1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you…
St. Paul had not been an eyewitness of the sacred incident that he here relates. Nor had he gained his knowledge of it by the report of others. He had "received it of the Lord." At what time and in what way this took place we know not, We may, perhaps, best attribute it to that remarkable transition period immediately after his conversion, the "three years" that he spent in Arabia and Damascus before he went up to Jerusalem and began his apostolic ministry (Galatians 1:17, 18). We can well believe that it was during that time of lonely, silent contemplation that the grand verities of the gospel message were divinely unveiled to him; and this may have been among the things that he then "received of the Lord." The simplicity of the way in which he describes the institution of this sacred rite is in perfect harmony with the simplicity of the gospel record. One can only wonder how it can have been possible for such an incident to be turned, as it has been, into a weapon of sacerdotal pretence and spiritual oppression. The too prevalent neglect of the observance has, no doubt, to a great extent been the natural and inevitable result of this abuse. The false or exaggerated use of anything always provokes to the opposite extreme. We may urge its claims on the Christian conscience and heart by looking at it in three different aspects - as a memorial, as a symbol, and as a means of spiritual edification.
I. A MEMORIAL. "This do in remembrance of me." "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come." Christ's own words set it forth as an act of personal remembrance, Paul's as a time long witness to the great sacrifice. Taking the two together, it appears as a memorial of "Christ and him crucified" - of himself in all the truth and meaning of his earthly manifestation, of his death as the issue in which the fulness of that meaning was gathered up and consummated. We may regard this memorial in its relation both to those who observe it and to those who observe it not; as a method of keeping the fact of Christ's self surrender vividly before the minds of those who believe in him and love him, and as a testimony that appeals with silent eloquence to a thoughtless, careless world. In this respect it resembles other Scripture memorials (Genesis 22:14; Genesis 28:18, 19; Exodus 12:24-27; Joshua 4:20-24; 1 Samuel 7:12). And when we think how easily things the most important fade away from our memories while trifles linger there, and sacred impressions are obliterated by meaner influences, we may well recognize with devout thankfulness the wisdom and love which ordained such a mode of perpetuating the remembrance of the most momentous of all events in human history, while, in spite of all its perversions, the simple fact of the continuance of such a sacred usage of the Church is a proof that it rests on a Divine foundation.
II. A SYMBOL. It represents visibly that which in the nature of things is invisible. Not merely is bread a fitting emblem of the Saviour's body and wine of his blood, and the breaking of the one and the pouring out of the other of the manner of his death; but the service itself symbolizes the personal union of the soul with him, the method alike of its origin and its support. It bears witness, as in a figure, to the deeper reality of the life of faith. It sets forth, in the form of a significant deed, what our Lord set forth in the form of metaphoric words when he said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," etc. (John 6:53-58). And in both cases "it is the Spirit which quickeneth." Mysticism has thrown its false halo, its bewitching glamour, around these Divine words; and the sacred ordinance that would otherwise have made its simple appeal to the insight of the Christian understanding and the tenderness of the Christian heart has become mere food for superstition. But there is no Scripture warrant whatever for this. From the gross materialism of the Romish "Mass" to the subtler refinement of thought that regards the Lord's spiritual presence as being in some mystic sense inherent in the bread and wine, speaking of the sacrament being "administered," as though it had some occult virtue in it, a kind of spiritual medicament conferred by priestly hands, and "taken" by the faithful for their souls' healing, - all these shades of opinion alike substitute a physical mystery for a spiritual truth, and engender a superstitious faith that fixes its attention on the material emblems and something that is supposed to be true of them; rather than the intelligent faith that discerns the unseen Saviour through them, very much as we look through our window upon the golden glory of the setting sun without thinking of the transparent medium through which we behold it (see 'Christ the Bread of Life,' J. McLeod Campbell, p. 21, et seq.).
III. A MEANS OF SPIRITUAL EDIFICATION. Here lies the Divine reason of the memorial and the symbol. It is more than a "transparent medium" through which the soul may gaze upon the crucified Christ; it is a channel of spiritual influence by means of which the soul's fellowship with him may be deepened and strengthened. It accomplishes this end, not by any magic power that it may wield over us, but by virtue simply of the influence it is naturally fitted to exert on mind and conscience and heart, and by the grace of that good Spirit whose office it is to testify of Christ. We may be fully alive to the dangers that lurk in the use of all symbolic religious rites, the danger especially of attributing to the sign an efficacy that lies only in that which is signified. And we may see in this the reason why the rites of Christianity are so few. But what Christian heart can be insensible to the high spiritual value of an observance such as this? Moreover, the obligation is plain. "Do this," says our dying Lord, "in remembrance of me." May not such an appeal be expected to draw forth a ready response from any soul that has ever "tasted that he is gracious"? Its being the behest of love rather than the stern requirement of law, makes it doubly imperative, while the simplicity of the deed it enjoins makes it doubly efficacious as a bond of affection and a vehicle of moral power. We all know what a charm there is in even the most trivial memento of those whom we have loved and lost, especially if it be some object with which the personal memory is most closely associated by familiar daily use, some little thing that tender hands we can no longer grasp and a loving voice that is now forever still have bequeathed to us. With what a glow of grateful affection will the sight of it sometimes suffuse our hearts! How near does it bring the departed to us again! How closely does it draw us into sympathy and fellowship with their personal life! And shall not this be expected to be pre-eminently true of these simple memorials of our loving, suffering, dying Lord? The realization of this, however, must always depend on something in ourselves. The influence we receive from the outward observance will depend on what we are prepared to receive, i.e. on what we bring to it in the conditions of our own inward thought and feeling. It will never of itself create right feeling. Come to it with a worldly spirit, with a divided heart - cold, careless, carnal, frivolous, prayerless, or in any way out of harmony with the Divine realities it represents - and you can expect to find no uplifting and inspiring power in it. You are not likely to "discern the Lord's body." Christ is never further from us than when we desecrate sacred scenes and services by our discordant mental and moral conditions. But come with your soul yearning after him, and he will unveil to you his glory and fill you with the joy of his love. "Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup." - W.
Parallel VersesKJV: For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
WEB: For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread.