In our time of corporate worship we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). This was instituted by Jesus at the Passover just before His crucifixion. The Jewish Passover was a symbolic reminder of an historical event. It was an annual celebration to remember God’s act of passing over the firstborn of Israel and their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus took two symbols associated with the Passover, bread and wine, and gave them a new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration to remember the death of Jesus just like the Passover celebration was to remember God’s passing over the Israelites.
Bread as a metaphor
The Scriptures about the Lord’s Supper use the word “bread” in a figurative sense. The figure of speech is called a metaphor, where something is described by something else that is considered to possess similar characteristics. It’s like saying, “You are my sunshine” or “The Lord is my shepherd”. Jesus told His disciples to eat the bread because, “This [bread] is my body, which is given for you; do this [eat it] in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19NIV; 1 Cor. 11:24). He meant that the broken bread was to be a symbol of His body. The broken bread represents Christ’s suffering body when He died. When they ate it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins. Likewise, when we eat the broken bread we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins.
Cup as a metonymy
The Scriptures about the Lord’s Supper use the word “cup” in a figurative sense. The figure of speech is called a metonymy, where something is described by something else that is associated with it. Like, “can you give me a hand?” or “the team needs some new blood”.
Then Jesus told His disciples to drink the wine. Paul calls it to “drink this cup” and he mentions someone who “drinks the cup of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:26-27). But we drink the contents, not the cup. In this case, the container is substituted for the contents. The cup stands for its contents. Like “God so loved the world”, which means the people who inhabit the earth. What were the contents of the cup? Matthew says that it was “from the fruit of the vine”, which was wine (Mt. 26:29, Mk. 14:25). So in this context, “cup” means “wine” (or grape juice).
Jesus said that the disciples were to drink the wine “in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). The wine represents Christ’s death. When they drank it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins. Likewise, when we drink the wine (or grape juice) we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins.
Cup as a metaphor
But “cup” also has another figurative sense in the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus gave the disciples the cup of wine, He said “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28)”. Or: “This cup is the new covenant in [through] my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20).
So the cup (wine) is said to be “ my blood” and “the new covenant”. That’s what it symbolizes. These are more metaphors. In this context, the poured out wine is a symbol of the shedding of blood, which indicates a violent death. But it was one that established a new covenant. So the cup of wine represents both Christ’s death and the new covenant. When they drank it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins and the new relationship it brought with God. Likewise, when we drink the wine (or grape juice) we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins and the new relationship we can have with God.
Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith. Like the Passover, it’s when God delivered us from sin. “For He [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves [Jesus], in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
In His death, Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). Jesus commanded His followers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly as a reminder of this fact. By doing this together, we are proclaiming the core of the gospel to each other (1 Cor. 11:26). As the Passover recalled the defining moment in the history of the Israelites, so the Lord’s Supper recalls the defining moment in our history.
In the Lord’s Supper we remember what Christ did for us and we celebrate what we receive as a result of His sacrifice. It’s about the gospel. How Jesus sacrificed Himself so we could have a new relationship with God. Let’s celebrate it weekly (Acts 20:7) and recall our spiritual blessings at this time.