God’s Word for You
Luke 22:17-18 Each person receives it whole
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 21, 2019
17 He took a cup, gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves, 18 for I tell you that I will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until the kingdom of God comes.”
Those who want to quibble about whether or not the wine vinegar Jesus drank on the cross should be called “the fruit of the vine” misunderstand the difference between wine and vinegar. Wine is an alcoholic drink, whereas vinegar has very little alcohol. Vinegar can be made from wine (bacteria transform the alcohol into acetic acid), but it can be distilled apart from wine.
Here the Passover meal has progressed to the point of the first or second cup of wine and the breaking of the bread. It isn’t important for us to identify which moment in the Passover meal this was, or whether they had by now finished the meal and Jesus was beginning something new. This was the Lord’s final drink of wine before the culmination of his work as the Messiah. He was sharing it with them, showing through this example the importance of the fellowship we have with those we take the supper with.
Note that although Luke introduces the wine here, neither he nor the disciples are said to have drunk it yet. This is also the practice with the cups of wine in the Passover. They are poured, but they are not consumed right away.
“Take this and divide it among yourselves.” Here we find an answer to a long-standing question. Is a single cup, a chalice, to be preferred in our reception of the Lord’s Supper, or are small individual servings to be preferred? The question is often asked today because of health concerns with a shared chalice. However, a chalice that is made of silver is made of one of the least porous metals that we use (germs have nowhere to hide on a silver surface). Combine that with a drink made of alcohol (which kills germs) and you have very little opportunity to pass germs from one person to another. But did Christ use a single chalice? Probably not. It is far more likely that all of the guests at the Last Supper had their own cups, as we would at a banquet or a dinner party today. Whether a church uses individual glasses or a chalice, or both, is not commanded by Scripture. We are free to do what is best for our people.
But this question is so trivial that if we spend any more time with it we shall fail to see the importance of what Jesus is saying. “Take this and divide it” shows that each disciple, each person receiving the Lord’s Supper, receives the blood of Jesus Christ. All of it; not a portion of it. “For this is how it was taught…, how we still accept and teach it, and how it was accepted in the true, ancient Christian church of fifteen hundred years ago” (Luther writes): “When you receive the bread from the altar, you are not tearing an arm from the body of the Lord or biting off his nose or a finger; rather, you are receiving the entire body of the Lord; the person who comes after you also receives the same entire body, as does the third and the thousandth after the thousandth one forever and ever. In the same way when you drink the wine from the chalice, you are not drinking a drop of blood from his finger or foot, but you are drinking his entire blood; so, too, does the one who follows you…. Each person receives it whole” (Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament, LW 38 p. 292-293).
How exactly the wholeness of Christ or the recurring presence of Christ could take place is taught to us in two ways. First, in the doctrine of the omnipresence of God. He is everywhere at all times, “him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23). Second, in the words of Jesus at this institution: “This is my body; this is my blood.” We believe it because God says it is so.
Pastor Timothy Smith