Bread and wine are good. They have their own, built-in sustaining properties. They are also available to enjoy at your own home around your own table, or without a table if you prefer.
What is special about the bread and wine on this table? Well, in terms of the gluten, it’s the same. The tannins have no magical properties. But while there is nothing mystical about the physical elements, there is a supernatural process at work.
The bread and wine are special because Jesus gave His Word on it. He said, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” He said, “Drink of it…this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God’s Word stamps the elements with new value.
John Calvin likened it to the stamp on precious metal. A lump of silver has value but the stamp turns it into coin that means something more.
Why are crude and coined silver not of the same value, though they are absolutely the same metal? The one is merely in the natural state; stamped with an official mark, it becomes a coin and receives a new valuation. And cannot God mark with his Word the things he has created, that what were previously bare elements may become sacraments? (Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 18)
The Spirit gives us a toast of joy, strengthens our faith, unites us to one another by grace through faith. This his why it’s more than a 100 calorie Sunday morning snack, it is a meal of fellowship. It is a meal that a few among us have been eager to enjoy for their first time, and since their baptism last Sunday evening we welcome them to join us.
It appears that Americans will have spent more money for Easter this year than they did for Valentine’s Day (ht: Al Mohler). When it comes to the commercialization of holidays, Easter may not be quite as marketed for money-making as Christmas, but it is multiplying like bunnies.
What most people are buying most is candy. I remember getting candy on Easter when I was a kid, and we often give candy to our kids, too.
Is this a bad thing? Is it a sign of our compromise, or worse, of our loss of respect for Christ’s bloody sacrifice for sin and miraculous, world- resurrection?
It certainly could be. Buying candy and giving it as a gift (and eating it) isn’t necessarily Christian, nor does chocolate and peanut butter obviously make one think of the cross or the empty tomb. Candy consumption could be thoughtless. It could be sacrilegious.
But what other worldview would ever make sharing sweets a cultural thing to do? Bacchus was the god of partying, and there was much feasting and drinking done in his name, but it always led to men and women losing inhibitions, and usually someone ended up dead. Serving Bacchus resulted in ecstatic rage and the shedding of blood. Materialism doesn’t offer a good basis either. Mammon is a god to many, but how did the candy company executives and advertisers and store owners convince so many consumers to buy tasty yet otherwise useless candy?
We eat sweets (and other feasting foods) to remember winter’s end, not to try to forget winter’s inevitable return. We buy and give and share candy because Christ’s resurrection has established a world of buying and giving and sharing. We don’t party before offering sacrifice, we rejoice because the sacrifice was already offered and accepted. For it even to be possible to commercialize Easter, Easter had to be effective, otherwise we would all be fearful of immanent judgment and eternal death. We should not be thoughtless, but because Jesus is risen from the dead, think about how much we have to be thankful for.
The Lord’s Table is a table of community accountability. By God’s grace, we have only removed a few persons from communion at our church due to church discipline. He has guarded our flock from gross, ongoing, unrepentant sinners. We have been able to enjoy the sweet fellowship here without too much bitterness.
This is fellowship worth preserving, worth protecting, and that means that not everyone is invited. In particular, when professing brothers refuse to repent from their sin after they have been personally, lovingly, and repeatedly pursued, they may be formally uninvited from participation.
The Lord requires one brother who sees another sinning brother to confront the sinner. The Lord instructs more people to get involved if there is not repentance and, eventually, the (local) church must acknowledge the immorality and discipline the sinner by removing him from fellowship. Those inside the church judge those inside the church. This is part of mutual accountability.
The church gets it wrong sometimes, more often than not by failing to deal with sinners. According to 1 Corinthians 11, God sometimes intervenes directly rather than through the church toward those who profane the body and blood of the Lord by unworthy participation at His Table. God is not mocked even if the church gets it wrong. Death is an even stronger statement than church discipline.
Of course, it is not much of a discipline to keep someone from something that we don’t value or enjoy. Our communion now sets the tone for later. The offender will miss out to the degree that we make much of this meal. We will give an account for how we participated, and it ought to be with righteous rejoicing.
It is sort of funny to think about the high moral standards of the Egyptians who refused to eat with the Hebrews. In Genesis 43 it is described as a “abomination,” something that causes disgust or hatred, a thing to be avoided at all costs. Joseph and his attendants ate at a separate tables from his brothers in order to avoid the defilement and dishonor of sharing such an intimate act with the unworthy.
