Archive: Communion with Christ

a thoughtful look at the Lord’s Supper, one of the precious mysteries of our faith.

by Francis Wesley Warne, 1854-1932 Bishop, Methodist Episcopal Church (Condensed from his book The Lord’s Supper, © 1924)

The Lord’s Supper Instituted

 “The Lord’s Supper ” was early chosen as a name for the memorial of Christ’s death because it was instituted while the Lord Himself ate His last supper with His disciples. The account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper is found in three of the Gospels and in the report of Christ’s revelation to Paul; herein is found our Scriptural authority for its perpetual celebration in the Church.

That Christ had a vital interest in it is expressed in “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15) This yearning desire was because He was inaugurating according to His own idea a universal memorial of His everlasting love.

One of the elements in the strength of Mohammedanism is that from all Mohammedan lands large numbers visit Mecca, and return with the stories of the prophet and his life. Jesus knew there was, in human nature, this need of personal attachment. Therefore, in infinite wisdom He instituted a perpetual memorial of Himself that meets this deep-seated need of centering our affection on a Personality in a much more vital and faith-inspiring manner than a visit to Mecca. Jesus did this not only for a select few who can travel. But, without respect to races, for all His people, in all lands and throughout all time, He in infinite love instituted the Lord’s Supper. It is not, like baptism, to stand at the threshold of the Church and be administered only once, but is placed in the most holy place in His Church, that it might bring all individual believers of all ages and lands at regular intervals throughout the life of each into a loving, vital realization of “His precious death until His coming again.” The command for its observance is among His last commands: “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:20) Note that it is a command.

The four Scriptural accounts of the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of which Christ said, “This Cup is the New Covenant in My Blood …” are Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26.

… The features in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that are common to all the four Scriptural accounts of its institution are: The taking and breaking of the bread; blessing it or giving thanks; the taking of the cup and giving thanks; and giving it to the disciples that all should partake of both the bread and the “fruit of the vine. ” In two of the accounts it is added, “And when they had sung a hymn they went out.”

The New Covenant Enriched

Let us search for Christ’s own conception and purpose in instituting the “New Covenant in my blood.”

The Old Covenant was a great covenant, given first to Abraham and solemnly enlarged and accepted by the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai. One is impressed with God’s estimate of the Old Covenant by the fact that every enlargement and renewal was made a great national event (Exodus 24; Joshua 24; 2 Chronicles 15; 2 Kings 11). In each case there was a spectacular ceremonial and national display, and each time the nation covenanted to forsake other gods and to obey cheerfully the commands of the Lord.

Notwithstanding the great emphasis laid on it on all these great occasions, the Old Covenant was but preparatory to the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. … The Old was written on tables of stone, the New in the hearts of God’s people. It promises … forgiveness of sin, heart purity, lifelong companionship with Christ, and eternal life. The New Covenant is better than the Old in many ways, but particularly in that it has “a better priesthood “—Christ in heaven instead of Aaron in an earthly tabernacle. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24)

It is well to recognize that both covenants were included in the first great covenant given to Abraham, which was, “In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 22: 18) The Old Covenant was first with a family-Abraham, then with a nation; but the New was given to all nations. Here, then, is the order of development: at first to one family, next to one nation, then the New for all nations.

At the time of the inauguration of the New Covenant … changes were made from the terrifying and spectacular—such as “thunderings and lightnings “—to that which is gentle, tender, and full of love. Circumcision was changed to a simple water baptism. Contrast the “devouring fire” on the top of Mount Sinai with the love and tenderness of the Upper Room, the Lord washing the disciples’ feet showing forth divine love and service.

Notwithstanding these changes from the spectacular to that which is gentle and simple, the taking of the New Covenant vows, in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, should be as impressive and binding as was the obligation taken in the inauguration of the Old Covenant.

Therefore at each celebration, the Lord’s Supper, to each individual, has the combined ideas of a memorial of the Christ, a Eucharist, the making and taking of a covenant with the Lord Himself, a spiritual communion with Christ, and the most blessed means of grace in the Church of our Lord Jesus. In this order let us now pass on to consider what Christ Himself purposed that the Lord’s Supper should mean to each communicant and at each communion. …

The Lord’s Supper: A Memorial

Jesus knew human nature well enough to know that man soon forgets. Even His chosen disciples, who witnessed the heartrending scene of His being nailed to the cross and His sacrificial sufferings on the cross, would soon, in part, forget His agonizing, atoning death. How much more the unnumbered millions, who, through the story, were to become His disciples from all lands in the coming centuries!

