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This series offers an overview of the chief teachings of the Christian church.

The Church of Christ lives by the power of the Gospel; through the message of the cross, the Holy Spirit works faith, enlightenment, and grace in the Church’s members. When that Word is preached, He brings hearers to repentance. Through the sacrament of Baptism He gives life to those who were dead in trespasses and sins. And in the Lord’s Supper He also nourishes the Church.

The Lord’s Supper (also known as Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, or in some denominations, the Eucharist), is simple to define, but difficult to comprehend. Jesus instituted it on the night in which He was betrayed. In the presence of His disciples, He “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-28) So, as with Baptism, it is a sacrament, being instituted by Christ, employing earthly elements (bread and wine) used with the Lord’s words, and promising the forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation.

Simple to define, but hard to comprehend how it can truly be Jesus’ body and blood present when we commune. But with His own words, Jesus assures us that as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are receiving His own body and blood; His life, “delivered up” for our sins (Romans 4.25), is now delivered to us for our life. It is Jesus’ way of coming to us wherever we are in our turbulent lives to say, “I am here as you eat this bread and drink this wine; with this body and blood I have redeemed you ; in this precious food you are forgiven; with this heavenly token, you are redeemed and safe.

The benefit of the Supper is not a matter of proteins and carbohydrates; it is spirit-renewing Gospel. It is not a matter of mere ritual; it calls for a sincere faith. Luke and the Apostle Paul add to their account of the first Lord’s Supper the words “do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24). One must approach the Lord’s table prepared in the heart while Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul talks about it in terms of pastoral theology: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28) He is interested in how it is practiced in the churches. He warns that the Lord’s Supper can be harmful to those who receive it with hardened, impenitent hearts. So he urges Christians to approach the Sacrament first with a measure of self-examination. As Luther states, “a person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ Whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared. The words, ‘For you,’ require nothing but believing hearts.” (Lord’s Supper, Part 4, Luther’s Small Catechism ).

“What is this bread? Christ’s body risen from the dead: This bread we break / This life we take / Was crushed to pay for our release / Oh, taste and see—the Lord is peace.

“What is this wine? The blood of Jesus shed for mine; The cup of grace / Brings His embrace / Of life and love, and so I sing / Oh, taste and see—The Lord is King.” (Worship Supplement 755:1-2)

The Lord’s Supper is simple to define, but difficult to comprehend.

Peter Reim is a former pastor who now teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He makes his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.