Words of Institution
- Main Text: Matthew 26:17-30
- Accompanying text: Psalm 116:12-15
What this passage means to us
When we take the elements of the Lord’s Supper, which is also called “Communion” (meaning fellowship, coming together in unity) and the “Eucharist” (giving thanks), we proclaim “the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26), and we confess that “who we are in God is who we all are. Everything else is changing and passing away” .
When Jesus referred to the blood of the new covenant (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20), it is evident that he regarded his death as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and, therefore, as altering the relationship of the whole human race to God. Moses had made a covenant with God by the blood of the oxen sprinkled on the people (Exodus 24:8), but now Jesus, by his own blood, makes a new and better covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 12:24).
Bible commentaries discuss the significance of the details of the texts concerning the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is seen as part of the nourishment and growth of the spiritual life — this is why Paul discusses the communion of the body of Christ. It’s also noticeable from 1 Corinthians 11:25, that Jesus tells us to take elements “in remembrance of me” – that is, in remembering all that Jesus is, including his incarnation, resurrection and ascension. When we take the Lord’s Supper, it is with the ascended and glorified Lord. We commune with him who is alive for evermore.
Here are some thoughts to consider when preparing to lead the congregation in communion, showing why it is important to the life of the believer:
- It is an expression of God’s self-giving
- It reminds us of the saving act of God
- It reminds us that God continues to forgive us
- It allows us an occasion to renew our commitment
- That renewal is first of all personal — you belong to Jesus and He belongs to you
- But secondly made within community – you also belong to a body of believers
- It tells us that the renewal (or the resurrection) of God’s self-giving in us is expressed in community
Some underling values expressed in the service of the Lord’s Supper are sacrifice in a world of selfishness; holiness in a world where anything goes; togetherness in our individuality; continuity despite setbacks; commitment in a world that can’t be bothered; dependence on God in a world that idolizes independence: and hope for a world that seems hopeless.
Also, note our involvement with the Father, Son and Spirit on the cross — “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14). We are forgiven and thus prepared for a life of service to God and to others (as the Foot Washing service illustrates). When we take the bread and the wine, we testify to our participation in accepting the sacrifice of Jesus for us. The Lord’s Supper “becomes our ongoing touchstone for the Christian journey, a place to which we must repeatedly return in order to find our face, our name, our absolute identity, who we are in Christ, and thus who we are forever” .
Context and Story-line
By the time we get to Matthew 26, the conspiracy against Jesus is well underway. “When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me’. They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:20-22). The truth of the matter is that not only would Judas betray Jesus, but, as Jesus approached his final hours on earth, the rest of the disciples would desert or deny him, and it appears that only John was present at the cross. It is John alone who records the act of service in which Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.
How much Jesus followed the customs of the Jewish Passover meal is debatable. It was not the traditional timing of the Passover meal, and the format was clearly different. One thing that is important to note is that Jesus instituted something “new”, a sacrament that would be later be called the Lord’s Supper.
According to Luke, afterwards the disciples argued among themselves as to who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus rebuked them, telling them that what matters is to serve one another — “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27), he explained. He then tells Peter that Peter would deny him, and that the disciples should all get ready for Jesus’ own imminent death. But they did not understand any of it, and they had not followed the meaning of the bread and the wine. “The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords’” Was it in exasperation that Jesus replied, “‘That’s enough!” (Luke 22:38)?
“Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me’… But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same. Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray’. He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter… He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done’. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’” (Matthew 26:31-45).
- 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
- 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
- John 6:25-59
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: how a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for and believe (London, UK: SPCK, 2019). 138.
- Ibid. 137.