We do not subscribe to the doctrine of transubstantiation or anything akin to it, or to any act or doctrine which would teach that the bread and wine are to be regarded as an offering to God, as though Christ himself was present or could be present in the simple elements themselves. We believe that bread and wine are external tokens of inward remembrance, and hold no special virtue or strength in themselves.
Nevertheless the simple breaking of bread ceremony is a powerful means of support for the members. The ceremony was initiated by the Lord himself on the night before his death. It occurred at passover time when the Jews were remembering their deliverance from Egypt, more than a thousand years before. As the Jews in Egypt had taken a lamb in sacrifice and put the blood as a token upon their homes, so Christ was the passover lamb for his flock and they bear the token of remembrance upon their hearts.
As Egypt had held the Israelites captive in their iron furnace of affliction, so man had been held by Sin as taskmaster and Death as oppressor. Christ had come as deliverer:
"Christ our passover is sacrificed for us." (1 Corinthians 5:7)
Moreover, Christ regarded the cup of wine used at the service as a token of the new covenant in his blood. The new covenant, the everlasting covenant, is secured by his blood, and is the covenant which brings together all the promises made to Abraham and David of old:
"This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me ... This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:19-20, R.V.)
"Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water ... let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together ..."
"Jesus the mediator of the new covenant ..." (Hebrews 12:24)
"He is the mediator of a new covenant ... that ... they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." (Hebrews 9:15, R.V.)
"Ye were redeemed ... with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ." (1 Peter 1:18-19, R.V.)
It follows that the people who share the remembrance are covenant people. This is why fellowship is precious and by its very nature exclusive, even though there is an open invitation to all men to become covenant men in the way determined by God.
There are two elements in the act of remembrance, bread and wine. Each tells its own part of the great act of redemption in Christ. The bread speaks of the victory of Christ by sharing our nature, that we might share his triumph; the wine is a token of lifegiving, complete and free, that his cup of suffering and death might become the cup of joy and salvation for us:
"Then said I (Jesus), Lo, I am come ... to do thy will, O God ... by the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:7-10, R.V.)
"You ... hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight, if ye continue in the faith." (Colossians 1:21- 23)
"He poured out his life unto death ... he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12, N.I.V.)
"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16, N.I.V.)
"Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:9-10)
It is remarkable that remembrance can be made so deeply effective by the use of everyday things of life at the time of Jesus, namely, bread and wine. There is no elaborate ritual, no question of ministration at the authorised hands of selected men and no holy place in which it is needful to conduct the ceremony. There is no such thing as holy bread or holy wine: holiness lies in the hearts of the believers remembering God's Holy One under His gracious blessing.
The bread and wine speak of the believers themselves. They are one in Christ, and this is shown in the One Loaf (the Greek word for bread is also the word for loaf). " We being many are one loaf." As the loaf is shared among many, so Christ's unity is to be made known in them because they are his body. The One Cup pictures their one life in Christ. He is the true Vine and they are the branches. The life of the branches comes from the tree: the life of the believers comes from their life in him made effective by his death on their behalf.
So it is that the believer is part of the act of remembrance. He is one with Christ and with his brethren. Fellowship is unity.
In this way, past and present are united in the weekly breaking of bread service. It is held on the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection of the Lord from the dead, because that is the custom which the first century believers adopted:
"Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread ..." (Acts 20:7)
Much has been made of this service by various parts of Christendom, so that what takes place appears to bear very little resemblance to the simple, yet telling, things of which we have spoken. And there is often neglect. There is a part of the original Last Supper which appears often to be forgotten. It is an essential part; indeed, without it the rest loses its true meaning. The breaking of bread looks forward. It speaks powerfully of the future.
This is what the Lord himself said at the Last Supper:
"And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God ... I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come ... and I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table." (Luke 22:14-30)
The apostle Paul was not present at the Last Supper. He did not learn about it from any who were there. Jesus revealed directly to him what other apostles had gained by actual experience. What then did Jesus tell Paul about the last supper? Here are Paul's words from Jesus:
"For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (1 Corinthians 11:26)
Compare the phrases from the Last Supper meal and the words of Jesus to Paul:
"Until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God"
"Until the kingdom of God shall come ..."
"Till he come ..."
The Second Coming is the completion of the meaning of the Last Supper. Jesus said: "Until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God".
The Bread and Wine were not simply tokens of the past, nor were they merely symbols of the present; they were prophecies of things to come. The Unity of Bread and Wine have hitherto been shown only in part. A great number of the saints are sleeping in dust and the time when all the saints will be gathered together in one place has yet to come. The Unity in Christ is now enjoyed imperfectly in our fellowship with him and with one another; the perfection is yet to come when, says the Word of God, "He will gather together in one all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10). That is the day of the Kingdom, the day of immortality, the day when the Shepherd will have gathered all his sheep unto himself. They will sit at his table in his Kingdom in the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Bride and the Lord will then be one for ever.
What a marvellous consummation! The sorrowful, dark night of the Last Supper, which filled the disciples with bewilderment and heaviness, will issue forth in the resplendent glory of the day of Christ.
No man who understands these things will want to be excluded in that day. The fellowship of the Kingdom will be exclusive. "Many ... will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door ..." (Luke 13: 24-25). Today the door is open wide. Wise men will enter in. Those within will not venture outside. In their acts of fellowship they will not make contracts with that darkness which endangers their hope of life eternal. In marriage, they will marry someone who shares their faith (1 Corinthians 7: 39 and 2 Corinthians 6: 14); in business, they will not pursue the ways of ungodly and doubtful gain; in daily life, they will show that they have been with Jesus; and, in all things they will live as men of faith waiting for the return of their Lord.
There is remembrance in heaven corresponding to true remembrance on earth, and it looks forward to the day when all things shall be fulfilled:
"And a book of remembrance was written before him (God) for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make-up my Jewels." (Malachi 3:16-17)"