How much more surprising is it to think about Jesus eating with His disciples and instituting a meal of His presence at a Table with sinners. The gospel isn’t for the righteous, for the ceremonially clean, for the cultured or civilized. The gospel is for the unworthy alone, for those who are totally depraved, solus et totus pravus. How amazing is the grace that meets us at a table of communion.
The author of Hebrews wrote about Jesus:
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:11)
And he wrote about the Father:
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
The Lord’s Table is not the table where only the Lord sits. He does not set up two tables, one for Him and one for us, let alone one for Him, one for those who are sort of pleasing to Him, and one for those who should just be thankful that their donkey’s weren’t stolen for slaves. He eats and drinks with us, He gave His body for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. We are not an abomination to Him because Jesus atoned for us.
How do we know that we don’t have to live with tortured consciences? We couldn’t know it without the Bible. Men have attempted all sorts of quests to deal with their inconvenient guilt, whether trying to distract the conscience with entertainment, trying to drown the conscience with alcohol, trying to defeat the conscience with legalism, or trying to propitiate the conscience by punishing someone else. There will be a reckoning. There will be blood. Someone will die. And all of those man-made attempts will only torture the conscience more.
The only way to deal with a tortured conscience is to trust the tortured Christ. He took the reckoning for all who will ever believe. He shed His blood. As Paul wrote in Romans 3 there is redemption “in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” No sin escaped God’s notice, so no man could be free from condemnation whether he was aware of it or not. When God sent His Son, it “was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” It might have been a two-decade forbearance, or maybe two-millennia, but accounts still require a reckoning.
The ministry of the gospel brings about “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). The blood of Christ will “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). The resurrection of Christ cleanses us, as baptism represents, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).
So we come to the Lord’s Table as the redeemed, the resurrected, the purified. He is Lord of every conscience because He died and rose again. He was afflicted so that we could have freedom from condemnation. This is the power of the cross.
However proud Joseph became when he dreamed that his family would bow down before him, he had no idea how truly great he would be and how completely chastened his brothers would be. God’s fixed purpose to raise Joseph to glory looks brilliant looking back. Looking forward as a seventeen year-old, Joseph’s vision of greatness was blurry. Looking around during his final teenage years and throughout his twenties, Joseph’s vision of greatness was only by faith; there was no fix in sight. Yet the decade of heavy work, and the apparently forgotten use of his skill set, and even the world-wide famine got Joseph a name above every other name but one in his day.
Jesus was never proud. Jesus had a perfect idea of His true nature, His eternal and divine glory. Yet even Jesus’s path to honor is astonishing. God’s fixed purpose to raise Jesus to glory looks brilliant looking back. But to everyone other than Jesus, looking forward from Bethlehem’s stable, Jesus’ greatness was under cover. Looking around during His family’s exile early in His life, and at the disgust and rage toward Him in His early thirties, leading to the brutal torture and murder on the cross, who would have known that this was the Lord of glory? Yet, this Jesus
though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…humbled himself by become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)
The lengths God went to in order to lift up Joseph were great, but the lengths God went to in order to lift up Jesus were amazing. As we receive the meal and rejoice in the Savior, Jesus’ name is lifted up. As we eat the bread and drink the wine by faith we are lifted up in Him.
Pharaoh paid a great compliment to Joseph before seeing any of Joseph’s work for himself. “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” But Joseph answered, “It is not in me” (Genesis 41:16). He knew he had nothing that he had not received. For however audacious he’d been telling his own dreams to his brothers and father, he’d been humbled for the last thirteen years, sold as a slave and then serving as a prisoner. Joseph knew, at least by now if not before, that God was the source of his wisdom.
The Lord’s Table is a similar light on our interpretation of things. We could start to think that we belong here by nature of our righteousness or faithfulness or endurance. Another person could say, in a less than complimentary tone, that we think we’re so holy. But the bread and the wine remind us that salvation and redemption and righteousness are not in us.
We sing a song sometimes on Sunday mornings titled, “Not in Me.” Here are some of the key lyrics:
No list of sins I have not done,
No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like,
Can earn myself a place with You.
No humble dress, no fervent prayer,
No lifted hands, no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth
Can justify a single wrong.
No separation from the world,
No work I do, no gift I give,
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;
I cannot cause my soul to live.
Jesus is our life. Jesus paid our debt to death. Jesus bore our load of guilt. So “He alone can give me rest.”
As we celebrate this meal together by faith we proclaim that we’ve been lifted up from the pit of sin and guilt and death by Him alone.
