There have been frequent arguments in church history about what exactly happens at the Lord’s Table. Most of these arguments have come from motivations to value Christ’s work on the cross and in communion, though not all of the arguments can be true.
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul helps us see the nature of the Supper through his comparisons with two other types of worship meals.
Example one: “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” (verse 18) But where are the arguments about transubstantiation or consubstantiation when it came to the various offerings eaten by the Jews? Those arguments don’t exist. The sharing in the sacrifice did not happen because the molecules of the meat or the grain were changed or mixed.
Example two: “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (verse 20). The same sharing is happening and, again, the sharing happens without the substance of the elements being transformed.
So, when we participate in the blood of Christ by drinking the cup, and when we participate in the body of Christ when we eat the bread, there is a real and supernatural and substantive sharing in Christ’s sacrifice. But it not because the wine or the bread change substance, or even because the spiritual presence of Jesus shows up in the wine or the bread. By faith we partake of the Table, and we are associated with Christ and with all that His sacrifice accomplished in and among us.
One of the ways we know if we’ve been born again is our attitude toward those who sit around the Lord’s Table with us.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5:1)
This meal of communion is only for Christians, those who are born again, and Christians are those with a particular affirmation and with personal affection.
Those who are born of God believe “that Jesus is the Christ.” Any claim of new life apart from confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior is a bogus claim. The lyrics sung by the born again are clear: Jesus is the Christ, the promised and anointed one, the substitutionary sacrifice who died on the cross for sins, was buried in a tomb for three days, and was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection.
The harmony of the born again song is loving other born-againers; this is not a solo act. We who are born of God confess Christ and care for one another. Diluted affections for, resistance to forgive, and reluctance to fellowship with other believers calls into question one’s spiritual life just as failing to breathe calls into question one’s physical life.
If you’re harboring resentment or anger toward a brother, whether the size of a cruise ship or kayak, you should repent and make that right before you celebrate the symbol of our uniting love. He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we who are born again must love all the others who share our living hope.
Come, eat, drink, and celebrate your born again life in Jesus the Christ. Come, eat, drink, and commune with your born again family.
When some Greeks came to see Jesus, Jesus said it was the hour of His glory. Then Jesus explained the truth of buried seed bearing abundant fruit.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)
The way of fruit is sacrifice and burial for sake of life. This is not only the way God made the world to work, this is the way He made men to receive glory. We remember battles. We remember sacrifices. We memorialize those who gave what they had, and in a thousand ways we don’t even recognize, we are the fruit of many men’s deaths.
Of course this is ultimately true in the gospel. Jesus took on flesh to spend it, He came low so that He could be lifted up on a cross, and He knew that such a death would be His glory.
We learn the path to glory and how we ought to imitate Him. In the communion meal we start by remembering His cross-work, and consider the results of His death and burial. It wasn’t just His resurrection, it is the many brothers who He has raised since. May we remember, may we rejoice, and may we not give up our place in the line.
When Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, what did that miracle do? It seems that there are at least two things. First, it enabled the party to continue. Second, it demonstrated that Jesus had divine power.
But is that it? Is the point of the miracles to reveal Jesus as God? It is certainly one of the things that happened, and it is important to acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But any given sign that Jesus did, such as turning the water into wine, is intended not merely to make us think about that one event, but to think about every time God ever does a similar natural thing.
Athanasius was the first to make this connection regarding the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis followed up on it in his essay, “Miracles.” All the miracles Jesus performed were supernatural, but they were focused demonstrations of what God is always doing naturally.
[E]very year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana. (God in the Dock, 29)
It doesn’t make the miracles less significant, but it does mean we should be more in awe and giving thanks for the mundane.
The Lord’s Table is not a miracle, but as we eat the bread and the wine it is a focused, and special, opportunity to remember the death of Jesus, followed by His resurrection and the vindication of His sacrifice for sin. But this is not the only time we should think about God’s provision of bread and wine, or about His provision of a church body, or His provision of everything, and how He is building it all together.
Many things come into focus when we focus on this meal rightly.
In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. In the beginning the Logos created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was tohu va bohu, “without form and void.” After the initial act, there was darkness, chaos, and emptiness.
Then God’s Word went to work. God spoke and light pierced the darkness. God spoke and order came from chaos. God spoke and filled the earth, overwhelming the void. His Word formed and filled. The Logos changed the landscape of existence.
And the Logos changed existence a second time when He died on the cross and rose again on the third day. He is still changing it.
Because of Adam’s sin, we are born sinners and so we sin. There is darkness in our hearts, a chaos of confusion and disobedience, an emptiness of meaning and of love. The incarnate Word of God sacrificed Himself so that we could see the light and be in the light. We are in Him, and He is the light. He is the truth, the one who clears our thinking and conforms us to His image. He is the life, and in Him we have love and joy. He is the value by which we measure all things, and He is the meaning-giver.
Apart from Christ, we were tohu va bohu, without form and void. For those who believe, for those in Christ, we are being formed and filled with the fulness of God. Let us remember and rejoice in this Word.
If you walk into your house and your wife is cooking something new for dinner dinner that smells delicious and she offers you a bite of whatever she’s making, what good is that taste? Or if you are watching a show about food, especially one of the shows where the host visits a hole-in-the-wall place, and you get to see how the dish is made and the host takes a bite and his face lights up, what good is that to you?
