For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Co 11:23-25 ESV)
The above verses, among others, are commonly read before the practice known as Holy Communion in many churches. (Like Baptism there are a couple exceptions – see Neither Baptism Nor Communion Services for Quakers and the Salvation Army) The setting for these verses is known as the Last Supper. Luke, chapter 22: 1-38, tells us that the Passover feast was drawing near, and Jesus gave instructions to prepare for the Passover meal to his disciples, who then made the preparations, and we see in the verses that Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples at that time, and he taught a number of things. It was the first Communion service.
There are a number of truths in the above verses:
- Communion is a practice commanded by Jesus Christ himself. (Jesus said the words.)
- We are to practice communion to remember Jesus and what he has done. (“Do this in remembrance of me.”)
- Jesus Christ’s shedding of blood – literally giving his life for us – brings us a new covenant with God. ( “This cup is the new covenant in my blood”)
- It is to be done as a practice. (“Do this, as often as you drink it.”)
Lets look at what Jesus was referring to above in speaking about a new covenant. Jeremiah prophesied about a new covenant:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:31-34 ESV)
If Jesus’ death brought a new covenant what was the old covenant? It was the agreement God made with Israel in the time before Christ. It included the law of the old Testament. The law was a system where people knew what do by the system of rules and regulations about life. It was the 10 commandments, but also so much more. There were feasts to be observed, sacrifices to be made, tithes to be paid, rules on what to eat and what not to eat, how to treat different individuals and so much more.
Jeremiah says that the new covenant will no longer be a written law ouside the body but an inner knowing of the Lord. That is what Jesus brought. Communion remembers Jesus’ sacrifice and celebrates that his death allows us the internal access to the Father that we receive when we accept Jesus as Lord.