He, therefore, in infinite wisdom and all-penetrating love, instituted this memorial, in order that all His beloved people in all time might be brought face to face with His sacrificial death, as symbolized in the emblems of His broken body and spilt blood.

The Master’s infinite wisdom, divine tenderness, and His all-inclusive love are revealed in the fact that in choosing the elements for His own memorial, he rejected gold and granite, and everything chosen by the great of earth for their memorials. He chose only the common bread that must be renewed from day to day. In this choice we see the breaking of His body symbolized in the way the wheat is ground in every mill. He chose a symbol of suffering understood by all because bread is baked and eaten alike in every cottage and palace by the women and children of all nations, and throughout all ages.

This is the sacred, suggestive, universal memorial symbol chosen by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. It excludes neither prince nor peasant, bond nor free, wise nor unwise. It tells us that as all people need bread so all people need love; and our blessed Lord, to symbolize His all-inclusive love, chose in matchless wisdom that which is within the reach of all.

When, therefore, He says, ‘This is my body, given for you,” teaching that as we need bread for physical life we also need Christ’s love for our spiritual life, it can be understood by all. Such wisdom and love thus symbolized and remembered in the Lord’s Supper reveals the secret of Christ’s growing power through the centuries over an ever-increasing number of nations.

The command of Jesus, “This do in remembrance of me,” does not confine the communicant to remembering Christ’s sacrificial death only. “Remember me” includes all His pre-existence, His incarnation, the purity of His earthly life, His teachings and His miracles. …

We can remember His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, appearances, and teachings during the 40 days, His ascension, reigning in glory, and His promise, ” I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:3)

Each communicant can remember that Christianity is on a sound historical basis, with Jesus Christ as the great central Personality. He can remember Christ’s death was not a calamity; it was a triumph, a victory. Each one can remember for the strengthening of his faith that from the apostolic age down through the intervening centuries and by countless millions this commemoration has been kept by the various branches of the Christian Church. Since its institution, many generations have passed; nations have been born, flourished, and disappeared, but this ordinance continues.

What for? First, to commemorate the great historical fact of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and reigning in glory of the Founder of the Christian religion. Further, as Christ revealed to Paul that it was also to proclaim Christ’s death “till He come again.” Through this ordinance, midst passing centuries, dying nations, changing systems, there has been a steady showing forth by unnumbered millions, according to Christ’s own provision, of the great hope of the Church that Christ will come again and receive His people unto Himself.

Therefore, the Lord’s Supper, in addition to its spiritual comfort, gives intellectual food sufficient to satisfy the hungering of the mightiest intellect of the ages.

The Lord’s Supper: a Eucharist

 “Eucharist ” means thanksgiving and praise. And thanksgiving and praise predominate in the primitive celebration of the Lord’s Supper to such an extent that early in church history it was called “The Eucharist.” “Eucharist” is a Greek word written into English. It is made of two Greek words, meaning, “full of rejoicing,” “overflowing with thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving should always have a large place in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In this, Jesus Himself is our example, for it is written, “The Lord Jesus in the same night in which he was betrayed  … gave thanks.” (I Corinthians 11:23)

Jesus, the chief Sufferer in the darkest hour of history, “gave thanks ” at the very hour in which He, the Innocent One, was betrayed into the hands of cruel murderers.  Since our Lord gave thanks when He was preparing to die for us, with what thanksgiving should we commemorate that sacrificial death! I think that thanksgiving made His sufferings lighter.

In sharp contrast with such thanksgiving [is] the sin of ingratitude in God’s sight. … It was the absence of thanksgiving and the persistence in murmuring among the Children of Israel at the very time when God was feeding them with abundant bread rained down from heavenly bakeries, that caused God to say, “Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all … of you … from twenty years old and upward, … shall not come into the land, …save Caleb … and Joshua, ” (Numbers 14:29-30) and they “because they were men of another spirit. ” But your “little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. ” (Numbers 14:31) The 40 years of wanderings [in the wilderness] was a revelation of the wrath of God against the sin of ingratitude.

“The Lord Jesus in the same night in which he was betrayed” … gave thanks

The foregoing paragraph should be meditated upon by all those good people whose temperaments cause them habitually to so dwell upon their sorrows, burdens, and difficulties, and the dark side of life as to lose sight of the bright side.

