A Faith Increasing Ordinance

Communion is a faith increasing ordinance, not a doubt increasing one.

When we come to the Lord’s table, if we are thinking correctly, we remember our sin. But staring at our sin nourishes doubt. When we look at the bread, we are encouraged that the debt our sin incurred is no longer outstanding. There would be no bread unless another’s body had taken our judgment. We eat because Christ paid the penalty in full and we are forgiven. When we look at the cup, faith is strengthened as we remember that a sacrifice has already occurred. The cup means God is not waiting to satisfy righteousness with our blood. We drink because Christ freed us from guilt.

Do you have faith? If no, repent and believe. If you do have faith, even the size of a mustard seed, you are forgiven and free. Participation in this meal is a feast for faith, not a fast to prove we have it.

Soul-sucking Mastery

The cross causes offense. It scandalizes the heart and, in particular, it scandalizes religious hearts. It displeases “good” people who thought they could please God by their good works. It also angers unrighteous people who don’t like that their Maker is holy and that He judges creatures according to His standard. It disturbs civilized people who don’t want to be troubled with blood and death.

The cross offends because our sin offends God. Unless we sense the outrageous, awkward, woe-inducing elements of the cross we probably won’t see the outrageous, humiliating, woe-inducing elements of our sin. And unless we see our sin and mourn it, we won’t be happy.

Ignoring sin, redefining it, denying it, hiding it, just adds to it even if we postpone the full misery of it. There is only one way to deal with sin: cut off it’s soul-sucking mastery. The only way to do that is to see our sin on Jesus on the cross. We believe that He bore the wrath of our offenses and rose again so that we could be delivered from the condemnation and control of sin. The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The bread and the cup represent His body and blood, which means we eat and drink Him at His table. That’s offensive, but, according to Jesus, unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, we have no life. Whoever feeds on His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, and He will raise us up on the last day. His flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink (see John 6:53-56). In Christ, our offenses against God are forgiven. By faith, the offense of the cross becomes our freedom.

Right on Track

Our regular time around the Lord’s table supports and buttresses the gospel (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). As a church, our celebration of this ordinance declares and defends the truth.

When we eat here we make a statement that sin is our problem and that the wages of sin is death. We recall a crucified body and shed blood, the cost of our rebellion. Examination of our hearts and confession of our sin brings us to the cross, confronted by the gospel.

When we eat here we also remember that by one man’s sacrifice all those who believe are saved. That’s the good news! By His death and resurrection we–and whosoever believes–have eternal life. We can be brought to God, restored to communion with Him. The cross brings us to God, saved by the gospel.

And, when we eat here we remember that this supper is a shared one, that we come as a family, as the household of God to share this meal. We are united with each other, and our diversity with unity says to the world that the gospel is right on track. The truth of the cross brings us together, united by the gospel.

A Trinitarian Table

The Lord’s table is a communal meal. At His table we commune with Christ: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). At this table we commune with each other: “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (v.17). At this meal we share Trinitarian fellowship, it’s a Trinitarian table.

We eat and drink with many who are different than us, significantly so. We are male and female, rich and less rich, those educated by books and those educated by life, employers, employees, and unemployed, old and young. But we are one one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). When we come together to eat, we wait for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33). At this table we look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). Around this table we celebrate Trinitarian differences without division.

The Lord’s table has also been called a love feast (Jude 12). We sit down at this table and tell the story of the Father who sent His Son, the Son who laid down His life, and the Spirit who causes men to be born again to a living hope. We tell a Trinitarian story, a story where eternal love spills onto us and is shed abroad in our hearts. As we eat and drink these symbols of the cost of His love, we are strengthened to love the others around the table.

We who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, eat and drink with thanks.

Down the Hill of Grace

God commands His people to proclaim Christ’s death as they gather around the Lord’s table regularly. However frequently Christians do it, there is the danger that they would fall into the thinking that God is pleased that they’re doing it. Maybe. It depends.

The Lord is not pleased, in fact it is loathsome to Him, if we eat and drink because we think He needs us to. He rebukes those who think that the reenactment or the symbolism itself is powerful. We bring nothing to this table except empty hands and hopefully a hunger for righteousness.

