(Painting: "The Last Supper," by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, 1852-1929)
53.) The Lord's Supper as Precapitulation* - The Eucharist is also a precapitulation of the ultimate restoration of all things. Christ declares during the celebration of the Lord's Supper, "I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:18), and Revelation prophesies that one of the elements of Christ's Second Coming will be “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9). Thus the Eucharist directs us toward a hopeful attitude, a future-focused, celebratory perspective to balance alongside the past-focused, mournful perspective of remembrance. (* Yes, I know that "precapitulation" is not really a word--not yet, anyway. But it ought to be. What we do in the Eucharist is stronger than a mere "foreshadowing" of the Messianic feast at the Last Day: it is an active participation in that future event which is realized by faith here and now; hence, precapitulation.)
54.) The Lord's Supper as a Symbol of Unity - When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, it was a communal event. And when Paul explains it in 1 Cor. 11, his teaching comes in the context of a broader discussion about church unity. Some scholars have posited that when Paul says "Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself" (v.29), his reference to "the body of the Lord" might refer more to the church as the Body of Christ than to the bread of the Eucharist itself. Indeed, the very issue for which Paul is rebuking the Corinthians is for using the Lord's Supper in a way that emphasizes the divisions in the Body rather than its unity (vv.17-22). Thus, since the church is itself "the Body of Christ," the Eucharist symbolizes the unity of the church and is taken as an act of “communion” with one another.
55.) The Lord's Supper as Mystical Feeding - The Eucharist also reminds us of the necessity of feeding our souls on Christ himself. Jesus seems to teach about this meaning when he says, "I am the living bread...If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51, cf. vv. 35, 53-58). We are called to feast on the reality of God-made-flesh, which we encounter in Scripture, fellowship, prayer, and in the immanent presence of God in all creation. Thus the Eucharist is also an act of “communion” with Christ, of symbolically representing what is already true in reality, the mystical union of his natures with our own.
56.) The Lord's Supper as Thanksgiving - Finally, it is important to note that in each of the accounts of the Last Supper, it is recorded that Jesus "gave thanks" (1 Cor. 11:24; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:17,19; Matt. 26:26-27). The name "Eucharist" itself means "thanksgiving." When we come to the table of the Lord's Supper, we come not just mourning the sins of humanity that led Christ to the cross, but pouring out the joy of thankful hearts for the grace of God revealed to us in his Son.
Next installment: The Eucharist and Sacramentalism