Which Comes First: The Bread or the Cup?
While serving as one of the ministers in a small, growing, 160-member Church of Christ just outside Lubbock, Texas, we strove to get many involved in serving the body as well as we could. One of this church’s strengths was encouraging those who serve the saints. Specifically at the Lord’s Table, we have a legally blind man who helps each Sunday with the passing of the plates.
Over the years, I worked patiently with another older gentleman near 70 years of age who always quietly and faithfully sat with his wife in the last pew in the auditorium. Slowly, God helped inch him toward service in a public capacity.
Our table time at service included four slots to fill each week with men to lead prayers and pass the emblems to the brethren. For years, I was able to shelter this gentleman by not asking him to say a public prayer. This brother was more than willing to help with the Lord’s Table as long as he was assured he did not have to lead a public prayer. He was a willing, humble servant who was very shy about public speaking.
But one Sunday, circumstances prevented him from being sheltered of this one obligation. It was the custom at this small church that the men sit with their families and, at the appropriate time, they rise from their seats and go to the front of the auditorium to serve. As the men rose to begin the Lord’s Supper, I noticed this gentleman shaking. Shaking with the kind of fear of being criticized for his public prayer he apparently had volunteered to give. The men passed the emblems to each other, as each had two trays to carry. I bowed my head and heard this man say a heartfelt, innocent prayer unto God for faithfulness and for the sacrifice that cleanses us from so much stain. I sat there reflecting on my own self in relationship to my Savior and also felt elated that this brother had finally said a public prayer. One could tell he was nervous as his voice crackled a bit through the microphone system.
I never noticed the emblems that were passed prior to the leading of this man’s prayer. Upon hearing him and being so excited for him in his personal growth, I never noticed that the fruit of the vine was passed first. From where I was sitting, I could see that others noticed this as well. Should we instruct this disaster in a public way that the bread always goes first? That would require correcting someone in front of the brethren, instructing the servers to put down the cup trays and distribute the bread trays instead. I saw many wonder about this situation that had never arisen in my and my coworkers’ seven-year tenure at this place.
The congregation that morning, including me, partook of the Lord’s Supper in the following order: the cup, the bread, and contribution—which was the reverse of what had always occurred on any given Sunday. I wondered some about this, but overlooked it for the overall reflection of what God had wanted for us: to reflect upon what God had done for us in view of providing Jesus as our unblemished Savior for all our sins including mine.
Then I noticed the following texts where the communion occurs in Scripture. In summary:
Matt. 26:26-27 – “bread/cup”
Mark 14:22-24 – “bread/cup”
Luke 22:17-22 – “cup/bread/cup”
I reflected upon these Scriptures along with Mark 2:27 in which “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I noted in my own futile mind that we reflect on what God has provided for us by our observance of the Lord’s Supper as instructed in Scripture. Yes, the usual method was broken that Sunday, but the overall meaning was the same.
The saints were patient with this man, helping someone grow closer to the heartbeat of God. As a body we reflected publicly the following Sunday and publically commended this brother for his growth. More and more, this brother continued to volunteer for a public prayer at the Lord’s Table.
I’m thankful for the patience of the saints with this man we had worked with over the years. I’m also reminded of the patience of my Master for my own shortcomings. And I feel blessed to partake the Lord’s Supper each Sunday in my own personal reflection of Christ.