The Lord’s Supper has been given several names across Christian history:
Breaking bread denotes a shared common meal. We think the Supper was observed following a church meal in the early Church.
Communion means fellowship or participation with the Lord (vertically) and with fellow believers (horizontally).
Eucharist comes from a transliteration of the Greek word for thanks — He took the cup and “gave thanks” (
Sacrament has an interesting history. William Barclay wrote that originally it was used to describe a pledge or bond, much like earnest money or a downpayment.1 It sealed a promise. Think of God’s promises to us: “If you believe with your heart and confess with your mouth, you shall be saved” (
In later times, sacramentum was the term used to describe a Roman soldier’s oath of loyalty to the emperor, or a citizen’s pledge of allegiance.
The ruins of the mountaintop fortress Masada in Israel are interesting. After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 the Jewish holdouts fled to Masada. The Roman general Flavius Silva built a ramp and after great effort invaded the fortress, only to discover a mass suicide by the Jews there. Today, Israeli soldiers are sworn in atop the mountain, repeating the phrase, “Masada will never fall again!” The Lord’s Supper is our sacramentum, our oath of allegiance to the Lord.
In the fourth century A.D., Augustine called the Lord’s Supper a sacrament. This denotes it as a means of God’s grace — not in some magical or mechanical way, but as a symbol and sign with a meaning beyond itself.
We have many examples of the sacramental by this definition: something simple to which we give significance. An heirloom may have little market value but we treasure it because it has been in the family, like my grandfather’s washstand.
A wedding band may not contain $100 worth of gold but it has a sacramental significance for the wearer. It stands for a relationship which is precious.
The American flag is only a piece of colorful cloth but it has great meaning to a patriot. The flag represents the nation we love — “one nation, under God.”
Jesus took two items common to most every table in His day: bread and wine. He gave them symbolic meaning; they stand for His body and His life’s blood given for our redemption on the cross.
I. Lord’s Supper Observance Is an Act of Loyalty
Here at the Lord’s Table we pledge our allegiance to the Lord Christ. We confront His claim on us. It was at the cost of His body and blood that our redemption was secured.
Here we confess our sins during a time of self-examination. We know we are unworthy. We pray for and receive the assurance of divine forgiveness.
Here we confess our faith in Christ as Savior of our soul and Lord of our daily life. In this significant observance we commit ourselves anew to Jesus. It is a way of acting out the earliest Christian creed: Christos Kurios — Christ is Lord. The Supper becomes a sacramental experience to us.
The Lord’s Supper has both a faith dimension and an ethical one.
II. Lord’s Supper Observance Is a Call to Obedience
We are confronted with the claim of God’s will on our lives. To find His will is the greatest discovery; to do it is our greatest achievement. He has a plan and purpose for us and we dare not let our pride get in the way.
The Lord’s Supper calls us to do the right thing in all our relationships. Amos envisioned this: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (
Here at the Lord’s Table we pledge our love and loyalty to Christ. It is our oath of allegiance — our sacramentum.
Hear the Invitation to the Lord’s Table:
Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may;
Come not to testify to your righteousness, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be His true disciple;
Come not because your goodness gives you a right to come, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in need of heaven’s mercy and help;
Come because you love the Lord a little and want to love Him more;
Come because He loved you and gave Himself for you;
Lift up your hearts, above your cares and fears;
Let this bread and wine be a sign of God’s grace to you and a pledge of your love to the Lord Christ;
Receive the love of God and consecrate your life afresh to Christian obedience and service, to discover and do the will of God in humble faith.2
1. William Barclay, The Lord’s Supper, SCM, 1967; pp. 7-15.
2. Adapted from Winward & Cox, Worship Manual, World, 1969; p. 14.