The Lord’s Supper:
Confusions of Semantics and Synonyms
The Lord’s Supper is often mistaken for the Lord’s Table due to semantics and synonyms. The Lord Jesus and the Apostles spoke clearly about His Supper and showed how it is to be observed. In spite of such Biblical clarity, our minds get cluttered in words and wrong practices which often emanate from traditions and lack of careful study of the Word. There are many who link the Lord’s Supper with ministries and even leadership roles rather than allow it to capture our minds and spirits and get ourselves lost in the wonder and awe of the greatness of the cross and the death of the Savior. Many often equate the ‘Lord’s Supper’ with the ‘Lord’s Table’ and give undue importance to the furniture and the settings of the table. Others think that worship is impossible without the ‘Table’ and confuse between worship and remembrance. Many go away from remembrance meetings without adequately remembering our Lord, His sufferings, His death and resurrection as their thoughts center on the Table and all the blessings the Lord has for us on His Table.
The Lord wanted us to remember Him in more ways than one. He wanted us to remember what He has taught us and asked us to practice it to challenge the world and its ways. He wanted us to remember and proclaim His death and confess it in our lives by the observance of the Supper. At the same time, He has invited us to His table to partake in all that He has prepared for us all the days of our lives. These are distinctly different and distinguishable, yet there are truths which bind together if we meditate on it with expediency and devotional dynamism. He
Why the confusion?
The common confusion about the ‘table’ and the ‘supper’ originates from the similarities that we read in 1 Corinthians 10 about the bread and the cup in relation to His Table while the same elements mentioned in all passages related to the Lord’s Supper in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians 11. It is true that both the supper and the table belong to the Lord and His people are the partakers of both. Both indicate privileges and responsibilities. These similarities make some think that they are one and the same. But if the table and the supper denote the same truth, why has the Holy Spirit used different words? Is there any possible difference between the two? Is it possible to understand the truth that is embodied in both, distinguish them carefully and experience both uniquely?
Blessings and Remembrance
1 Corinthians 10:16 speaks about blessings that we receive from the table of the Lord. So it is profitable to understand what is meant by ‘table’ in this and other passages in the Bible. As a matter of fact, we read about the ‘table’ of the Lord in many passages in the Old Testament to which Paul connects as he wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). Though the Table of the Lord is mentioned in both the Testaments, the Lord’s Supper is a truth that is taught, commanded and practiced in the New Testament only. The Lord spoke about the portion of the priests at the altar as the table of the Lord (Malachi 1:7, 12) which the priests were given to enjoy. Psalms 23:5 speaks about the table the Lord prepares for us. That table contains all the spiritual blessings that the Lord has in store for us as we tread the enemy territory. The table in the wilderness prepared by the Lord is spoken about in Deuteronomy 8:3, Psalms 78:19 and in Proverbs 9:2. In all these situations, the table speaks about the provisions, care and blessings that the Lord has for His people. Here the idea of wooden furniture is not at all envisaged, although sometimes even a literal table, like that of David from where Mephibosheth ate, can be seen as a physical illustration. Thus we see ‘table’ as a generic expression of all that the Lord gives to His children on a daily basis in terms of His care, caring, provisions and blessings. This is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 10.
The Lord’s Table is for us to partake, enjoy and receive as we fellowship from it. It is what we receive from the Lord. Is that what we do at the Lord’s Supper? Not at all! The Lord’s Supper is not a time of receiving any blessing from the Lord, but a time to remember and proclaim the Lord and His death (1 Corinthians 11:24-26).
The Lord’s Supper is observed as often as we gather to remember the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:26) and proclaim His death. We read that it was being observed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), largely to commemorate the day of resurrection of our Lord. The Jewish day was from twilight to twilight which is why Paul preached till midnight which caused the sleeping Eutychus to fall down and die. But there is no mention of a particular time or day to gather at the Lord’s Table because we are always at His Table to receive all that He has spread before us. As we draw near, we don’t need to do anything physically to draw from a physical table, but appropriate from a spiritual table that is full of all His goodness spread before us for as long as we are in this life and will extend to all eternity.
Remember how the Lord’s Table is differentiated from the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:18-21) that the idolaters draw from! But we do not see any such distinctions about the Lord’s Supper which is solely set up by us to remember our Lord and to proclaim His death.
It is also interesting to distinguish the order given at the Lord’s Table and that of the Lord’s Supper. At the Lord’s Table, we have the cup first and then the bread whereas at the Lord’s Supper, we first take the bread and then the cup (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:24 & 25). The significance of this distinction is pertinent. The blessings of the Lord’s Table with all His care and provisions come to us through His shed blood and so we draw near unto the Table of the Lord through His shed blood. But when we come to the Lord’s Supper, we remember the Lord first by breaking and eating from the bread. The bread reminds us of the persecution that the Lord endured in His body, and how He was crushed and mutilated by men at first and then crushed in the hands of the Father during the three hours of darkness. Afterwards we remember His shed blood through the wine which was the purchase price of our salvation and how when the whole blood was shed, His life was completely given for us.
Let us also note that the Table of the Lord is invisible and that we enjoy all the blessings that the Lord spreads before us by faith. But the Lord’s Supper comprises of the visible bread and cup of wine which we see and partake of physically. We are asked to observe the Lord’s Supper, but there is no commandment to observe the Lord’s Table which is a continuous spiritual experience of all believers.
We receive from the Lord’s Table all that the Lord gives us, but the Lord’s Supper is a time when we remember the Lord, His sufferings, His death and Resurrection till He returns for His Church. So the Lord’s Table is a continuous experience of receiving and enjoying what the Lord grants to all His children whereas the Lord’s Supper is heavenward from our hearts when remembrance and thanksgiving go up from our hearts. As we remember Him, we cannot but worship Him for what He is and what He has done for us.
Interestingly it is the Lord who invites all His children to His Table and gives them all His blessings all the time. They come and draw from His Table and get themselves enriched to live as His children. But the Church has the responsibility to administer the Lord’s Supper and even keep the visibly unworthy persons from partaking of it (1 Corinthians 5:11-12).
It is also true that the bread at the Lord’s Table denote all believers and their unity as one body of Christ. But at the Lord’s Supper, we remember the broken body of our Lord as we partake of the bread. This is a serious distinction as we draw near the Lord’s Supper to remember Him.
The Bible warns all who ‘live’ in an unworthy manner as they enjoy the blessings made available to them at the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 10:21), but those who ‘eat and drink’ in an unworthy manner at the Lord’s Supper are warned of dire consequences (1 Corinthians 11:29).
The Whole Truth
Every child of God is expected to bear witness to these truths and must clearly distinguish between the Lord’s Table and the Lord’s Supper and partake of both in full significance and keep away from fallacies and fads which the enemy brings to confuse us. We must give thanks to the Lord at His Supper for everything that He has done for us on the cross. We must also gratefully enjoy all the spiritual provisions that He has filled His Table with so that we will all be enriched in every aspect of our Christian life day by day.