Perhaps one reason why some young people in the church grow up and walk away from the faith is because they have not celebrated communion enough or because they have not celebrated it at all. This Table is a central location where the church and parents need to disciple young believers.
There is a wrong way to do right things. Observing the Lord’s Table in a way that stirs up guilt more than hope, that triggers shame more than joy, that prompts uncertainty more than peace, is dissonant with the gospel and dangerous to souls. A regular diet of doubt and fear not only doesn’t make the diet appealing, it makes faint Christians.
Infrequent celebration, or observation, is like an annual family meal, or maybe a quarterly repast. When we are around the Table we connect. We are reminded of who we are and how we’re related. We catch up and, if we mess up, we make up. We get right with one another because that’s what families do. More biblically, that’s what Jesus does for families that follow Him. It’s worth doing weekly.
Is it so surprising that young people who may never have seen joy at the Table aren’t interested in it, or who, when they saw the adults value it on a yearly basis, decided it must not have that much value after all?
We rejoice—exsultamus!—that Jesus is our Savior (Titus 3:4-6), our Lord (Romans 1:4; 10:9), our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), our firstborn Brother (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:17), and our example (1 Peter 2:21). We rejoice that He died, was buried, and rose again to defeat sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 5:21). We rejoice that we are His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23), and that He blesses all who participate in the blood of Christ and partake of the body of Christ by faith in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 10:16). As often as we eat this bread and drink the cup we exult in our Lord by faith (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Since I’m a pastor and since I am responsible for much of the Lord’s Day liturgy at our assembly’s worship, I’m often asked what our Sunday morning service looks like. When I get to the part about having weekly communion, the follow-up question is typically, “Doesn’t that make it not special after a while?”
There are short answers, which is what I usually give (don’t be too surprised). I often say, “Not yet by God’s grace.” Still, we understand where the question comes from, and yet it is surprising that Christians are so fearful.
The truism we believe is that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s catchy, and we can see how that could be used as a diagnostic to explain why we have contempt for something. Now that I think about it, I’d much rather blame “familiarity” than something in my own heart. Yet (my/your) ignorance also empowers contempt, as do (my/your) pride and (my/your) envy.
I was meditating on the assumed power in the verb: familiarity breeds. Breeding doesn’t happen by proxy, there are no breeders emeritus, you cannot sign up for distance breeding. Husbands become fathers through familiarity with their wives. Why don’t Christians ask if marital familiarity is dangerous? Maybe Christians are too spiritual to ask it out loud, maybe some do think it. But familiarity is powerful to produce fruit.
In the Bible, familiarity with God breeds panic and praise, weeping and worship, dread and joy. As it turns out, familiarity isn’t the problem, we are the problem. Dinner with the family every night could become monotonous if mom despised the work and dad despised the interruption and the kids despised being despised. But when there is familiarity with sacrificial love and intention, contempt doesn’t have a place at the table.
The Lord’s Supper doesn’t stay special because of it’s scarcity, but by our increasing in the knowledge of God that grows our affections for and gratitude to Him.
There is no way that Pharaoh’s cupbearer was unable to remember what Joseph had done. Nothing could have been worse than losing his royal position as confidant to the king and nothing else other than his restoration to that position would have occupied his mind more while in prison. His dream, and Joseph’s foretelling of his deliverance, consumed him for three days until the prophecy was fulfilled. Even if the cupbearer did not want to advocate on behalf of the Hebrew who served him and gave him hope, there is no way that Joseph simply slipped his mind…for two years. He didn’t draw a blank, he blocked it out.
Joseph asked the cupbearer to “Remember me.” He appealed that the cupbearer would “mention me to Pharaoh.” Though Joseph had cared for him every day and miraculously calmed his fears, the cupbearer refused to recognize him in thanks let alone lobby for his release.
Jesus also told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). He gave them bread to represent His body, a body given to redeem them as the bread sustained them. He wanted them to keep in mind what He had done.
When Paul explained the Supper to the Corinthians he said that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Not before a Pharaoh, but before one another and before the world, our receiving and remembering is part of our witness.
Christ puts the cup in our hands so that we may drink it. He was lifted up on the tree and lifted up from the grave so that He might lift up our heads to share in His glory. We may not forget. We must not let it slip our minds or purpose to keep quiet. Around this Table we are aware and we appreciate and we announce that Jesus Christ died and rose again to deliver us from all our offenses.