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Lord's Supper


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The Lord's Supper

To their enemies, the early Christians were thought to be cannibals, based on a misunderstanding of the central focus of those early Christian meetings, where bread and wine were shared as Christ's "flesh" and "blood."

A Shared Meal

At first, the Eucharist consisted of a common meal, where the bread and the wine were shared as a vivid reminder of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and of the shared role of all Christians, who had died to sin in the death of Jesus, resurrected to a new life in Christ.

Some of the Mennonite churches still celebrate the Lord's Supper as a common meal, but most of the Western churches gradually began to put more emphasis on celebrating the Eucharist or mass, and on the power that was believed to spring from this reenactment of Christ's sacrifice of Himself upon the cross.

In time, the Popes came to threaten obstinate rulers with exclusion from the Eucharist, which was thought to be a powerful sanction, carrying the threat of exclusion from heaven. Priests used similar tactics when dealing with wayward flocks.

Eventually, people began to attach a magical significance to the bread and the wine, with ordinary Christians barred, as unfit to drink the wine.

It wasn't until 1215 that the Church began teaching what became the doctrine of transubstantiation. The 4th Lateran Council proclaimed in that year that:

    The Body and Blood are truly contained in the Sacrament ... under the appearance of bread and wine, after the bread has been changed into the Body, and the wine into the Blood, through the power of God.

The Reformers

16th Century reformers would later reject the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

Martin Luther demanded that all believers should be offered both bread and wine, and declared that the bread and wine benefited those who accepted them in faith, but that they did not change into the actual body and blood of Christ. He believed that the taking of the bread and the wine benefited those believers who accepted them in faith, but that the process was not mechanical.

John Calvin, like Luther, believed that the Lord's Supper was an especially dramatic point in the Christian's communion with God, but that no physical change was occurring in the bread and the wine.

32930592The Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, a contemporary of Luther, felt that the Lord's Supper was solely a sign, or a sort of a metaphor. When Christ said, referring to the bread, "This is my body," he meant that the bread represented his body. To Zwingli, the important part of the meal was the bringing together of fellow Christians in communion, and this is the tradition that most of the Protestant churches have taken up, with communion representing a remembrance of Christ's death.

Bread and wine are the elements of the Christian communion, or Eucharist. The broken bread represents the body of Christ, while the wine reminds the Christian of His blood which was poured out so that our sins could be forgiven.


Zwingli had an interesting discussion with Conrad Grebel, the co-founder of the Anabaptist movement, about the subject of communion. Zwingli saw nothing wrong with having the communicants come forward and receive the bread and the wine from the minister or priest, as was the tradition in the Catholic Church, but Grebel insisted that the church members, not the minister, should pass the elements to one another.

While practices today may differ from one Anabaptist group to another, they retain the belief that the supper should be a participatory meal, and not an awesome ritual that everyone but the priest observed only from a distance. Many Protestant churches adapted that same general belief about the celebration of communion.

    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 of my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. -- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26





Overview of Bible Study