I love celebrating the Lord’s Supper at our church. It wasn’t always like this, but I look forward to holy communion as one of the highlights of our worship services every month.
As a mom with young children, I try to catch as much of our Sunday worship service as possible, but I normally head out to the nursery with the girls after we finish singing and though we can see and hear the sermon in the nursery (which I’m really thankful for!) I sometimes feel I’ve missed the whole service though I’m right there. A few weeks ago, it was one of those I-missed-all-of-service-again days, but in the few minutes that I got to take part of communion, God ministered to my heart exactly what I needed.
Growing up, the services where we took communion were hardest to sit through as a kid. It made the service feel much longer, even though it was only adding at most another 10-15 minutes. When I got older and started to experience God more, I felt somehow that this part of service should be moving, and for some reason thought that the way to do this was to do a thorough search and confession of my own sin. There were times when I came in with guilt, and so the prompts to confess our sins as not to take part in communion in an unworthy manner were helpful (1 Cor. 11:27-28). But there were times that I didn’t come in with any big hidden sin and so didn’t feel so moved.
No one taught me that I was supposed to do this and maybe it’s just me who has ever thought like that, but basically I didn’t know what I was supposed to be thinking and feeling and how to direct my thoughts and affections during communion. I don’t think that I’m alone in this experience. During praise, we know we’re supposed to be thinking about the lyrics and singing to God. During the sermons, whether or not we succeed, we know we should be listening and hearing from God through the preaching of his Word. But what about the time in service when we take part in communion? Was I right– is it about having a time of individual confession of sins? Or as someone else said she used to think, is it a time for personal prayer and meditation?
God has been growing my experience of the rich blessing this sacrament is intended to be for God’s people and I want to share a bit of how in hopes that you would also be blessed as you partake of it at your church. (The second point has been most helpful to me, so jump to that part if you only have time to skim!)
1. Remembrance of Christ, not focused introspection
One thing that threw me off when I started going to GCC was that though there is a time in our service set aside for corporate and individual repentance and confession of sins, there isn’t much time given after receiving communion for us to sit on our own and pray. You can if you want, but that time isn’t built in. Why not?
I believe as Christians, part of life is regular repentance and for asking the Lord to search our hearts for any ways we are living that displeases him. We are also called to take seriously the warning not to drink judgment upon ourselves when coming to the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and sometimes, we need space and time during communion to confess. But for those who come with genuine faith and repentant hearts, and those who have been walking faithfully with him by his grace, it is a great help to know that communion is not a designated time to dig deep inside our hearts in solemn introspection, but a time to remember and proclaim the death of Christ. When we remember that the Lord’s Supper is meant to be a proclamation of Christ’s death until he comes again, we do think of our own sin and unworthiness, but then are called then to bring and rest our gaze in faith to Jesus who died for us.
The Heidelberg catechism says (this is rich!) in Q&A 79 that through the establishing of the Lord’s Supper:
[Christ] wants to teach us that just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.
But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge,
that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.
When taking communion, I don’t just have to think solemnly about this week or this month’s sins to be filled with gratitude. So much more is brought to mind when focusing my thoughts on how Christ’s suffering and obedience are mine through faith. Meditating on Christ’s death I know that through his death I have forgiveness of all my past sins (Heb. 10:12-14). I have hope for my future though I will sin again (1 John 2:1-2). Because of his death I can be free from the debt (Col. 2:13-14) of sin. Because he died and I am united with him, my old self has died, and I am no longer a slave to sin (Rom. 6:5-8)! These things and more we are given the space to remember at the Lord’s Supper, and as we grow in our understanding and experience of the meaning of Christ’s death for us, our time becomes that much richer.
2. For our assurance and strengthening of faith, not drugery and hollow ritual
I love that through the Lord’s Supper, God has given us a very physical means to say, “Yes, I believe. Yes, I trust. Yes, I will not forget.” As we eat and drink, we are saying “Yes, amen, I believe this is true. Jesus, you died for my sins and I am one with you by grace through faith.” But the Lord’s Supper is not only a declaration of faith, but a means of strengthening our faith.
In Sunday School at GCC, we went through a book on the Heidelberg Catechism and this one question has completely changed the way that I have seen this sacrament as a means of God’s grace. I love this!
