This Sunday at Grace (and the first Sunday of every month), we’re celebrating the Lord’s Supper together at all our services.
This is a very special part of our worship, and it’s worth taking the time to remember what it means, so we can prepare our hearts in the days ahead as we look forward to enjoying it together.
Now, when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19-20), he wasn’t talking about a bare recalling, or a weird and macabre kind of magic trick where the bread and wine turn into his human tissue and haemoglobin.
What he meant was for us to “partake” in the benefits of his death and suffering as an ongoing thing (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). The bread and the grape juice that we enjoy together in the Lord’s Supper are a means, a spiritual vehicle, where we take the body and blood of Jesus, but not by sight, by faith. Jesus is present in the Lord’s Supper, not bodily, but spiritually, and we may meet him there to be strengthened in our faith.
The Heidelberg Catechism, a framework for teaching the Bible written in 1563, puts it really well:
Question: How does the Lord’s supper signify and seal to you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his gifts?
Answer: In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup in remembrance of him.
With this command he gave these promises:
First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely was his body offered for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross.
Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely does he himself nourish and refresh my soul to everlasting life with his crucified body and shed blood.
Understanding the Lord’s Supper like this has three implications for those preparing to take it:
1. It’s not for unbelievers
Taking the Lord’s Supper does not make you a Christian, and it doesn’t win you points with God. In fact, it’s meaningless for an unbeliever to take the Lord’s Supper. You might as well stay at home and have a tiny piece of bread and a shot-glass of grape juice.
Christians, on the other hand, take the Lord’s Supper as a confirmation of the work of Christ in their life at their conversion, and as a means to remain near his grace, to sustain their faith in his death for them.
Rather than taking the bread and grape juice in the Lord’s Supper, unbelievers should be encouraged to take Jesus himself, as the gospel is made visible in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by believers.
2. It’s not for unrepentant Christians
1 Corinthians 11:27-29 gives a warning to Christians taking the Lord’s Supper:
“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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
(1 Corinthians 11:27–29 ESV)
What this means is that the believer wanting to take hold of the benefits of Christ’s death in the Lord’s Supper must not be harbouring sin in his life. This is dishonouring to the Cross, and dishonouring to the Lord Jesus.
This is why the Lord’s Supper is good opportunity to “examine” yourself. Am I growing closer to Jesus? Are my desires becoming more like his? Am I fooling around with sin? How are my relationships with other believers?
3. The Lord’s Supper is not for comfortable Christians
This last point is important to remember, as it speaks to the spiritual effects of the Lord’s Supper. As bread and grape juice nourishes our bodies, so the body and blood of Jesus, taken by faith in the Lord’s Supper, nourishes our souls.
We don’t take the Lord’s Supper to maintain our Christian comforts. We don’t do it out of traditionalism, and we don’t do it to ‘keep God happy’.
We take it to strengthen ourselves to live for Christ more and more in daily life, by kneeling once again in humility at the cross. We should expect change in our lives as we take the Lord’s Supper in repentant faith. We should expect God to work in us to conform us more and more to the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-30).
As we prepare to enjoy the Lord’s Supper together this Sunday, why not take some time to pray and reflect of the next few days. Reflect on your own life, reflect on your relationship with Jesus and what his cross means to you.
And then, when we take the meal together on Sunday, celebrate the gospel in your life and in the life of your Christian brothers and sisters, and expect God to nourish you and grow you with the spiritual food of the body and blood of Jesus, by which he brought you from death to life.