One can hold a dirty pice (a small Indian coin) so close to one’s eye that it shuts out the starry heavens and all the marvelous glories of God’s infinite universe. So one can hold little passing troubles (how small they are when compared to the circumstances under which Christ gave thanks!) so close to his heart and keep them so constantly in his mind that all the rich and blessed eternal inheritance of being in covenant relationship with Jesus become as nothing. …

At this feast of praise it is the communicant’s privilege, on the one hand, to cease to carry and worry over his burdens, and on the other to see by faith the suffering Christ, infinite in power and love, with matchless purposes of grace, making “All things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28) Here the heart bearing the heaviest burdens can and should break forth in hymns of praise. The Lord’s Supper is not a funeral; it is a feast. It is your Father’s table, and your Father is God. Let your every Communion service be to you a Eucharist.

And as an outcome let your whole life become Eucharistic” full of thanksgiving …. ”

What a transformation would come over Methodism should such a Eucharistic Spirit take permanent possession of all our people and our church should become strongest at the very points where it is now the weakest! Do not stop short of having the Eucharistic spirit permeate your whole life. It still is “A good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” (Psalm 92:1)

The Lord’s Supper: A Covenant

The one and only definition of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper given by Jesus Himself is, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. …”

Why a New Covenant? The need of a New Covenant is found in the incompleteness of the Old. The Old Covenant was insufficient because it was conditioned on man’s obedience: “If you will obey my voice and keep my commandment, ye shall be unto me a holy nation;” (Exodus 19:5) or “Obey my voice and I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 7:23) Man failed in his part, and the covenant proved insufficient. So in God’s goodness, in “the fullness of time” Christ came to be “The Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6)

In God’s making a covenant with man there are always two purposes. First, God’s covenant always contains a revelation of His purposes in definite promises of what He is willing to work in and for all those who are willing to enter into covenant relations with Him. Second, the covenant contains a security and guarantee that what God had promised will indeed be brought to pass. And so the purpose of the covenant was above all to give man a hold upon God as a covenant-keeping God; that is, to so link man to God as to make God the portion and strength of his soul.

One of the various striking contrasts between the Old and the New Covenants is God’s recognition of the cause of the failure of the Old and His undertaking in the New Covenant to perform not only His own part, but to so come into, cleanse, and strengthen the heart of man to perform his part of the New Covenant!

The model upon which Christ purposed that the New Covenant should work is the story of Pentecost (Acts 2). He had given His life unreservedly for three years to make His disciples. When about to leave them He said, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me. … ” (Acts 1:8) Peter had just failed ignobly. All the disciples had forsaken Him and fled (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). He knew they could not in their own strength keep their part. Therefore He said, “Tarry … until ye be endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) They tarried, and the matchless story of the Acts of the Apostles is, according to the New Covenant, God through His indwelling Spirit empowering man to perform man’s part of the New Covenant. Oh that the whole church would appreciate such a heaven-given endowed inheritance!

… In the Old [Covenant] God by miracles and wonders tried to show forth His love and to make the people trust and obey Him. That method failed. In the New Covenant the great contrast is that to prove His love, Christ died; Jesus shed His own blood, and said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)

Christ on the cross is the core of the New Covenant; the core of the Old was Law. The New has at its very center the Peerless Personality of the crucified, risen, and reigning Christ, who through the revelations of everlasting love lives in the hearts of men. Christ’s covenant of love is to endure and grow, not for a year, century, or millennium, but forever.

When Pilate asked with a sneer, “Art thou a king then?” there were only 11 men and a few women prepared at all to call Jesus King, and they were not sure. Were Pilate to ask that question now, because of the love revealed on the cross, 500,000,000 would rise up and sing with a volume that would encircle the planet:

All Hail the power of Jesus name!

Let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem,

And crown Him Lord of all.

Methodism maintains that there are but two covenants, because only in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism (which is administered only once) is a covenant made. We cannot go to the Communion as we go to hear a sermon or to a prayer meeting, for we, in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, take a sacred oath that we will keep our part of the covenant.

The origin of the word “sacrament” was in the sacred oath taken by a Roman when he became a soldier. Look at a free young Roman, doing in al I particulars as he pleases, but one day he takes the sacred oath which makes him a member of the army. From then on where he lives, what he eats, what he wears, even the disposal of his life, are directed by the army.

In taking the Communion we declare ourselves as soldiers, coworkers with Jesus Christ. Oh the glory of it!


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