1 Corinthians 11:24
And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
1. This Epistle is prior in date to any of the Gospels, consequently we have the earliest account of the institution of the Lord's Supper. More than that, the account is entirely independent of any oral tradition, for the apostle distinctly affirms that he received this narrative from none of the guests in that upper chamber, but from the Host Himself. We can therefore trace the celebration to a period very near to the death of Christ, and thus we have a strong presumption of the historical accuracy of the story, and a view of the aspect in which it was regarded by the primitive belief of Christendom.
2. The occasion for the utterance is characteristic of Paul, and instructive to us. Had it not been for some abuses in Corinth we should never have had one word about this ordinance; and in that event there would have been scarcely any reference to it outside the Gospels. Let us regard the Lord's Supper as —
I. A MEMORIAL.
1. The words are used in the institution of that Passover which our Lord, with sovereign authority, brushed aside in order to make room for His own rite. "This day shall be unto you for a memorial." The text therefore has reference to the Exodus, and is meant to substitute for the memories so stirring to Jewish national pride and devout feeling the remembrance of Christ as the one thing needful.
2. This is Christ's distinct statement of the purpose of the Lord's Supper, and you will find nothing additional to it in the New Testament.
3. Notice of what the Lord's Supper is a memorial — "of Me." "You have remembered Moses and his deliverance; forget him! The shadow passes, and here I stand, the substance! Do this; never mind about your old Passover — that is done with. Do this in remembrance — no longer of dead Pharaohs and exhausted deliverances, but of an everloving friend and helper; and of a redemption that shall never pass away."(1) What a marvellous, majestic prevision that was, that looked all down the ages and expected that to the end of time men would turn to Him with passionate thankfulness! And more wonderful still, the forecast has been true.
(2) And as majestic as is the authority, so tender and gracious is the condescension. He does not rely upon His mighty love and sacrifice far the remembrance, but He consents to trust some portion of our remembrance of Him to mere outward things. Surely we need all the help we can get to keep His memory vivid and fresh in spite of the pressure of the visible and temporal.
II. AS A MEANS OF GRACE.
1. I know only one way by which grace can get into men's souls, and that is through the occupation of a man's understanding, heart, and will, with Christ and the gospel that tells of Him. And the good that any outward thing does us is that it brings before us the truth on which our hopes depend, and knits to our heart the Christ and His love.
2. This Communion is obedience to a definite command, and so has the blessing which always follows upon obedience. And this blessing, and the one that comes from having our thoughts turned to Him, and faith and hope kindled towards Him, exhaust the whole of the good that the service does to any man.
3. All that is confirmed by the remarks in the context about the mischief that it sometimes does to people. We read about an unworthy partaking, which is defined: "Whoso eateth and drinketh (not "unworthily," for that is an unauthorised supplement), "eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body," i.e., unworthy participation is one which does not use the external symbols as a means of turning thought and feeling to Christ and His death; and unworthy participation does a man harm, as unworthy handling of any outward rite does. I try with words to lead men to look to Christ. If my words come between you and Him rather as an obscuring medium, then my sermon does you harm. You read a hymn. The hymn is meant to lead you up to Christ; if it does not do that, then it does you harm. If through the outward ritual we see Christ, we get all the good that the outward ritual can do us. If through the outward rite we do not see Him, if the coloured glass stay the eye instead of leading it on, then the rite does us harm.
III. A WITNESS FOR CHRISTIAN TRUTH.
1. Christ Himself has appointed this institution and selected for us the part of His mission which He considers the vital and all-important centre — "This is My body, broken for you. This is the new covenant in My blood, shed for the remission of sins." Not His words, not His loving deeds, not His tenderness, does He point us to; but to His violent death, as if He said, "There is the thing that is to touch hearts and change lives, and bind men to Me."
2. Forms of Christianity which have let go the Incarnation and the Atonement do not know what to make of the Lord's Supper. They who do not feel that Christ's death is their peace, do not feel that this rite is the centre of Christian worship. I may be speaking to some who regard it as unnecessary. My brother, Christ knew what He meant by His work quite as well as you do, and He thought, that that the part of it which most concerns us to remember was this: "that He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures."
3. And as plain as the teaching is of this ordinance in reference to what is the living heart of Christ's work for us, so plain is it in reference to what is our way of making that work ours. We eat that we may live. We take Christ, the fact of His death, love, personal life for us to-day, and by faith we partake of Him, and the body is assimilated to the food, and so in that higher region we live.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.