Q 75. How does the holy supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits?
A. In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup in remembrance of him. With this command come these promises:
as surely as I see with my eyes
the bread of the Lord broken for me
and the cup shared with me,
his body was offered and broken for me
and his blood poured out for me
on the cross.
as surely as
I receive from the hand of the one who serves,
and taste with my mouth
the bread and cup of the Lord,
given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood,
he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life
with his crucified body and poured-out blood.
When I take communion, do I doubt that I am eating bread or drinking the juice/wine served to me? Not really. So, just as sure as I am that I am seeing, eating, and drinking– that’s how sure I can be that his body was broken for me and his blood shed for my sins. Kevin DeYoung explains it like this:
Have you ever come to church feeling dirty for the way you stared at the young woman at the Gap? Have you ever sat through an entire sermon thinking about how you blew up at your kids that morning or how prayerless you’ve been for the past month? Have you ever come to the end of a church service only to think, I’m so distracted. I keep thinking about football? Or, I keep thinking about getting ready for the company we’re having over. I can’t even sit through church right? Have you ever wondered if God can really be for you when you are oblivious to Him so much of the time?? If so, you need this gospel table.
The Lord knows our faith is weak. That’s why He’s given us sacraments to see, taste, and touch. As surely as you can see the bread and cup, so surely does God love you through Christ. As surely as you chew the food and drain the drink, so surely has Christ died for you. Here at the Table, the faith becomes sight. The simple bread and cup give assurance that Christ came for you, Christ died for you, Christ is coming again for you. Whenever we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we not only re-proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Cor. 11:26), we re-convince ourselves of God’s provision on the cross.
(The Good News We Almost Forgot, p. 137)
The “as surely” has completely changed the way I approach and appreciate the Lord’s Supper each week. This sacrament has been granted to us by Jesus for our encouragement. I have been and am being strengthened in my faith through this tangible, physical practice of receiving and taking communion because of these words: “As surely” and “so, surely.”
3. Fellowship with my family, not just an individual experience
At GCC, we celebrate Holy Communion once a month. After Rev. Chang repeats the account of what happened at the Last Supper, the people in the congregation are invited to walk up to the front and as each person takes a piece of bread, the one serving it reminds him or her “the body of Christ, broken for you” and as the person dips the bread in the grape juice, “the blood of Christ, shed for you.”
In their song Beneath The Cross, Keith and Kristen Getty write/sing:
Beneath the cross of Jesus His family is my own—
Once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
Now one through grace alone.
I love the act of being able to walk up to the front of the sanctuary with my brothers and sisters for communion. We walk up together, not taking communion as individuals, but one body in Christ (1 Cor. 10:17). I not only remember that we are doing this as a family, but it is because of Christ’s death that we are a family. We smile at each other as we make way for others to step into line in front of us from the pews. We see the person in front of us receive the bread and cup. We moms are ushered to the front of the sanctuary in front of everyone after they’re already done taking communion, being assured it’s ok though we’re pretty embarrassed, because it took us longer than expected to get out of the nursery with the kids (just happened once). It moves me to remember that I am coming to the table with other sinner-saved-saints, others who have and are experiencing the redeeming power of Christ, others who are broken and weak just like me. I am taking communion with people who struggle with sins in ways that they may have shared with me. And we, together, remember that all our sins are washed away because of Christ and we look forward in hopes of his coming where we, together, will be presented before him as a spotless bride because of the death.
Who should come to the Lord’s Table?
Question 81 of the Heidelberg Catechism warns that “Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however,
eat and drink judgment on themselves.” But it also gives this great hope to us in answering “Who should come to the Lord’s table?” It says:
Those who are displeased with themselves
because of their sins,
but who nevertheless trust
that their sins are pardoned
and that their remaining weakness is covered
by the suffering and death of Christ,
and who also desire more and more
to strengthen their faith
and to lead a better life.
Yes, we who are displeased with ourselves in our sins, but trust nevertheless that our sins are pardoned and weaknesses covered by the suffering and death of our Savior who we remember. We who know that we cannot on our own, but desire to, have stronger faith and live more and more unto him. We are invited to come. Thank God for this invitation to feast at his table for the nourishing of our souls.