Sentimentality aside, there is something very special about walking into a room on a Lord’s day morning and seeing a table spread with just a loaf of bread and a cup. The simplicity, linked with the solemnity of their meaning, is an impression we all carry with us. Even those who have left assembly fellowship speak of the times they remember around the emblems on a Sunday morning.
A loaf and a cup – they are the simplest and most available of materials. Most men leave towering monuments, edifices, or statues in their memory. Their names are linked with airports, boulevards of major cities, buildings, and universities. Your Lord and mine left a loaf and a cup. How consistent with His inherent humility, but have you ever asked …
Why Two Symbols?
It is vital first of all to see that the emblems are merely symbols and not “types.” All types and shadows were done away with at the cross. In this new age of grace, we are left with several symbols: the loaf, the cup, baptism, the head covering of the woman and the uncovered head of the man, and the long hair of a sister. We cannot torture symbols into becoming types and demand a point-by-point correspondence, teaching from them what the Lord never intended to be taught. As far as the Lord’s supper, we have two symbols.
Would it not have been enough to have just left us a cup as a reminder of His blood shed and His death? Why the bread as well? Or conversely, why not just the loaf to remind us of His body which was given for us?
The two emblems preach many truths. The emblems being separate, the bread from the cup, symbolically remind us that blood taken from a body means death has occurred. So lesson number one is eloquent and clear.
More is involved than just the stark reminder of a death which has occurred. In a body, He suffered. That is the loaf, but the cup, speaking of His blood which was shed, speaks of His death. Both suffering for sin and death for sin were needed. He suffered for sins in His body; but He also died for sins.
There may also be the suggestion in the two distinct symbols that in the bread, He is my substitute; He is not only suffering for my sins but suffering for me and all that I am. In the cup, He is dying in my place, dying the death which I deserve to have died.
The cross not only condemns what I have done, but what I am; a sinner. It has not only answered to God for my sins, it has answered for my standing as a sinner in Adam.
Scripture speaks more of being identified with Christ in His death than it does of being identified with Him in His sufferings (Rom 6:3-11; Col 2:11-15; Gal 2:20, 21).
Since the emblems are not types but symbols, the leavened bread does not violate the sinlessness of the Lord Jesus.
Which Two Symbols?
The clear teaching of Scripture is that He “took bread” and “He took the cup” (1Cor 11:23-25). The institution by the Lord leaves little room for debate. But the problem has arisen over whether there can be “pieces of the loaf” already distributed in small portions for everyone to take; and if there can be individual cups instead of one cup. Is any truth being compromised? Is any truth being denied?
We are told that with 3000 breaking bread in Jerusalem in Acts 2, it would have been impractical to have only one loaf and one cup. That may be, but it is also possible that they came together and the central part of their gathering was the partaking of the emblems. It was not left for the last 15 minutes of the gathering.
Rather than conjecture on what might have been, is there any light which the Word of God sheds on the question?
In 1 Corinthians 10:16 we read of “the bread which we break.” To this, the Spirit of God adds the truth that the “one loaf” not only represents the Lord’s body, but also represents the oneness of the fellowship which is partaking of that one loaf (1Cor 10:17). The one loaf, therefore, is symbolic of one major lesson – the Lord’s body – and of one minor lesson, the unity of the fellowship.
What of the cup? In 1 Corinthians 10:16, the mention of the cup precedes the mention of the loaf. This is not an error on Paul’s part but a clear indication of the superintendence of the Spirit of God in inspiring Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 10, the blessings and foundation of the supper are in view; thus the cup, and what it symbolizes, is mentioned first. As well, the cup is expressing fellowship with the Lord (1Cor 10:21); and the entire passage is distinguishing between fellowship with the Lord versus the table of demons. Notice, however, that in 1 Corinthians 10:16 it is titled a “cup of blessing.” As we partake of the cup, we are acknowledging that every blessing we have received has come to us by virtue of the blood of Christ. Nothing is on the basis of our merit. The cup reminds us of what He took away: “shed for … the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28). It also tells us what He brought in: all the blessings of the new covenant. Remember that what He brought in is always greater than what He took away!
Note as well the emphasis on “the cup” and not “cups.” This may seem small but the Lord Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (1Cor 11:25). One cup, one covenant.
We are also owning that we share common blessings in Christ. My blessings are not greater than another believer’s. She or he may appreciate and enjoy them more than I do, but we are all equally “blessed with all spiritual blessings” in Christ (Eph 1:3). Separate cups hardly convey that truth.
Some will object that in this day of unusual infections and superbugs, sanitary steps are necessary to avoid the spread of disease. That almost suggests that the Lord did not have the knowledge to anticipate the conditions of our day.
Aside from that, studies have been carried out and investigations made by the United States Public Health Service into the “communal cup” used by different church groups. No spread of disease has ever been traced to a common cup. It is not the alcohol in the wine which prevents this, as it is too mild. It is rather that the exposure is so minimal and the risk so infinitesimal that it is negligible.
Special cases of those on chemotherapy or with depressed immune systems may require unique consideration, but they are the rare exception and can be managed by wise leaders.