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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

Discussing Our Differences on the Lord’s Supper

On the night before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus inaugurated the new covenant by giving bread and wine to his disciples saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:19–20). But how are we to interpret these words? When we partake of communion, are we literally feeding on Christ’s body and blood, or is this meal simply a way to celebrate and remember all that Jesus accomplished for us? On this program, we’re continuing to discuss our differences as we continue our series on The Ministry of Word & Sacrament.


“Covenant meals are replete in the Old Testament. They celebrated and ratified treaties and that was true in Ancient Near Eastern politics. You find that mysterious priest-king from the city of Salem who brought out bread and wine and then pronounced Yahweh’s blessing on Abraham on Genesis 14. The annual Passover festival was a way for Israel throughout their generations to participate in that night of safety in which you pass under God’s sword because of the blood of the lamb on the door post. The prophets also spoke of God’s judgment as the cup of wrath and so we should assume the same covenantal background when Jesus says, ‘This is my body and this is the blood of the new covenant,’ especially when he speaks of his own crucifixion as the drinking of the cup of wrath to its dregs in the place of those for whom he stands as covenant mediator.

“To the Western mind, remembering typically means recollecting or recalling to the mind something that’s absent but nothing could be further from a Jewish conception. For example, in the Jewish Passover liturgy, those who eat the unleavened bread, bitter herbs and roasted lamb, are not merely reminded of the time in which their fathers were liberated and redeemed from slavery. But the meal itself was a means of participating in those defining events so that together with their forebears, those who share in the Passover Seder, invoke the name of their rescuer and deliverer saying, ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.’

“On the night before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus inaugurated the new covenant by giving bread and wine to his disciples saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. This cup that is poured out for you as the new covenant in my blood.’ This covenant meal, therefore, was the sign and seal of this new covenant which means that it has binding, legal authority. It is Jesus Christ’s last will and testament. Unlike the covenant made in Sinai in which the people swore, ‘All this we will do.’ In the new covenant, believers simply come as beneficiaries and inheritors of an estate.”

Michael Horton



The Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), meaning “thanksgiving,” is attributed in the words of institution of the Last Supper to Christ as he ratifies the new covenant in his body and blood in 1 Cor. 11:20–21. The Apostle Paul links this ecclesiology of the sacrament to the ascension of Christ who is the source of the gifts. In ascending on high Christ now pours his good gifts lavishly by his Spirit to his saints through the ministry of Word and sacrament. It is this ministry alone that creates, sustains, unites, and brings maturity to the body of Christ sealed in this meal of thanksgiving (Eph. 4).

In Luke 24, on the day of Resurrection, meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus Jesus shows himself from all of Scriptures as being the one the prophets spoke of. They recognized him when he came to supper. He took bread and broke it and gave thanks. Thus, they recognized him only after the meal! The verbal clauses are consonant with the words of institution. This model is how the church comes to recognize Christ. While the church recognizes Christ in the preaching of the gospel (“didn’t our hearts burn within us!”), it is in the breaking of the bread that she recognizes and communes with her Savior. He stands in her midst and he says “peace be with you.” This κοινωνία (communion) is a sharing in his body and blood. She is given this Eucharist as she awaits that last day, when she will feast with God forever in the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Those who partake of the Eucharist in true faith, in thanksgiving, receive all the benefits of Christ, while the unbelieving are condemned in partaking. By eating and drinking of bread and wine the church is lifted into Christ’s presence by the Spirit and communes with him. This eating and drinking in thanksgiving, by the Spirit’s mystical work, sets the church aside (i.e. ‘made holy’) in body and soul for the Last Day as that end-times community of saints.

(Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, pp 733–827)

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