22While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
This is the institution of the Lord’s Supper. All of the gospels include this in some form; when we studied John’s gospel we saw that he focuses on servanthood at the Last Supper, but includes the institution of Holy Communion when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”. Matthew, Mark, and Luke include this institution at the Last Supper, a Passover meal. We know then that the church, even in the earliest days, was following some sort of shared meal of remembrance of Christ’s gift of life for us. Remembering that Paul wrote his letters years before the gospels were written, we actually find the first indication of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23 – 26.
23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
In each one, Jesus blesses the bread, breaks it, and shares it with his disciples. Throughout his ministry Jesus has taken bread, blessed it, broken it, and shared it – with the multitude on the mountainside, with sinners and tax collectors, and even Pharisees. But this time is different – this time he tells them that the bread is his body, broken for them. Can’t you see the disciples looking at one another, not understanding? And then he takes the cup – there are a number of “cups”, or glasses of wine, passed around the table at a Passover meal; each one has its own meaning. But Jesus is changing the meaning – this Passover meal now has a new meaning; it represents not freedom from Egypt and the Angel of Death passing over the Israelites, but freedom from sin, freedom from death in a new way; it represents Jesus’ sacrifice, for us, and a new covenant, written in his blood, rather than that of a lamb, in which we, each one of us, has the opportunity for a new life in God.
As Methodists, Holy Communion represents this new covenant, and new life; it represents the forgiveness of our sins, and our inclusion in community. In this service, we can come, and share the table with Jesus. Holy Communion is not to be taken privately, aside from the Body – except when it is taken from that community to someone who is ill or shut-in, and there it represents the Body to that person. It is not to be taken casually, and on one’s own, as a self-serve sort of thing – that is to remove it from the worshipping Body; it is an act of worship. Holy Communion is a means of grace; Christ’s love is given to us through the breaking of the bread, and the serving of the meal. It is an open table – grace is available to all.