The Lord's Supper as Worship
But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 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." 25 In 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." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.
"Worship" is not Just What Happens on Sunday
It is fitting in a series on worship that we deal with the place and meaning of the Lord's Supper in worship. This is true even though the eating of the Lord's supper is never called "worship" in the New Testament, and the gathering of the church where it happens is never called "worship" in the New Testament.
The point of stressing this is to break us of the habit of equating worship mainly with what happens here on Sunday morning. This is worship. We should perhaps call it "congregational worship" or "corporate worship." Because if we fall into the habit of equating this with the worship of the church, we will miss the new and radical point of the New Testament: namely, that worship is driven into the heart as a matter of spirit and truth, and out from the heart, worship flows in all of life, not just in "worship services."
The Essence of Worship
The essence of worship is the inner experience of treasuring the true beauty and worth of God. And the outward forms of worship are the acts that show how much we treasure the beauty and worth of God. Therefore God created all of life as worship because he has told us, "whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Do everything you do in a way that expresses your treasuring of God.
Now in the gathered (or "corporate") life of the church, one of the external acts of treasuring Christ that we should do is the Lord's Supper. You can see this in 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20: "For, in the first place, when you come together as a church . . . Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper . . ." And he goes on to criticize the way they are making a mockery of the Lord's Supper by gorging themselves and even getting drunk on their own food at the church gathering. So he tells them in verse 22 to eat at home.
The implication is that "when you come together as a church" the spirit and demeanor of the gathering should be one of focus on the Lord and sensitivity to the needs of others, not careless eating and drinking. This is one of the reasons that the way we do the Lord's Supper is so lean. Paul really did distinguish it from the eating and drinking we do for our ordinary needs. Verse 22: "What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?"
So we learn that the "Lord's Supper" (notice, that is what it is called in verse 20) is something that is to happen in the gathered church, within the congregational life of the church. And it is something different from other meals that we eat at home to meet our physical needs.
So the question for us is: If the Lord's Supper is worship, how does it express our inner treasuring of Christ's beauty and worth? Let me mention three things from the text. We express the value of Christ by "remembering," by "proclaiming," and by "nourishing."
First, the Lord's Supper expresses the value of Christ by reminding us of him. Notice the word "remembrance" twice. Once in relation to the bread in verse 24 and once in relation to the cup in verse 25. Begin reading in verse 23 where Paul gives the words of the Lord on the institution of the Supper:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; (24) 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." (25) In 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."
In other words, Christ gave us this simple "Lord's Supper" to help us keep him in memory, especially his blood and body given up in death. This is worship if in the doing of it there is an authentic heart experience which says: "We must remember him because he is the most valuable Person in the universe. We must remember his death because it is the most important death in history." Setting out this tangible reminder of Christ time after time in the life of the church will be worship if our hearts feel the preciousness of remembering Christ and tremble at the prospect of forgetting him.
Second, the Lord's Supper expresses the value of Christ by proclaiming his death. Verse 26: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." If "remembering" means calling to mind what Christ did by his death, then "proclaiming" means calling to each other what Christ did by his death. This is the normal movement of worship: the preciousness of Christ presses itself on our memory, and then that inner remembering breaks out in proclaiming the worth of what we remember. If you really value something that is relevant for others as well as yourself - if it moves you and delights you - you will speak of it. You will declare it. So the Lord's Supper is worship if in doing it there is an authentic heart experience which says: this death and all it achieved is so valuable that it must not only be remembered; it must be proclaimed."
These two meanings of the Lord's Supper support each other. Remembering enables us to proclaim, since you can't proclaim what you don't remember. And proclaiming helps us remember, because not everyone remembers at the same time and with the same intensity, and we need his death to be proclaimed with word and bread and cup lest we forget the preciousness of his death.
