“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26)
The Lord’s Table, you could say, not only commemorates it also anticipates. Fundamentally, given that the bread and the fruit of the vine recall Jesus’ body being given for us and His blood being poured out for us so as to ratify the New Covenant, it looks back; but in light of the language of our text, there is also a sense in which the Lord’s Table looks forward, anticipating Jesus’ return.
The contextual connection between what’s coming and what came before is clear in light of the Greek conjunction gar (Gr. γὰρ), translated as “for” in our text. Paul had just reminded the Corinthians of what Jesus did and said on the night in which He was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23); he had told them of how Jesus told His disciples to commemorate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him (vs. 24,25); and now, in verse twenty-six, he proceeded to show them how this commemoration serves as a proclamation to anyone who beholds it.
But before we see that further explicated, notice the language that follows the “for”: “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup…” The frequency of the celebration isn’t specifically outlined and mandated in this text which is why, although cases can be made for Biblically-exemplified frequencies – and, as an aside, all cases are not, in my opinion, equal – there has been, in large part, a recognized latitude of practice concerning the frequency of the Lord’s Supper among Gospel-believing Christians.
Additionally, by way of textual analysis, (1) we shouldn’t miss the distinctiveness of the language that Paul used: it’s not the eating of any bread at any meal that is in view but the eating of “this bread” (vs.26b emphasis added), the bread that is part of the institution of the Lord’s Table; and (2) the language here also connotes another argument against the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Paul said, “As often as you eat this bread,” as opposed to ‘as often as you eat this body.’ Here is yet another textual indicator that the bread never literally becomes Jesus’ body. The bread represents Jesus’ body and upon ingestion it’s still bread. It’s similar to how Jesus told His disciples, concerning the fruit of the vine, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant” (Mt. 26:27b,28a), and then in the very next verse said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vinefrom now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (vs.29 emphasis added). You can see that the wine which represented Jesus’ blood did not literally become His blood. Had it truly been His blood it would have been inaccurate to call it the fruit of the vine because the substance would have already been ‘miraculously changed.’ But it wasn’t. The bread and fruit of the vine represented the body and blood of Jesus and they never stopped being bread and wine.
That brings us to the proclamation and the element of anticipation. Paul told the believers at Corinth that when they partake of the Lord’s Supper they, “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” The Greek word used here, translated as “proclaim,” is katangellete (Gr. καταγγέλλετε). It is used 18 times in the NT, the majority of which are in the Book of Acts and is always used to refer to some openly declared announcement. It doesn’t, in any of its other uses, refer to a ‘making known by actions,’ although some understandably suggest that it does here, i.e. the proclamation being spoken of here is the action of celebrating the Lord’s Table. Doubtless, the Lord’s Table well depicts the Gospel Christians love and believe, and doubtless there is an awesome sense in which the communion of saints collectively, together as one people with one voice (as it were) ‘proclaim’ the Lord’s death through partaking of the bread and the cup (what an incredible visual that is!) but I would also think that just as an explanation and proclamation was expected at the Passover – so that words would help explain the symbols and the celebration, some measure of instruction as to the serious, symbolic, and celebratory aspects of the Lord’s Supper was, and is, to be given.
Now, after much anticipation (notice the ‘play on words’ given the title?) there is, then, the eschatological element to the celebration of the Lord’s supper as connoted in Paul’s words: “until He comes.” Paul’s words ought to ring loud in Christians’ heart and minds – ‘We are to keep doing this without the physical presence of our Lord until He comes and we can eat and drink on a renewed earth in the presence of our Lord.’ Paul’s language in this text celebrates the believer’s sure confidence that one day the same one who died, rose, and ascended, will return! It is a table of anticipation. So in one sense the table helps us to look back at the events that surrounded the night of Jesus’ betrayal and the sacrificial death that followed not long after; in another sense it helps us to recall the spiritual union and true fellowship that we share with Him in the present; and yet, in another sense it is anticipatory, so that as we sit at the table without the physical presence of Jesus on Earth, we can joyfully know that’s it’s only a matter of time until that changes when the King returns. What a way to avoid participating in the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner – by remembering that purifying hope that He is coming back (1 Jn. 3:2,3); but we’ll consider that further in the next verse.