Question: "What is the importance of the Lord's supper / Christian Communion?"
Answer: A study of the Lord’s Supper is a soul-stirring experience because of the depth of meaning that it portrays. It was during the age-old celebration of the Passover on the eve of His death that Jesus instituted a new significant fellowship meal that we observe to this day, and is the highest expression of Christian worship. It is an “acted out sermon,” remembering our Lord’s death and resurrection, and looking to the future for His return in glory.
The Passover was the most sacred feast of the Jewish religious year. It commemorated the final plague on Egypt when the firstborn of the Egyptians died and the Israelites were spared because the blood of a lamb was sprinkled on their doorposts. The lamb then was roasted and eaten with unleavened bread. God’s command was that throughout the generations to come the feast would be celebrated. The story is recorded in Exodus 12.
During the celebration, Jesus and the disciples sang together one or more of the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 111 – 118). Jesus, taking a loaf of bread, gave thanks to God. As He broke it and gave it to them, He said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you.” In the same way He took the cup, and when He had supped and gave the cup to them, they drank of it. He said, “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood; do this whenever you drink of it in remembrance of Me.” He concluded the feast by singing a hymn and they went out into the night to the Mount of Olives. It was there that Jesus was betrayed, as predicted, by Judas. The following day He was crucified.
The accounts of the Lord’s Supper are found in the Gospels in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:17-25, Luke 22:7-22, and John 13:21-30. The Apostle Paul wrote concerning the Lord’s Supper by divine revelation in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. (This was because Paul was not, of course, in the upper room at its institution.) Paul includes a statement not found in the Gospels: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (11:27-29). We may ask what it means to partake of the bread and the cup “in an unworthy manner.” It may mean to disregard the true meaning of the bread and cup, and forgetting the tremendous price our Savior paid for our salvation. Or it may mean to allow the ceremony to become a dead and formal ritual, or to come to the Table with unconfessed sin. In keeping with Paul’s instruction, each should examine himself before eating of the bread and drinking of the cup so as to heed the warning.
Another statement Paul made that is not included in the Gospels is “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (11:26). This places a time limit on the ceremony – until our Lord’s return. From these brief accounts we learn how Jesus used two of the frailest of elements as symbols of His body and blood, and initiated them to be a monument to His death. It was not a monument of carved marble or molded brass, but of bread and grape juice.
He declared that the bread spoke of His body which would be broken – there was not a broken bone, but His body was so badly broken that it was hardly recognizable (Psalm 22:12-17, Isaiah 53:4-7). The grape juice spoke of His blood, indicating the terrible death He would soon experience. He, the perfect Son of God, became the fulfillment of the countless Old Testament prophecies concerning a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, etc.) When He said, “This do in remembrance of Me,” He indicated this was a ceremony that must be continued in the future. It indicated also that the Passover, which required the death of a lamb and looked forward to the coming of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, was now obsolete. The New Covenant took its place when Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), was sacrificed (Hebrews 8:8-13). The sacrificial system was no longer needed (Hebrews 9:25-28).