Recently in a ladies Bible class we were discussing things considered holy today. Our study was centered upon the Valley of Achor where Achan took of the devoted thing and desecrated it (Joshua 7). One of the discussion questions at the end of our study was as follows: “How is it possible for us to sin today as Achan did? How is it possible to desecrate what God declares as holy?” I asked the implied question to the group, “What do we consider holy today?” The first response I received was, “The Lord’s Supper.”
The thought of desecrating that which is holy also brings to mind the story of Nadab and Abihu. After their tragic deaths, God tells Aaron to “put a difference between holy and unholy and between clean and unclean” (Leviticus 10:10). The principle proffered here is the same presented to Peter in Acts 10:15 “What God has cleansed, that call thou not common.” Desecration of that which is holy has always brought divine disapproval and condemnation.
With these things in mind, the comment in ladies Bible class reflects an understanding by all Christians which transcends both time and culture: The Lord’s Supper is holy. It is a sacred feast sanctified by Christ and set by the Holy Spirit in the annals of apostolic authority. So sacred is this supper within the thoughts of early Christians that when abuses of it were reported at Corinth, Paul deals with these abuses in a clear and convincing manner. The Lord’s supper was not to be made common or subjected to such a context. In fact, the actions of the Corinthian church were not even acknowledged by Paul as an instance of this holy meal (1 Corinthians 11:20). Today, unauthorized innovations within the Lord’s Supper should cause us to reflect upon the mistakes of the Corinthians and to preserve its holy and uncommon nature.
The apostle’s call was for the Corinthians to abandon the common and respect the holy. To observe the Lord’s supper the Corinthians needed to recognize that when they came together as the church, they transcended the common family relationship and common meal (1 Corinthians 11:22). By fostering the familial distinctions they despised the church. Feeding one’s family was to occur within the home where common meals were appropriate. In contrast, within the church a spiritual feast should occur. It is not a feast of the body, but of the soul. It is not for physical nourishment, but for spiritual edification. The emphasis is not upon physical quantity, but spiritual quality.
Even with the clear discussion Paul gives regarding the observance of the holy feast there is still some confusion today regarding its institution within the context of the Passover meal. Does this imply, as some have suggested, that the communion is incomplete without the context of an additional fellowship meal? To the contrary, the Lord’s supper is not to be observed as supplemental to the Passover feast, but in substitution of it.
To the Jewish mind, the Passover was a holy observance that memorialized the atonement of their firstborn and their redemption from Egyptian bondage. The paschal lamb itself was not looked upon as merely a holy feast, but an atoning sacrifice made to God. In place of the life of the firstborn, God allowed them to substitute the life of a lamb. The blood of the lamb was to be placed upon the lentil and they were then to roast it and consume it. The consumption of the lamb was to be accompanied by unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It was to be wholly consumed by every member of the family and whatever remained was to be burned with fire (Exodus 12:1-20).
The suggestion some have made that Jesus, in instituting the Lord’s supper, borrowed from the Passover and reinterpreted the elements is inconsistent with His fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17). In contrast, it is consistent to say that He made application of the elements in the context of the perfect Paschal Lamb–His own atoning sacrifice. (Is this not how he partakes of this meal in His kingdom today? [Luke 22:16, 18]) The context of the Passover meal becomes moot to the Lord’s Supper because Christ as our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8) replaces the sacrificial and atoning lamb; His sufferings replace the bitter herbs (Isaiah 53). Remembrance of the redemption of Egypt becomes remembrance of our redemption from sin through the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:28). We consume not the flesh of the sacrificial lamb of the Passover, but the body and blood of the sacrificial Lamb which is Christ (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). And just as the sacrificial lamb was to be wholly consumed by every member of the family, every member of the body of Christ is to partake of the supper without division (1 Corinthians 11:18). The Lord’s Supper as representative of the ultimate passover of the sins of man through Christ replaces and transcends the Mosaic meal (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8).
Why some will want to inculcate elements of a common meal or elements from a dead system of atonement into the sacred supper of the Savior mystifies me. The Lord’s supper is holy. Efforts to innovate this divine communion will only result in God’s displeasure. May we seek to respect God’s ways and make the appropriate distinction between the holy and the common.