Why Unleavened Bread?
Why do we use unleavened bread when we partake of the Lord’s Supper? At the first level of understanding, we recognize that Jesus used unleavened bread when giving instructions for the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26). We know this because it was on the occasion of the Passover that Jesus gave these instructions. Since the Passover allowed no leaven in the bread, and since Jesus never broke a commandment, we can be sure that there would have been no leaven at that meal. The bread at His disposal was unleavened, so unleavened bread was the standard for the Lord’s Supper instructions.
Since we desire to follow the example of Jesus and His instructions, then we continue to use unleavened bread. But is that the end of the story? Are there other points of convergence that can help us appreciate the reason we are still using unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper? To see this, we need to understand the symbolic use of leavened or unleavened bread.
Was God just being arbitrary about unleavened bread when He gave instructions for the Passover? Of course not. He wanted that to mean something symbolically for the people.
The use of unleavened bread connects to both the Passover and the Exodus, events that signified their freedom from slavery and entrance into a new life. In fact, Jesus’ death as our Passover lamb does the same for us (1 Cor 5:7). Unleavened bread was the bread of the memorial of their salvation. We recall, also, how leaven is often seen symbolically in a bad light. It came to indicate corruption or bad influence. That’s not always the case, but often it was used symbolically that way (cf. Matthew 16:6, Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees”).
Paul uses leaven and unleavened conceptually, also. While addressing the Corinthian problem of a man having his father’s wife, Paul stressed the need to act appropriately by turning such a one over to Satan hoping that his soul may yet be saved. They were boasting about having this man among them instead of marking and trying to correct him. Paul writes:
“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor 5:6-8).
While this is not specifically about the Lord’s Supper, it is about the event on which the Lord’s Supper was founded, namely the death of Jesus. Leaven here represents a bad influence that would come from the man who was unrepentant. Here Jesus is called our Passover. John called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Paul highlights this and tells us them to “celebrate the festival” (the feast, the Passover, Jesus), not with the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Is it a leap here to see a connection with the Lord’s Supper? Just a few chapters later, Paul talks about the Lord’s Supper. He quotes the words of Jesus, then says, “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 Supper is a proclamation of Christ’s death—that same death in which He was our Passover Lamb, which, again, highlights a feast we are to partake of with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Paul then writes,
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27).
Would it not be an “unworthy manner” if we are not partaking of “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”? Now I realize that Paul is using “unleavened bread” symbolically in 1 Corinthians 5, but that is exactly my point! We need to see the symbolism here, not just the physical bread. Yet that physical bread represents the body of the Passover Lamb. It represents sincerity and truth, and our use of that same symbol should cause us to think of the depth of that symbol. How appropriate that unleavened bread still represents the sincerity and truth of our partaking of our Passover Lamb in the Lord’s Supper!
The Lord's Supper is a memorial meal representing the purity of Christ and His shed blood. It represents the Passover Lamb’s body offered in sincerity and truth, and partaken of in sincerity and truth. It's not just about what kind of bread to eat, but about what that bread represents. The body of our Lord in all its purity was given as a sacrifice to set us free from sin and bring us into a new life.
This is one of those cases where I think we can get caught up in the technicalities without reflecting on the greater meaning. Let the meaning of unleavened bread sink in while partaking.