What is the Lord’s Supper?

Presbyterians believe that the Lord’s Supper is the sign and symbol of inclusion in God’s grace. It is the sign of inclusion into the community of faith—the body of Christ—the Church. As a communal meal, the Lord’s Supper signifies our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Lord’s Supper represents our dying to what separates us from God, and it represents our being raised to newness of life in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, we read that Jesus ascribes new meaning to the communal meal of His faithful followers. “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat . . . and drink . . . abide in Me, and I in them” (John 6:55-56). The Lord’s Supper has always been a celebration marked by the use of bread and wine, and it has always been a rite in which persons are summoned into a relationship with God and with each other through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We believe that God claims us in the breaking of bread and in the sharing of the cup. The Lord’s Supper is God's gift of grace and also God's call to respond to that grace. It is the outward sign that, in life and in death, we belong to God.

Who invites us to participate in the Lord’s Supper?

“We trust in God the Holy Spirit . . . who . . . feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation . . .” These words from “A Brief Statement of Faith” reiterate the importance of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for Presbyterians. They affirm that the initial action of this divine meal begins with God. God in Jesus Christ offers the bread and the cup and bids us come.

As the name of the sacrament implies, this is the Lord’s supper. Jesus Christ is the host of this meal, and he welcomes all who accept the invitation to this feast. Under the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is made present so that a bond of unity can exist among those present and those unseen.

Who is invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper?

Presbyterians believe that all who place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord are invited to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Christ welcomes all who accept the invitation to this divine meal. We who come need not be concerned about our personal appearance or aptitude. What matters is that the love, the grace, and the hospitality of God in Christ create unanimity among us. This meal is provided, not because we have earned the right to eat and drink with Jesus, but simply as an act of divine love.

Why do we participate in the Lord’s Supper?

Presbyterians believe that the Lord's Supper is a sacrament of continuous growth, nourishment, and new life. Just as humans need food and drink for nurture and sustenance, the Lord’s Supper God's way of providing for our maintenance during the whole course of our lives after we have been received into God's family.

We believe that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper presupposes, deepens, and assists our faith. We cannot wait until we think we are appropriately worthy for such a divine encounter. As we come before Christ at this sacred feast, we bring with us our imperfections, our weaknesses, even our sinfulness. Yet, we come because God has made us worthy. Our worthiness is found in putting our trust in God and, in faith, relying upon God's mercy.

Once we participate in Lord’s Supper, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in God's mission to the world. To limit our love, our fellowship, and our concerns to those who break bread with us is to limit the very grace of God—the grace which has reconciled us and the world to God through Jesus Christ. Such limitation blinds us so that fail to see the people of God everywhere. Through the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ reminds us that we are to live as He lived. Just as God reconciled us to Himself through His Son, we too are compelled to seek reconciliation with one another. Accepting the invitation to come to the Lord's Supper demands that we actively seek reconciliation in every instance of conflict or division between ourselves and our neighbors.

Is the Lord’s Supper known by other names?

The act of eating and drinking with Jesus has been called by a number of names: “Holy Communion,” “the Lord's Supper,” “the Eucharist,” “the Breaking of Bread.” Each name points to a particular meaning.

The titles “Breaking of Bread” and “the Lord's Supper” emphasize the oldest New Testament accounts of the institution of the sacrament (Mark 14:17-25 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The Gospels report Jesus' common eating and drinking with people from various walks of life, making such events worthy of remembrance. As far as it can be determined, Jewish meals always included bread. It was also customary for the host or head of the house to bless the bread and then break and share it with those at the table.

On the day of his resurrection, the risen Jesus made Himself known to his followers in the breaking of bread. He continued to show Himself to believers by preparing, serving and sharing meals. This act continued among the followers of Jesus and the breaking and sharing of bread became a sacred act of remembrance, making present God's gracious act in Jesus the Christ in the special moment of remembering.

The term “Eucharist,” derived from the Greek word eucharista (which means "thanksgiving"), is used by Mark, Matthew and Luke in their accounts of the institution of this holy meal. In his writings, the apostle Paul emphasized that Jesus gave thanks before breaking the bread and offering the cup. The joyous acts of thanksgiving which permeated the observance of this rite undoubtedly caused the second-century Christian writers to use the term “Eucharist” as the standard name for this meal.

The service of thanksgiving and praise included thanks for God's creation; for deliverance from sin; for the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and for the reconciliation of the world to God.

The term “Communion” is derived from the practice of early Christians. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a koinonia in the blood of Christ?" ( 1 Corinthians 10:16). The Greek word koinonia is translated "communion" in the King James Version and "sharing" in the New Revised Standard Version. It is also translated "fellowship" or "partnership," referring to a common sharing or a sense of communion with Christ and with one another. Communion is understood as a common participation in a Christian life which a person lives in Christ, because it is initiated by Christ.

Is Jesus Christ present in the Lord’s Supper?

If asked whether Jesus Christ is physically present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper, Presbyterians would answer, “No.” Presbyterians do not believe that the physical substance of bread and wine are changed into the physical substance of Jesus’ body. The bread and wine remain bread and wine.

However, Presbyterians do believe that this sacrament is more than a memorial feast. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ is very much present. Presbyterians affirm that Jesus is spiritually present. Christ is authentically present as we participate in the holy meal. Christ is genuinely present to us and not just in our memories.

Perhaps we have a hard time understanding this distinction because ordinarily we suppose physical reality—the stuff that is made out of atoms—is the only reality there is. Indeed, physical things are real; but there are other things which are also real. All physical things were created by God; but God Himself is not created. God is real, but God is not physical.

Accordingly, we Presbyterians reaffirm the reality and presence of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our communion with one another as we participate in the Lord’s Supper.