Dependence makes the difference. Eating and drinking because we need to pleases Him. Giving thanks for our justification–depending on His payment of our debt–and trusting Him for our sanctification–crying out for His help and grace for deliverance from sin–pleases Him.

It is a real danger that our liturgy would become loathsome, and it will be loathsome anytime we do it by works and not by grace. But our Lord’s table liturgy is intended to prick our hearts towards more thanks and towards greater trust. Giving thanks leans us forward. Gratitude is like a step down the hill, making it easier to take the second step of trust, which pulls us like gravity down the hill of grace.

A Weekly Refrain

Doing almost anything on a regular basis, especially religious anythings, can make it mechanical, stale, and/or hollow. There is no shortage of externally busy, highly liturgical, religious churches that dutifully go through many motions but do not do them the right way, with the right heart. A weekly observance of the Lord’s table is certainly not beyond this danger.

As the Israelites remembered God’s salvation repeatedly at their Passover feast1, Christians remember the cross at communion. How did they, how do we, guard against a frequent act of worship becoming the futile kind of familiar? There is infused into this ordinance, by Jesus Himself, a life-giving element. In remembering His death and resurrection the proper way, we will be protected from the dangers of religiosity to the degree that we celebrate with thankfulness!

Thankfulness is a powerful force. It crowds up our hearts with the right kind of affections, keeping our hearts from empty, hollow remembrance. It’s hard to find a truly thankful hypocrite. Thankfulness also crowds out all sorts of self sins such as self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. Conviction of sin rings the doorbell to humility’s house, but thankfulness comes into the living room. Or, conviction cleans the gun but puts no bullet in the chamber.

Herein is another danger of leaving communion at the confession level: it leaves us weaponless. Confession is important, but not potent. Thankfulness, on the other hand, fights for us and honors Christ. This table says something, and we say something by how we come to it. If we come with thankfulness, we cannot come too often. We will find our hearts made strong in the steadfast love of the Lord, acknowledged and celebrated as a weekly refrain.


  1. Think perhaps of the repetitive, responsive reading in Psalm 136.

The Other Gutter

While I wouldn’t say that the Bible requires us to celebrate the Lord’s table every week, it does seem that the early church observed it often. As an act of corporate worship, it unites the congregation together in Christ (cf 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) so regular observance befits the symbol.

There is also a certain tone or perspective that befits communion. While we dare not cherish our sin while commemorating Christ’s death for our sin, the remembrance of His sacrifice is not primarily about making ourselves feel miserable. We remember the cross and the empty tomb with growing gladness because He took our misery on Himself. This glad approach may seem refreshing, but is it okay?

We’ve recently been making bread for our weekly communion rather than using the typical pre-packaged cracker fragments. Many seem to think it’s tasty. They like it. They want the recipe. And, more than that, they discreetly wonder if it’s really okay to like the communion bread.

Questions about the tone of communion observance and the taste of the bread are not totally unrelated. Now, the goal with this bread wasn’t to make people focus on the bread. But is it an indication that something is wrong when we’re afraid to like it?

At the last supper, what kind of bread did Jesus break and share with His disciples? It was normal (to them) bread, normal for eating and for fellowshipping and for enjoying together. When Paul wrote the Corinthians to correct their communion behavior, he basically said, “Me thinks ye feasteth too much.” But while he told them to make sure they were taking sin seriously, he didn’t tell them to make everything tasteless.

We have been warned that people should not come to Christ in order to be made happy. We have been warned about man-centeredness and easy believism. But it is easier to act miserable than to be really glad that Christ is a great Savior. That is man-centered in its own way. It’s much more simple to be unhappy than to be truly happy in Christ.

Is our theological bowling ball just in the other gutter when we’re reluctant to embrace something because it is tasty? I also wonder, does our “sorrow makes it more spiritual” approach mean that we’re missing our opportunity to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes in a way that people would actually want it? It’s almost as if we believe that the Holy Spirit would never let us have sweet bread.

Christ broke bread with and for His disciples to share. Christ died and rose again for all His disciples to share life. We don’t need to be afraid that we like it or want more.

