Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The Elements of the Lord’s Supper

Usually in talking about the Lord’s Supper Lutherans focus on the purpose of it. Christ gives us this meal for the forgiveness of sins. But Lutherans have also seen how it is important to talk about what makes up this meal. The reason for this is the same as for why we emphasize the purpose—the Words of Christ Himself.

When God gives us His Word, we take it as the authority. Jesus’ Words of institution of His Holy Supper are found in Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:13-20; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. In these Words He gives us not only why we celebrate and receive this meal but what makes it His Holy Meal.

The Word of Christ
This is the speaking of the Words of Institution as found in the four passages noted above. Without the speaking of these words in the presence of the elements of bread and wine there is no Lord’s Supper.

Bread and Wine
Jesus instituted His Holy Supper while celebrating the Passover meal. What was used in that meal was bread and wine.

The Body and Blood of Christ
In giving the disciples the bread, He said “Take, this is My body” and in giving the wine, “Take, this is My blood”. Because of His words, His body and blood are present and given in His Holy Supper.

Let's take a closer look at the elements of bread and wine. Must bread and wine be used or may we use other elements, such as crackers or grape juice?

Unleavened bread was commanded and used in the Passover meal. However, Jesus in giving the disciples the bread uses the generic term for bread, not the term for unleavened bread. Thus, unleavened or leavened bread may be used. The key is that it must be bread. (See also 1 Corinthians 10:16 and Acts 2:42.)

Wine is said to be used in celebrations in the Old Testament and New: Genesis 14:18; Job 1:13; Isaiah 5:12; John 2:1-11. In fact, Jesus drank often enough that He was accused of being a drunkard (Luke 7:33-34).

How do we know wine was used in the Passover? Wine was an ordinary part of meals in Jesus’ day. Further, grape juice was not able to be used as there was no way to prevent fermentation.

So why does Jesus not say “wine” when referring to the liquid in the cup? Why does He say “fruit of the vine”? It was part of the regular blessing Jesus used:

What is the form of the Benediction over fruits? Over the fruits of trees a man says: “Thou that createst the fruit of the tree”; with the exception of wine, for over wine he says: “Thou that createst the fruit of the vine.” Over the fruits of the earth he says: “Thou that createst the fruit of the ground”; with the exception of a piece of bread, for over a piece of bread he says: “Thou that bringest forth bread from the earth.” Over vegetables he says: “Thou that createst the fruit of the ground.” [Mishnah Berakoth 6:1]

Thus, it was wine in the cup that Jesus blessed and gave to His disciples. Further, in 1 Corinthians 11:20-21 Paul rebukes the Christians for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper in that they were getting drunk (which could not have happened if they had been using grape juice).

What difference does it make? Why do Lutherans insist on bread and wine? For the same reason they insist on the purpose of the Holy Supper—the Words of Christ determine not only what His Supper is but what make it up. If we do not use bread and wine then we cannot be certain we are receiving the precious gifts He gives to us in His Meal He has prepared for us. Using the elements He instituted His Supper with we can be comforted in knowing that we receive what His Words say He gives: forgiveness of our sins.


Anonymous said...

One of my New Year's goals is to read Lutheran blogs. I find yours very interesting. My late father, B.W. Teigen, wrote about The Lord's Supper and so I am always inclined to read as much as I can on the subject. I am not anonymous, I am Norman Teigen of Minneapolis and a member of the ELS. I just don't know how to jump through these hoops. My blog is Norman's Demesne.

rev.will said...

Hi Norman, thanks for your comment, and am happy to provide some Lutheran blogging for your New Year's goals. I assume your father was Bjarne? I read one of his articles once and have heard good things about him. Someday I would like to read his materials on the Lutheran Confessions. I'll check out your blog as well. Happy blogging and reading!