Past, Present, and Future
What we celebrate each time we observe the communion service
By Ferdinand O. Regalado
Growing up in a humble province on one of the islands of the Philippines where grape juice was a luxury, I always looked forward to the annual celebration of the Lord’s Supper in our church. Drinking the grape juice from the tiny plastic cup increased my thirst for more of these services. In the same way, eating the tiny unleavened bread, which I had never tasted at home, further intensified my craving.
Obviously, the Lord’s Supper was not instituted in order to satisfy one’s craving for rare grape juice. There was more beyond those symbols. As I grew up and studied the Bible more seriously I learned that the significance of the Lord’s Supper pointed us to three dimensions: its significance in the past, its meaning for the present, and its importance for the future.
There are two important events to remember about the Last Supper. The first one involves the Jewish Passover celebration. Jesus introduced the Lord’s Supper to His disciples on the evening of the Passover feast, indicating that the Lord’s Supper had replaced one of the important Jewish festivals. Recasting the words of Moses, Jesus gave them new meaning. Jesus changed the phrase from “the blood of the covenant” (Ex. 24:8) to “My [Jesus’] blood of the new covenant” (Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20),1 which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. In effect, Jesus claimed that He was the Passover lamb.
The second event is the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told His disciples to commemorate this new event in the upper room, by saying: “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19, NASB).2 From the remembrance of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt through the celebration of the Passover, Jesus now commanded His disciples to remember the salvation brought by His own death through the observance of the Lord’s Supper. This command to remember is also given to Christ’s believers today. This memory of the past brings us to the reality of the present.
The Lord's Supper:
The Lord’s Supper is a participation in the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of faith in Him, our Lord and Savior. In this experience of communion Christ is present to meet and strengthen His people. As we partake, we joyfully proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. Preparation for the Supper includes self-examination, repentance, and confession. The Master ordained the service of foot-washing to signify renewed cleansing, to express a willingness to serve one another in Christlike humility, and to unite our hearts in love. The communion service is open to all believing Christians. (1 Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:23-30; Matt. 26:17-30; Rev. 3:20; John 6:48-63; 13:1-17.)The Present
Two important concepts in the Lord’s Supper are meaningful for the present. The Lord’s Supper emphasizes the significance of communion with Him and our communion with one another as believers. Paul states: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16, 17, KJV). Although not spoken during the Last Supper, these words of Jesus highlight an important theological concept of Communion: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56, NASB). So the real purpose of eating and drinking in the Lord’s Supper was not to satisfy one’s physical needs. The Communion service is to remind us of our much deeper need of Christ and of one another. We are dependent on Christ for our spiritual needs just as we are dependent on one another for our social needs.
Have you ever wondered why the image of “eating” was used for this important commemoration rite? In biblical times “sharing a meal” was quite meaningful. Unlike this modern era that promotes the practice of “fast food” and “eating alone,” eating in ancient times was generally communal and took a longer time. Making peace with one’s enemy, establishing a covenant with someone, and showing forgiveness to a “sinner” were usually marked by a meal (Gen. 31:44-46; 26:28-31; Luke 15:23). The different implications of a meal in ancient times should also be manifested today among Christ’s believers, whenever they participate in the Communion service. That’s what makes the Lord’s Supper meaningful for the present.
The past and the present significance of the Lord’s Supper direct our minds to the future. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus concluded the last supper with His disciples with these words: “I will not drink of 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, NASB). In effect, these words could be viewed as Jesus’ vow of abstinence to strengthen the certainty of His second meal with His disciples and with us in the future.
However, while Jesus abstains, we have an active role to play. In anticipation of the future meal with Jesus we are invited to participate in the Communion service at the present. Paul’s words to the Corinthians emphasizes the implications of the ordinance of the Lord’s table for the future. He writes: “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, NRSV).3 Participating in the Lord’s Supper is part of a proclamation of the gospel, and we preach the gospel with the anticipation of the future. Moreover, these texts reveal God’s promises: the reality of His kingdom and the trustworthiness of His second coming. The Lord’s Supper “significantly links the first advent with the second.”4 At the same time, it “reminds us of the joy of personal fellowship with Christ that awaits us when the kingdom of God is fully established.”5
The Lord’s Supper points us back to the atoning death of Jesus and inspires us to participate in it by proclaiming and living the gospel; it also compels us to look to the future when we finally can have personal communion with Christ and “share a meal” with Him for eternity.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, translations of the Bible texts are the author’s.
2 Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
3 Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
4 Francis D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1956), vol. 5, p. 523.
5 Richard Rice, Reign of God: An Introduction to Christian Theology From a Seventh-day Adventist Perspective, second ed. (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1997), p. 382.
Ferdinand O. Regalado, Ph.D., is an Old Testament professor atMontemorelos University, Mexico. He is married to Charito with two daughters, Lyndsay and Samantha.