When a Christian partakes of the Lord’s Supper, I imagine the thoughts and emotions that go through his mind run the gamut from deep sadness and regret to intense joy and thankfulness for what God has done. In that time of worship, his mind will go all the way back to the cross and all the way forward in joyful expectation of eternal redemption. So that we stay on track in our faith, is there any one thing on which we ought to be focusing our mind?
There seems to be some debate concerning what should be the church’s focus when partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Paul says, “the death of the Lord you are proclaiming until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26b). The question I have concerns whether the communion is a memorial or a celebration? Is the focus of the participant to be solemn as he or she looks back to the death of Christ, or is the focus to be celebratory as he or she looks forward to the second coming of Christ? Which are we doing:
a. Proclaiming the Lord’s death?, or are we…,
b. Proclaiming the Lord’s coming?
The construction of the 1 Corinthians passage is pretty clear on this matter. And it is a matter that needs some extra attention. When we assemble on the Lord’s Day to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we understand that it is important that we know what we are doing and that we “do it” right. Get it wrong, and we could be eating and drinking judgment to ourselves. To make sure that we follow the Lord’s wish, let’s look at the text a little closer. The following look is only slightly technical, but it is important. The verse says,
“….THE DEATH OF THE LORD YOU ARE PROCLAIMING UNTIL HE SHOULD COME.” – 1 Cor. 11:26
Here the words I have emboldened and underlined show that the DIRECT OBJECT (D.O.) is His death. The word THANATON, translated death, is a noun in the accusative case (the case of the D.O.) The accusative case usually is related to a verb as it is here. Thus “the death” is directly related to the verb “ye are proclaiming”. If we are partaking of the Lord’s Supper according to the New Testament teaching, then we are proclaiming the death. That message, that Jesus died and shed His blood for us, is what we are proclaiming in the Lord’s Supper. Again, look at the text:
“….THE DEATH OF THE LORD YOU ARE PROCLAIMING UNTIL WHICH HE SHOULD COME.” – 1 Cor. 11:26
The part I have now underlined is two prepositional phrases in the genitive case. The genitive is telling WHOSE death is being proclaimed, and it is telling UNTIL WHICH TIME the death is to be proclaimed. The “genitive of time” tells you that the pre-flood people were doing various things until (genitive of time) the flood came (Mt. 24:38). Paul’s “until He should come” does NOT tell you what you are doing in the Lord’s Supper, it only indicates how long you should do what you are doing in the Lord’s Supper: that is, how long you proclaim His death. Just remember that the second coming is not the Direct Object of the verb “proclaiming.”
If this misconception continues, our attention in the Lord’s Supper is shifted from the Death of Jesus to the second coming. It is the error of proclaiming the wrong thing. It is the error of turning the sentence’s genitive into the direct object. Stated another way, it’s like rewriting the text to say “THE COMING YOU ARE PROCLAIMING until He comes.”
Let me illustrate this point in a different way. Imagine the following text: “the Gospel of Jesus we are proclaiming until He comes.” What we are proclaiming is the Gospel, which is the D.O. and not the second coming. To focus on the Gospel does not mean that we are denying the second coming, but the force of the statement also requires that we are proclaiming more than the second coming. If we are asked what it is that we are proclaiming, the answer is that we are proclaiming His Gospel. Let me give another example. Consider the following: “We will worship God until He comes.” Because “God” is the D.O. object, we worship Him. The prepositional phrase (in the genitive of time) “until He comes” is not indicating WHAT is worshipped. The fact that He is coming is important, but it is not what is worshipped. This prepositional phrase is only indicating how long we will worship God (this is an example, and does not mean to suggest that we won’t worship God in heaven). So it is in the 1 Corinthian passage that the thing being proclaimed or remembered is not the coming of Jesus (though it is an important fact); but what is proclaimed is the DEATH of Jesus.
To commemorate, gratefully acknowledge, and proclaim what Jesus did is not to celebrate it. We don’t need to get into a grammatical discussion to understand what the Bible says is to be our focus as we partake. I’ll illustrate this way: you have a different attitude when you go to a funeral than you have at a birthday party. The Lord’s Supper is not a birthday party, not a celebration, not a banquet feast. It is not a looking forward to and proclamation of a future event. Instead, it is a solemn reminder of what took place at the cross. It is a looking back. Those who teach on the Lord’s Supper have the duty of taking us back to that solemn event. That should be the Believer’s focus until He comes.
In closing, I truly believe that our hearts are in the right place. So I am not impugning the motive or spirituality of anyone with this examination. All I’m asking is that we remember that Jesus gave us the emblems of unleavened bread and the cup so that we would remember His sacrifice. Let’s keep the focus there.