Methodists have historically identified baptism and the Lord's Supper as the two ordinances given by the Lord to symbolize the believer's union with Christ. Baptism commemorates our identification with Christ -- a visual reminder of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; the death of the old nature through the reception of God's saving grace through Jesus Christ; and the promise of our future hope when our mortal bodies will be raised incorruptibly for eternity.
The Lord's Supper reminds us of the means by which God's salvation was secured on our behalf. The unleavened bread is a symbol of the perfection of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ in His body, soul and spirit. The fruit of the vine symbolizes the substitutionary, propitiatory and covenantal blood of an innocent sacrifice, shed for the remission of the sins of the guilty (see Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:5-17; 7:27-28; 9:26-28; 1 Peter 3:18).
The Lord's Supper, also called communion, demonstrates the doctrine of substitution -- Christ died for me (1 Corinthians 11:26). Baptism demonstrates the doctrine of identification -- I died with Christ (Romans 6:3-4).When Jesus identified the bread and the fruit of the vine as His body and His blood, He spoke typologically. The bread did not become His body; the fruit of the vine did not become His blood. Rather, they represented the fullness of His sacrifice for those He came to redeem. How do we know?First, the Lord's Supper has its origins in the Jewish Passover, a memorial event designed as a perennial reminder to the Jews of God's deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Jesus' command to receive the Lord's Supper "in remembrance of Me" establishes it as a memorial meal after the likeness of the Passover "type."Second, the specificity of Jesus' language points to a symbolical understanding of the Lord's Supper. It is hard to imagine the disciples thinking that Jesus, while physically sitting in their presence, literally entered the bread and the fruit of the vine. He did not say, "This bread becomes My body." Sitting before His disciples in His pre-glorified incarnate state, He said, "This is My body ... This is My blood." Though they did not fully understand what that moment meant until after the resurrection, they clearly understood the metaphorical nature of His language, much as they understood so many other metaphorical occurrences of biblical imagery (e.g., the Lord is ... my Rock, my Shield, my Fortress, my Shepherd).Though receiving the Lord's Supper is a symbolic act, it is nevertheless deeply meaningful. When Jesus' followers participate in the celebratory meal, their prayerful, introspective reflection demonstrates their desire for and commitment to a continuing lifestyle of deepening devotion, communion, unity, trust, obedience, gratitude and service (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 21; 11:20-34).