For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.1 Corinthians 11:23-25
Paul passes on to them and to us our Lord's emphasis upon two remarkable symbols, the bread and the cup. Deliberately, after the Passover feast, Jesus took the bread, and when he had broken it, to make it available to all the disciples, he said to them,
This is my body. Unfortunately some have taken that to mean that he was teaching that the bread becomes his body, but as you look at the story of the Upper Room, it is clear that he meant it in a symbolic sense. If it was literal, then there were two bodies of Christ present in the Upper Room, one in which he lived and by which he held the bread, and the bread itself. But clearly our Lord means this as a symbol.
This represents my body which is for you.
broken for you, as some versions have it. That is not a very accurate rendering. It is not broken for us. The Scriptures tell us that not a bone of his body would be broken. Rather it is intended for us to live on; that is the symbolism. Thus when we gather and take the bread of the Lord's Table, break it and pass it among ourselves, we are reminding ourselves that Jesus is our life: He is the One by whom we live. As Paul says,
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me, (Galatians 2:20 KJV).
This is what the bread symbolizes — that he is to be our power by which we obey the demands of God, the Word of God, to love one another, to forgive one another, to be tender and merciful, kind and courteous to one another, to not return evil for evil but to pray for those who persecute us and mistrust us and misuse us. His life in us enables us to be what God asks us to be. We live by means of Christ.
Following that, our Lord took the cup. The wine of the cup symbolizes his blood which he said is the blood of the New Covenant, the new arrangement for living that God has made, by which the old life is ended. That is what blood always means: Blood is the end of a life, and the old life in which we were dependent upon ourselves, and lived for ourselves, and wanted only to be the center of attention is over. That is what the cup means. We agree to that; we are no longer to live for ourselves. You do not have final rights to your life, and the price is the blood of Jesus. Therefore, when we take that cup and drink it, we are publicly proclaiming that we agree with that sentence of death upon our old life, and believe that the Christian life is a continual experience of life coming out of death.
Power with God only comes when we die to the wisdom and the power of man. We give up one so that the other may be manifest within us. That is what the cup means. It is a beautiful picture of what Jesus said of himself,
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone, (John 12:24 KJV). Nothing is more descriptive of the emptiness of life than that phrase
abides alone — lonely, restless, bored, miserable, unhappy. That is the life that tries to live for itself and its own needs and its own rights, but the Christian life is one in which that is freely and voluntarily surrendered. If the corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will bring forth much fruit, and by the participation in the cup this is what we are declaring.
Lord Jesus, thank you for giving your life up that I might have new life in you.
When we partake of the symbols of bread and wine, do we honor the richly profound reality they represent? Does our gratitude for His indwelling Life find expression in sacrificial love, no longer living for self interest but for Him who gave Himself for us?