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The Lord’s Supper as Remembrance

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast” (v. 14).

- Exodus 12

One key principle of the Reformed tradition is summarized by John Calvin’s comments on today’s passage: “The new covenant does not destroy the old in substance, but only in form.” The outward administration of God’s new covenant differs in many ways from the outward administration of His old covenant. Today, for example, we no longer sacrifice animals for atonement, for the perfect sacrifice of Christ is our atonement. However, the substance of redemption for us was the same for the old covenant saints who did sacrifice animals. The old covenant saints looked to the atonement of Christ even though it had not yet occurred in their day (John 8:56). But as it had not yet happened, the outward manner in which the old covenant saints benefited from that sacrifice involved animal sacrifices. Their faith in the final atonement to come was demonstrated by their obedience to the sacrificial laws. Today, we benefit from Christ’s sacrifice by remembering it as a past event. Our faith in that final atonement is demonstrated in part by obeying the principle that Christ has ended animal sacrifice (Heb. 10:18).

Outwardly, the sacraments differ under the two covenantal administrations, but their substance is the same. We saw this with circumcision and baptism—both point to regeneration, but baptism does so under the new covenant while circumcision did so under the old covenant. Since the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant version of the Passover, it points to the same reality the Passover did. Fundamentally, the Passover commemorated God’s work of redemption, specifically in redeeming the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 12:14, 17). Thus, the Lord’s Supper also remembers God’s redemption.

Yet while redemption from Egyptian bondage was a true act of salvation, something deeper was going on in that event. The Israelites applied blood to the doorposts and lintels of their homes to show the Lord that they were to be spared (vv. 21–24). But as God is omniscient (Isa. 46:9–10), it is not as if He needed the blood to learn where the Israelites lived. The Israelites needed the blood. They were no less guilty of sin than the Egyptians (Rom. 3:23), and the blood signaled that their sin had been atoned for and that God would not put them to death. The lambs sacrificed at Passover were a propitiatory sacrifice that stayed God’s wrath, foreshadowing the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to turn away finally the Creator’s wrath. In the Lord’s Supper, we remember that final atonement.

Coram Deo

Our God is a holy God who cannot wink at sin. He cannot simply forgive people without demanding a price for their sin. On the cross, Christ paid that high price of separation from God for His people. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are God’s promise to us that Christ has turned away God’s wrath for believers. As we take the supper, let us remember that because Christ paid the price for us, we owe Him everything that we are.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 16:59–63
Daniel 9:24
Mark 15:22–25
1 Corinthians 5:7–8

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.