Notes from a lecture, delivered March 25, 2008.

And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14:22-26

Start with that first clause, and remember that though it has been simplified and ritualized, the Lord’s Supper is first and always a meal. Why is this important?

Paul’s is the earliest description of what such a service actually consisted of; listen as he chastises the Corinthians for abusing his instructions:

When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you . . .

I Corinthians 11:20-23

Paul knows that meals are important. They are a sign of fellowship, of equality, and friendship – and the Lord’s Supper is nothing if not that. And when we read the New Testament for them, suddenly they are everywhere. Jesus visits a wedding feast and there turns water into wine to bless the event; he dines with publicans; he feeds the five thousand (six times over four gospels). Why does he do these things? Because he knows that bread and wine – that eating and drinking – are important, and that giving is an act of service. And of course, what he gives is more than merely food. The feeding is an instrument of grace; a means to gain the Word wrapped in the material. Listen to him after he feeds the five thousand with fish and bread:

They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

John 6:34-5

Jesus is the Word of God; the bread of life. He feeds his disciples, the five thousand, Christians everywhere; he passes the bread from one to another, spreading its nourishment over the table, down the mountain, across the world. And the bread, in a real sense, is him.

Paul, again;

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

I Corinthians 10:16-17

And on baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:3

The language here is profound: We are baptized into, not merely in the name of, Christ. We are one body. The Lord’s Supper can be read to the community what baptism is to the individual; it clothes us in Christ, to use another of Paul’s phrases, it makes us collectively anew, and we pass that sanctification to each other, lifting each other into Christ’s Body.

How do we do this? Let’s look at the scripture again:

And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”
Mark 14:22

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
Matthew 26:26

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Luke 22:19

Gregory Dix[1] noted this pattern: What does Christ do? He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives.

For fun:

And when the Disciples had come with bread and wine, he took of the bread and brake and blessed it; and he gave unto the Disciples and commanded that they should eat.

3 Nephi 18:3

Again the pattern.

Dix argued that these four actions were the shape of the liturgy; that is, they are the ritually significant actions which the administration of the Lord’s Supper should imitate. I want, however, to offer a Pauline interpretation; that is, we can read these four actions as ways in which we take upon ourselves Christ; the ways in which Christ interacted with his humanity.

Took – Birth

Blessed – Incarnation

Broke – Crucifixion

Gave – Atonement

We see, then, that the Lord’s supper teaches us to remember not only Christ’s death, but his life, and our life in him.

The body is broken, but also born; slain, but also raised. Note the odd phrase which Christ uses in the Book of Mormon – which is not, however, in our sacramental prayer:

And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.

3 Nephi 18:7

“Which I have shown unto you.” Christ here emphasizes the fellowship of the meal; his living presence and fellowship with his disciples. As Kathleen Flake[2] has noticed, the JST of Mark emphasizes this as well:

Take it and eat. Behold, this is for you to do in remembrance of my body, for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.

Mark 14:22, JST

That living interaction with Christ, then, the vital presence of him in our life – Paul’s greatest theme – is what the Lord’s Supper teaches. And our ritual actions in the Supper drive it home. The teachers, every Sunday take the bread to the table, as Christ did when he sanctified the human condition by showing us its potential for forgiveness, gentleness and mercy. The priests, every Sunday break the bread. So do we all, for we all sin, and they represent us. But the also bless it, and not only the deacons but we also pass the sacrament to each other; we offer each other the hope of grace and forgiveness, and bring one another into the body of Christ. We should remember that, then, as we eat at the Lord’s table.

[1] Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (1945).
[2] Kathleen Flake, “Supping with the Lord,” Sunstone 91 (1993).