It’s our mistake, therefore, to assume that in the Lord’s Supper Jesus is only referencing his cross and the forgiveness of sins with the wine and bread. Of course, being the Passover and the night of his crucifixion, the cross certainly is the emphasis—especially since Jesus’s cross for forgiveness is the crux of the Christian gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2). But when he offers us the bread which is “for you,” he isn’t merely offering us forgiveness. He’s offering us himself, for our sustenance and satisfaction for our souls.
When we reflect on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, we commonly understand the wine to symbolize Christ’s shed blood and the bread Christ’s broken body. And such a view is right and biblical. For as with baptism, the Supper manifests the gospel to our senses: In the elements, we see visibly and feel tangibly and taste palatably the cross, the gospel.
But what if there’s more to the wine and bread, symbolism which we could also defend from the Bible?
I started considering this after hearing lyrics from the Christian artist Kings Kaleidoscope. In the song “Backwards,” songwriter Chad Garner meditates on how in Christian life we sometimes take one step forward only to be followed by two backwards. In this context, he writes,
“I take the wine but leave the bread.”
How is it possible to take the wine and leave the bread? Of course, we can do this with the physical elements. But given the context, Gardner isn’t speaking of just drinking the wine but avoiding a piece of bread. Rather, he was delving into more of the biblical meanings of the wine and bread in the Supper.
The Wine and Forgiveness
First, let us reconsider the wine. Fundamentally, we can all agree the wine symbolizes the blood of Christ. But we may, I think, take a step further and ask: What does Christ’s shed blood mainly point to? And if we do that, the biblical answer—from Old Testament to the New—is that shed blood specifically symbolizes forgiveness of sin.
The author of Hebrews, connecting the Old Testament to what Christ accomplished on the cross, made this point short and sweet: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22; see also Leviticus 17:11). And Jesus explained the wine with this very idea: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).