For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
Paul relates a few things in this passage that we should consider. We often focus on "examine himself" (verse 28) as we prepare to take the Passover, an annual task that should be complete before taking it. Using a bathing metaphor, Jesus tells Peter in John 13:10, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean." He indicates that Peter had prepared for the occasion by cleaning himself up before arriving to observe Passover.
The apostle also quotes Jesus as instructing His disciples to take the bread and wine "in remembrance of Me" (verses 24-25). For the most part, Passover is not about us: It is a solemn assembly to remember our Savior, Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us in laying down His life. It also reminds us about His continuing work as our Mediator and High Priest.
The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition, translates the final words of verse 24 as, "Do this to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance." It repeats the phraseology in verse 25: "Do this as often as you drink [it], to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance." When we call something or someone to remembrance, it means we "keep in memory, bring back into one's thoughts, or call to mind" that thing or person. Most assuredly, we must do so regarding the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
But remembering is not always easy! The older we get, the more we forget. How often have we stood in front of the refrigerator with the door open and cannot remember what we came for? Something similar happens while working in the garage: I use a particular tool and lay it down to do something else. Five minutes later, the tool is nowhere to be found! Most of us can relate.
If our Israelite ancestors had one problem, it was forgetfulness. How many times do we read in Israel's history that "they forgot the LORD their God"? When we come together for Passover, we are to remember Christ's beaten body as we eat of the bread and remember His life that dripped out, drop by drop, when we drink of the wine. Why? It was our sin that caused Him to be tortured and executed. Passover is the most meaningful ceremony we will participate in the entire year, and we are not to forget why we are there.
God first instituted the ordinance of Passover in Exodus 12, giving specific instructions to Moses on how the Israelites were to observe it. When it came to pass, it was like no other night in the history of the world, for not one house in Egypt did not have someone dead in it. It even included the firstborn of the livestock! What God did in slaying the firstborn terrified the Egyptians. They probably thought the world was coming to an end!
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ again institutes the observance of Passover, participating in it and instructing His disciples on how to keep it properly under the newly introduced New Covenant. We are to remember what took place and proclaim His death until He comes. It was certainly not just another occasion to have some food and fun fellowship. Paul had this sort of problem in Corinth, as they sought any reason to get together to eat, drink, and have a good time. Partaking of "this bread" and "this wine" was no ordinary meal.
Here is I Corinthians 11:27-29 in The Living Bible:
So if anyone eats this bread and drinks from this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, he is guilty of sin against the body and the blood of the Lord. That is why a man should examine himself carefully before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if he eats the bread and drinks from the cup unworthily, not thinking about the body of Christ and what it means, he is eating and drinking God's judgment upon himself; for he is trifling with the death of Christ.
As we saw earlier, Paul instructs us in verse 28 to examine ourselves carefully before partaking of the bread and the wine. He tells us to do this so that we do not participate in an "unworthy manner." He was trying to get the Corinthians to see that Passover was not about them but about Jesus Christ and what He did. They needed to consider how they were treating Him, and by extension, how they were treating their brethren.
At some point in our conversion, most of us have been guilty of this wrong perspective, making the Passover solely about our spiritual condition. We think that we can somehow muster up enough sorrow and repentance to be worthy of partaking in this spiritual meal, but that is not the point! No amount of soul searching will ever make anyone worthy of the body and blood of Christ. Together, the Father and the Son make us worthy: Christ's shed blood redeems us, and covered by the Son's righteousness, the Father forgives us by His grace and accepts us into His Family. That is why Christ had to die! His work is the focus of this festival.
This meal we partake of—a symbol of fellowship or a relationship—is offered to us as a free gift, but it is the costliest gift we could ever be given. As Paul writes, it is not something to be trifled with!
In Part Two, we will further consider what it means to take the Passover unworthily and learn to discern how wonderful God's gift really is.
Ronny H. Graham