Every year on May 10 my wife and I observe our wedding anniversary. Why? Obviously, because that’s the date on which we got married. And yes, because if I didn’t remember that date, I’d be in the doghouse. We mark that day to remember a significant past event, but more than that, to celebrate together the lasting relationship that event made possible.
Beyond the fact that Christ commanded it, why do believers observe the Lord’s Supper?
1. To commemorate
Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24,25).
He intentionally chose to establish the Lord’s Supper during the celebration of the Passover (Matt. 26:17). The Passover was instituted by God to be a memorial of His deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of the deliverance from sin He would give to those who trust in Him (Matt. 26:28).
The bread and the cup remind us of the one time sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. We partake to remember what He did on our behalf.
2. To anticipate
With the words, “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29), Jesus anticipated a reunion with His disciples in His Father’s kingdom. Likewise, He instructed them to partake the Lord’s Supper in anticipation: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
Therefore, we observe the Lord’s Supper in anticipation of Jesus’ return and the end time consummation of His kingdom. We are looking forward to that time when we will celebrate with Him at His great banquet table (see Matt. 22:1-14; Rev. 19:6-9).
3. To participate
More than a time of passive and individual reflection, to the observe of the Lord’s Supper is to participate in a congregational act by which we corporately affirm our faith, celebrate the completed work of Christ, focus on our unity, and visibly proclaim to the world that Jesus is the only way of salvation.
In Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, he made the point that the way we participate matters. In Corinth, the celebration that was supposed to unify the church actually brought disunity to the church. Paul repeated the phrase “come together” five times in that passage (1 Cor. 11:17-18,20,33-34). His intent was for the church to focus on their unity in Christ. By participating together in the Lord’s Supper, we give visible expression that unity.
Further, the Lord’s Supper is an act of proclamation, giving public testimony to the message of the gospel (1 Cor. 11:26). By observing it, we announce to those outside the church that Christ is the only way of salvation.
Lastly, participation involves personal examination. “Let a person examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28). The call to personal examination before taking the Lord’s Supper is a call to participation.
Why do we observe the Lord’s Supper? We observe to commemorate a past event, to anticipate a future event, and to participate in the celebration of life between the two.
Mike Livingstone is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.