Imagine that you were one of the twelve men who spent three-and-a-half years following Jesus, seeing His every miracle and listening to His every word. Near the end of those years, you celebrate an annual feast with Him known as “Passover” that you’ve celebrated every year of your life and that has been part of your culture for hundreds of years.
At some point during that meal, imagine Jesus taking some of the bread (probably unleavened), blessing and breaking it, and then giving everyone pieces to eat, which He explains is “My body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 14:24). He also tells everyone that they should do this in His remembrance (Luke 22:19). Finally, imagine Him then taking a cup of wine, giving thanks, and then similarly passing it around as He explains that it “is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). What would you have been thinking? Years later, the apostle Paul would retell that story and its significance:
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; 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 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
Clearly, from what both Jesus and Paul said, the central symbolism of the Lord’s Supper revolves around Jesus’ sacrificial death. His body was broken and His blood was shed. And clearly, Jesus wanted all of His disciples to remember His sacrificial death, perpetually into the future, in the bread and wine. All Christians agree on those fundamental facts.
There is, however, a lot of diversity among Christians regarding how they practice the Lord’s Supper. Some, for example, do it once a year, following the pattern of the annual Passover. I must point out, however, that Jesus didn’t say concerning the wine, “Do this once a year” but rather, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:25, emphasis added). He may have meant, “as often as you drink the Passover wine (that is, once a year), do it in remembrance of Me,” but that would seem to be an odd thing to say.
Could Jesus actually have meant, “From here on in, every time you drink wine, let it remind you of My blood, which was shed for your sins”?
That is a matter of some speculation. I can’t think of anywhere in the New Testament epistles where the idea is taught that every drink of wine should serve as a reminder of Christ’s blood. On the other hand, why would Jesus want His disciples to remember His sacrificial death just once a year (or even just once a month, as is the practice in many churches)? Contrariwise, why wouldn’t He want His disciples to think about it every time they drank wine? What could be wrong with that?
If I had walked with Jesus for three-and-a-half years, seen all His miracles, been at the Last Supper, and seen Him after His resurrection, I tend to think that, from then on, every time I ate bread or drank wine, I would have a hard time not thinking about what He said regarding the bread and wine on the night of His betrayal.
The diet of the folks in Jesus’ day was not all that varied, and most people may have had twenty or thirty simple foods that comprised the majority of their diets. Jesus chose the two foods from their limited diets that most people consumed every day—bread and wine—to symbolize His body and blood. They were also likely the two foods in their diets that bore the closest resemblance to a human body and human blood. Bread bears a similar color as skin, and red wine, being a dark-colored liquid, bears some resemblance to blood.
So again, I ask, Did Jesus take two very common foods that most people of that time consumed every day, and attach to them a symbolism that would help His followers keep His sacrificial death in their thoughts at least once or twice a day? Something to ponder.
You may recall that Jesus similarly said at a different time:
‘I am the bread of life…. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh…. 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. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven…he who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:48, 50-51, 53-58).
It is impossible to read those words without thinking about the Lord’s Supper and what it symbolizes. When we eat the bread and drink the wine—which actually becomes part of our physical bodies and gives us physical life—it symbolizes that Christ similarly enters us, becomes one with us, and gives us eternal life. Is that fundamental truth something Jesus wanted His disciples to be thinking about only once a year? Just once a month? Why not every day? Because they were eating bread and drinking wine every day. Why wouldn’t Jesus want them to be thinking about those things every time they had a meal, and particularly a meal with other believers?
Again, I certainly realize that the annual Jewish Passover contained an even higher level of symbolism that is tied with Jesus’ death. But even if my speculation regarding Jesus’ intent in regards to Him assigning symbolism to daily bread and wine is wrong, I can’t help but think that God would not have minded if, every time one of Jesus’ disciples ate bread or drank wine, that they thanked Him for His sacrificial death and for His indwelling Spirit, concerning which they were reminded by the common foods they were about to consume.
And although most of us are probably not consuming bread and wine on a daily basis, we’re all eating and drinking two or three times a day, I can’t imagine that God would mind if we associated any food or beverage with His body and blood, and thus let every meal be a reminder of His sacrificial death, while also associating the consumption of our meal with the fact of His indwelling Spirit who gives us spiritual life.
All food we consume comes from a plant or animal that was once alive, but which had to forfeit its life to give us life. So we can always allow that to remind us of Jesus’ death. And just as we internalize food to gain life, we can let any food remind us that Christ has come to live in us by His Holy Spirit.
Finally, added to all of that, we all know that “we are what we eat.” Our bodies are literally made from the elements of the food we consume. So we can similarly say that we are not only “in Christ” and “Christ is in us,” but “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20)!
Hopefully all of this will make your mealtime prayers of thanks more meaningful.
By the way, if Jesus had lived His earthly life in Southeast Asia rather than Israel, He may have said, “This coconut is My body, and this orange juice is My blood…”
Food for thought! (Literally!)