Finally, the Lord's Supper expresses the value of Christ by nourishing our life in Christ. If we come to Christ over and over and say, "By this, O Christ, I feed on you. By this, O Jesus Christ, I nourish my life in you. By this I share in all the grace you bought for me with your own blood and body" (1 Corinthians 10:16) - if we come to Christ over and over with this longing and this conviction in our heart: that here he nourishes us by faith, then the Lord's Supper will be a deep and wonderful act of worship. Nothing shows the worth and preciousness of Christ so much as when we come to him to feed our hungry souls.
Where do we see this in the text? We see it in the fact that the Lord's Supper is a supper. We are eating and drinking. Why are we eating and drinking? Eating and drinking are for nourishing and sustaining life. And here Jesus tells us that the bread we are eating is his body, and the cup we are drinking is the new covenant in his blood. So the eating and drinking are no ordinary eating and drinking. The nourishment that is in the Lord's Supper comes not from bread and wine (or juice). Paul already said in verse 22 that we should take care of our bodily needs by eating at home before we come. This supper is not about physical nourishment. It is about spiritual nourishment.
Roman Catholic View
How does this work? Roman Catholics speak of transubstantiation and teach that, at the consecration by the priest, the bread and wine are actually and miraculously transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus. Eating this transubstantiated bread and drinking this transubstantiated wine brings saving grace to the soul.
Lutherans speak of consubstantiation and teach that the bread and wine don't cease to be bread and wine, but that the real, literal presence of the physical body and blood of Christ is present along with the natural elements when they are consecrated in worship.
Our view (call it the Reformed view) is that the bread and wine are emblems or symbols of the real, literal body of Christ that was crucified in history and today is in heaven at the Father's right hand. But we believe that there is a real feeding on Christ spiritually by faith - not on his physical body, but on his real, spiritual presence. And even though a believer can nourish himself any time and anywhere on the presence of Christ in his word, there is a special nourishing offered in eating the Lord's Supper and hearing the preaching of God's word.
Luther Versus Zwingli - John 6
The place to see this most clearly perhaps is in John 6. Here is where Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli locked horns at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529. Luther quoted verse 53, "So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.'" And then he would quote 1 Corinthians 11:24, "This is my body," and he even wrote it with chalk on the big conference table during the debate.
His claim was that we are tampering with the Word of God to say that "This is my body" means "This symbolizes my body." He would go back to John 6:53 - we must "eat the flesh of the Son of Man!"
But Zwingli, on the other hand, who took the view that we embrace, pointed to John 6:63 as an explanation of Jesus' words. There Jesus said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." He became exasperated at Luther's repetition of "This is my body," and said, "I remain firm at this text, 'The flesh profits nothing.' I shall oblige you to return to it. You will have to sing a different tune with me" (Reformers in Profile, ed. B.A. Gerrish, p. 139).
We believe that Zwingli was closer to the truth here. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." In other words, when Jesus said in John 6:53 that we must "eat the flesh of the Son of Man," he did not mean to say that literal flesh profits anything, even if it were possible. He meant to say that his words were spirit and life. We feed on the flesh and blood of Jesus spiritually, not physically.
One last pointer to this way of seeing the Lord's Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:25 Paul said, "He took the cup also after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood.'" I am not aware of anyone who says that the cup is literally the covenant. Nor is the wine in the cup the covenant. The new covenant is God's commitment to save to the uttermost those who trust in Jesus. The cup of wine (or juice) represents this covenant because the blood of Christ bought the covenant for us. It doesn't become this covenant.
So I conclude that, in a few minutes, when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we may nourish our souls by faith on the spiritual presence of Christ. When we remember and proclaim his death, he manifests himself to us as infinitely precious. He shows us all that God promises to be for us in Christ. This is the food of our souls. With this we are nourished and find strength to live as Christians.
The Lord's Supper is worship because it expresses the infinite worth of Christ. No one is more worthy to be remembered. No one is more worthy to be proclaimed. And no one can nourish our souls with eternal life but Christ. So let us come and remember, and proclaim and eat.
© Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org