No Small Substitute

The good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 15). There are a number of causes for worship prompted by this part of the story.

The shepherd did not deserve to die; the sheep deserved death. A dead sheep is a much smaller deal than a dead shepherd, especially this Shepherd. But it is the good Shepherd who lays down His life in their place. He did not cease to be fully God so that He might bear the full weight of our wrath. The Shepherd also took on sheep’s clothing, full humanity, because the curse was on us. The substitution was necessary to deliver the sheep from their deserved slaughter, and it was no small substitute to save their life.

When we come to remember the death of the Shepherd, we do so as those in His flock. He is the door; if we entered by Him (v.9), we’re in His flock. The cross didn’t lower the fence so that we could jump over by our works, by our confession, or by anything we could bring with us. We’re in by grace; we’re no longer out looking in.

We’re in His flock, delivered from judgment. We’re also in the Father’s hand, safe from enemies. Our salvation is certain. The Father has great care for those purchased by the Son and all His sovereignty is employed for them. The Father gave us to the Son, the Son brings us to the Father for communion and preservation.

We are not killed or destroyed. We are given life! Jesus came, He said, “that [we] may have life and have it abundantly” (v.10). He gave His life for our life. Abundant life is not for some other people, or for some other time. Abundant life is for us, for now, and forever.

There is a way to remember Christ’s death that is consistent with what He accomplished. That remembrance includes gratitude that He took our place, identification with His flock, confidence in His protection, and bounce in our step. We come to the Lord’s table as those who are thankful, participatory, bold, and alive.

Better Than a Dead One

Before the ages began, God promised eternal life. He did so out of love for His Son, and note that the gift is eternal life, because a living gift is much better than a dead one. In order for the living God to give and receive a living gift, the Son had to die for the dead. Through the death of the one, the sins of the many were justly punished. Likewise, through the resurrection of the one, many were made alive. “We were buried…with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

When we gather around the Lord’s table to remember His death, and ours in His, we are doing so as those who now live in His life. We were spiritually dead and facing eternal death. But we are no more dead than He is dead and eternal condemnation is off the table. “If Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is futile and [we] are still in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17) and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19). That would be bad.

The angel told the women who visited Jesus’ tomb, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6). That’s good news. That also means, by faith, we need not act like the dead. We ought not. If we spend all our time reminiscing on our deadness during this supper, we miss the point of His death, and may, even if unintentionally, act as if our death deserves more attention in the story. Not only that, but we may forget that God the Father does not intend to present a gift of miserable, melancholy, “we are only unworthy worms” dead people.

Because He lives we live. Because He lives we can face tomorrow. Because He lives, we eat His body and drink His blood as nourishment for New Covenant life.

The Party Ditch

There is more to the Lord’s table than confession of sin. While we ought not harbor sin, if we are keeping short accounts, confessing and repenting and believing, then there is every reason for our remembrance of Him to be a serious celebration. We take His sacrifice seriously and we take our joyous participation in His sacrifice seriously.

Consider the context of Paul’s warning to the Corinthians regarding communion in his first letter. Why did he correct them in this way (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)? Because they were coming to the table selfishly, focused on themselves and not on the entire body. They were also treating the table more like a party.

We are not in, or anywhere near, the “communion as a party” ditch. That said, we may not be in the middle of the road either. We are still focused on the wrong thing: ourselves, just as the Corinthians were. We just feel better about it because at least we’re taking our sin seriously.

When the angels watch us take the bread and the cup, what impresses them? Does anything about it make them nervous? Are they confronted with the manifold wisdom of God as they see us sitting in our isolated conviction over sin? Or are they taken back with the manifold wisdom of God as they see us–sinners against God and against each other–singing together over the forgiveness and fellowship we have with God and with each other through the gospel of grace?

The Church–Jew and Gentile, slave and freeman, male and female, hands and feet, unlovely and unlikeable–together make a point to the universe. Christ Himself “is our peace, who has made us both one” (Ephesians 2:14). He has reconciled us “to God in one body through the cross” (2:16) and in Him, “the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him [we] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:21-22).

The Lord’s table is a purifying and unifying ordinance. We should get out of the ditch, whichever one we’re in, and participate accordingly.