Neither situation is meant to discourage you or frustrate you. When your wife gives you a taste, she’s not flaunting how you’ll never get any more. When the host enjoys his taste, he’s not rubbing it in the audience’s face that he gets what they can’t. He’s inviting you to take a trip, maybe to a place that’s nearby that you never knew about.
There are times when I reference things you might not have much familiarity with. Last Lord’s Day I mentioned Prince Caspian a couple times, previously I’ve mentioned things from Omnibus books or from other resources that caught my attention. It’s possible that this could frustrate you. “I don’t know anything about that.” But that assumes that you want me only to prepare things you’ve already eaten before, maybe even cut up the meat for you.
I could act superior, and that would be a turn off. I could give a taste that isn’t tasty. But giving a taste is an invitation to get more for yourself, not discourage you because you’ve never had that dish before.
And so with this taste of communion with the Lord. It is no discouragement that we’re not with the Lord, it is an encouragement that there is more where this came from.
Near the end of Prince Caspian, Aslan feasted the Narnians (yes, feasted can be a transitive verb with a direct object), and declared Caspian, “a son of Adam from the world of Adam’s sons,” as the true King of Narnia. The story, though, was not so positive about the sons of Adam, and when asked if Caspian understood it, Caspian replied, “I do indeed, Sir. I was wishing that I came from a more honorable lineage.”
When we think about our own history, don’t we wish something similar?
“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”
Not only is this actually true for us, in a non-fiction way, we have even more. We come from the lineage of the cross. We are subjects to, and sons of, the Lord Christ.
The death of Christ on our behalf ought to mortify our illusions of self-importance. We are not great. We have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The cross is our death. The grave is our bed. Such weight bows us.
And also, God sent His Son to die for all those He loved. The benefits of His death are applied to us. We have died with Christ, but we have also been raised with Him. Somehow this is a weight that makes us skip and dance and sing with joy.
So we gather around the Lord’s Table to commune with Him as those who have a the most honorable lineage.
God gave manna to His people every morning as with the dew on the ground and Paul called it “spiritual food” (1 Corinthians 10:3) because it came from God directly rather than through natural channels. God gave water to His people from a rock and Paul called it “spiritual drink” (verse 4) also because it bypassed the expected means. You don’t typically stomp on rocks in a big bucket to get the rock juice out.
God also gives spiritual food to His people today at the Lord’s Table. In our case, it is bread baked in someone’s kitchen from known and grown ingredients. But it is spiritual because the food does something for our souls as well as our stomachs. When we eat by faith as well as by teeth, God feeds us on another level. The same is true of the spiritual drink here at the Table. It also is produced by human means. The grapes have been sown and harvested and crushed and fermented and bottled and transported and poured. But it is spiritual because an eternal craving is being quenched, not just a physical thirst.
And all of it can be taken for granted if we’re not careful. None of it, of itself, keeps us from taking what is a gift and turning it into an entitlement for more; His grace brought us to a beautiful peak, but we could focus on the peak further away that we couldn’t even see until now. We become calloused to the graciousness of God to us, and we either look for different blessings or additional blessings that He hasn’t promised to us. Let us not crave other than communion. May Christ and His people be our greatest gratification.
Most meal plans that emphasize self-control do not include necessary feasting. You may be allowed a cheat day, or you may take one anyway, but the emphasis is usually on limited rather than unlimited portions.
When Christ gives Himself to us, He gives all of Himself. We have a portion in Christ, but we do not get only a portion of Him. We do not have to “cheat” to get more of Him.
Both during training and during the actual run, it is important to get the proper fuel for your body. You need energy stores for immediate effort and for down the road. I’ve seen odd things offered to runners along a marathon route, from bananas to bagels to beer, from marijuana to Monster drinks. Some of these will keep a runner going for a moments, some of them will keep a runner going for miles.
In the stadium of the Christian life, the same is true. If every week was like a lap, there is a full table at the first corner set for sake of soul gratitude and gas.
The communion table is not separate from our self-control, it is part of it. This meal feeds our faith in the imperishable reward, and reminds us that we all run in body as a Body. We run to win, but we run together, to win together, which is not the typical way to think of a race.
We all have Christ, and we have all of Christ. He is the one who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12), and He Himself is our refreshment and our provision for the race.
There are only two places in the Bible that refer to the “law of Christ.” The first is in 1 Corinthians 9:21 (ἔννομος Χριστοῦ) as Paul clarifies that he does not abandon righteous living to reach the unrighteous with a message of righteousness. He doesn’t abandon obedience to Christ when calling others to obey Christ.
The second time the phrase is used in Galatians 6:2 (τὸν νόμον τοῦ Χριστοῦ), though Galatians was probably written five to six years before 1 Corinthians. To the Galatians Paul explains at least one way to live out the law of Christ.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
This is called the law of Christ because this is Christ’s custom, His rule, His norm. The Son of God picks up another man’s load and carries it for him. The word for “burdens” applies to something “particularly oppressive” or something that “proves exhausting” (BDAG). The plural form indicates at least a diversity of possible burdens if not a multiplicity of burdens. It might be a big one, it might be more than one.
In the context of Galatians 6 the burden could be a brother caught in a transgression. It could also be a brother caught in an affliction. There are all sorts of ways that we struggle and suffer. Remember, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). It is certainly easier not to bear another burden.
This is a communion encouragement, not an exhortation. As a church you do well in bearing the burdens of one another and so fulfilling the law of Christ. Yes, excel still more, as you feed on Christ’s flesh and follow His example of death that brings life (2 Corinthians 4:12).