy ordinances given by Christ to His Church for His glory and our good. A sacrament both signifies the salvation Christ has accomplished for all of God’s elect and at the same time it serves as God’s seal or certification that He will most certainly save everyone who believes. Accordingly, the sacraments are real means of grace from God to His Church. In the New Testament there are only two such signs and seals given by God to His people: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Being sensible signs (Q. 163), each of the sacraments have physical elements to be apprehended by our five senses. In baptism the element is water. In the Lord’s Supper it is bread and wine. In celebrating the first Lord’s Supper with His disciples, our Lord Jesus took one of the commanded elements of the Passover: the unleavened bread; and one of the traditions which the Jews had added to the Passover: the cup of blessing; and He turned the Passover into what it had always anticipated and pointed to: the inauguration of the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31-34). Although Jesus never calls the cup “wine,” but instead in all three synoptic gospels refers to it as, “the fruit of the vine,” we know from Jewish tradition that the cup of blessing at the Passover is fermented red wine. I once heard a former Rabbi who is now a Christian teach that the redness of the wine is significant because the Jews did not ordinarily partake of red wine. They did so at the Passover, however, for that was the kind of wine they had in Egypt.
Accordingly, how much more poignant would it have been for the disciples when Jesus lifted the cup of blessing full of red wine that first Maundy Thursday evening saying to them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” I know sometimes Christians can demand that the wine be fermented or unfermented. Although growing up as a Lutheran my preference is for fermented wine, I do not think that this is an issue which should divide Christians. To insist that the wine be unfermented – with the reasoning that fermented drink is forbidden to Christians – is incorrect. The Bible allows Christians to drink alcohol. It forbids drunkenness only. However, it seems to me that to insist that the wine be fermented is to make a law where Christ has not. Today we have the ability and knowledge to make and keep unfermented wine – or grape juice as we usually call it – although in ancient times they did not. How long the juice of the grape sits in the skins before we drink it cannot determine its lawfulness in my opinion. And something so trivial should never become something we fight over.
How sad it is that throughout Christian history the Lord’s Supper has been such a point of contention and division. At the Colloquy at Marburg in 1531, Luther and Zwingly famously divided over the presence of Christ in the Supper. Since that time Protestants have fought over the frequency, the elements, the cups, dipping or not dipping, one’s posture in receiving, etc. As the final part of today’s answer states, in the Lord’s Supper we are testifying of our mutual love and fellowship with one another that we really do have as joined-together-by-love parts of the same single, mystical body of Christ. May God forgive us for turning the symbol of our unity into a great point of division, and may He grant us the grace to rightly and charitably celebrate His Supper.