by Brandon D. Smith
As a Baptist, I’m often frustrated or confused by how my fellow denominational brothers handle the Lord’s Supper. At churches I’ve attended in the past, we’ve participated in the Supper every week in some places, quarterly in others. There is one instance in which I can’t remember eating a single little wafer in my entire time at the church. Following the words of Jesus, Baptists take the Supper "in memory of" him. But the Supper is more than a passing memory of what Jesus once did—it's a continual sign of the work he continues to do.
But how often should we take the Supper? While I know that the Bible doesn’t give a mandate for how often churches should remember, participate in, and celebrate the Supper, I do think there’s a biblical case for observing the Supper every week. Here’s a brief outline.
By smearing lamb’s blood on their doorposts, the Israelites were “passed over” by the Lord during the killing of all firstborn children. They later instituted a celebration of God’s mercy with a meal (that included unleavened bread) to remember what God had done. Even in future generations, the people who weren’t technically there would say “God spared us” because the Passover represented solidarity between the Israelites and past generations.
One of Jesus’s more shocking Gospels scenes occurs here, when he tells his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. He ties his body and blood back to the manna that sustained the Israelites and to the exclusive nature of salvation through him. Jesus alludes to the Supper here before it actually happens, and he shows us that the Supper is participatory. To put it another way, the Supper is more than a nice memory we occasionally look back on—it’s in some sense a way we gather around the table with Jesus the way his disciples did.
In his institution of the Supper, Jesus told his disciples to eat the broken bread and drink the wine as a representation of his body and blood on the cross. When he called the bread and wine his body and blood, he reminded them that the lamb’s blood would once again cause the Lord to “pass over” the sins of the people. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In other words, he wanted them to celebrate together what God had done before—and what God would do again through another Lamb’s sacrifice. We’re seeing Jesus, in a few places, tie the Supper to a biblical thread of God’s provision, grace, and salvation.
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Paul takes up Jesus’s OT allusions here, melding them with allusions to points we’ve mentioned in the Gospel tradition. Paul’s language of “participation” here is the clearest of all the passages we have and will discuss. He ties falsely instituting or participating in the Lord’s Supper with Satan worship. In a forthcoming article in the Criswell Theological Review, Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps put it this way:
Though the Supper calls us to look back to the cross, this is no mere memorial; Paul is comparing this meal both to Israel’s meal in the wilderness and to pagan idol sacrifices. Both of those meals effect union—either with Christ (in the wilderness) or with demons (in pagan idolatry).
The Church’s meal, therefore, is also a participation, a partaking of union with God in Christ, just as Israel’s meal was partaking in the presence of God in Christ in the wilderness, and just as pagan idolatrous meals are partaking in the presence of demons.
I’m not a Catholic nor the son of one, so I don’t believe the bread and wine/juice actually become the literal flesh and blood of Jesus. I do, however, think Paul makes clear that there is a very real sacredness to the bread and wine/juice, and that partaking of them has tangible spiritual affects and consequences.
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Here, Paul even quotes Jesus at one point. He holds the Supper in such high regard that he warns about judgment coming upon those who take the Supper in an unworthy manner. Further, he says that the Supper is like a sermon, and that participating in the Supper is a proclamation for those who believe the gospel’s power and that Christ will return to make all things new. So the Supper isn’t merely participation—it’s anticipation of Revelation 19:7-10.
After sin and death are vanquished for good, God’s people will sit around a table at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and remember what God has done. This is a meal of solidarity of all those who believed in Christ and were set free eternally by his broken body and shed blood. This Supper no doubt reflects the perfection or culmination of the Supper of Mark 14 and Exodus 12-13.
Implications for Sunday Gatherings
So, back to the question we asked at the beginning: how often should we take the Lord’s Supper?
The rationale for a weekly Lord’s Supper is a natural outflow of the biblical storyline, following the thread we’ve just discussed. It’s God’s people gathering together, representing what the Supper seems to represent throughout Scripture—a proclamation of God’s mercy and of the community that mercy creates. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26, CSB).
The biblical case here is not chapter-and-verse proof, but rather the implications of the Bible’s description of the Supper. Of course, we don’t have to take it weekly, but it’s a clear, biblical way that we proclaim Christ. We do this in other ways every Sunday, primarily through preaching and singing. But can you imagine not preaching or hearing a sermon during a Sunday morning gathering? Not singing one song? How, then, can we so quickly push aside the Supper, when Paul essentially calls it (1) a form of worship and participation in Christ, and (2) a sermon that every believer preaches?
The Lord’s Supper is a tangible reminder that (1) Jesus died for our sins, and (2) that we are all one family because of it. When we gather around the Lord’s table, our eating and drinking is a recommitment to one another. It’s a feast that only we who trust in the Lamb’s sacrifice can enjoy. It’s a gospel presentation by gospel people because of their hope in the gospel. It’s like manna in the desert for a bunch of starving sojourners.
At the table, we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ, and remember that we’re one family, one body, with one Head. We may go our separate ways throughout the week, visiting each other here and there, but every Sunday we come back to the same table as adopted sons and daughters of the same Father (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:4-7). So take a seat with your brothers and sisters every week, proclaiming what Christ has done—until he returns and we sit with him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.