God is compassionate and He knows our frame. He knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14) and yet, dust sure does have a lot of problems. Even as His children we are easily discouraged, hungry, tired, and fearful. That is why He invites us to share a meal of communion with Him and it is why sharing this meal as an assembly every week is so valuable.
Many of us have trouble. We are not under the threat of torture or death, but we have affliction nonetheless. Our plans didn’t work out, we’re not sure if we’ll be able to pay the grocery bill next week, the alarm clock rings early and our heads hit the pillow late, and we doubt that we’ll be able to make it through.
God has not promised to make His people comfortable, to give us more than daily bread, to fill our physical sails with fitness, or to reveal how it will all work out in the short term. But He has promised that there is always an overabundance of grace. He hasn’t promised that we won’t have need, He has promised to help in those times.
Only by the death and resurrection of Jesus can we come for grace with confidence. Our High Priest sympathizes with our weaknesses, especially when we are tempted to doubt and fear. He was tempted, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So we draw near to the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We eat around the table of grace. We find grace to help, and there is more than enough.
The sons of Korah wrote eleven songs that were recognized into the canon of Israel’s worship including Psalm 84.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
The song celebrates God’s “dwelling place,” His “courts.” In other words, the Psalm expresses delight over God welcoming His people into His presence. For Israel, God’s house was the temple in Jerusalem. So this song exalts how great it is to be with God, to meet the “living God” as “heart and flesh sing for joy” to Him.
Later in the song, the sons of Korah put their desires into perspective.
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
This is extreme by both chronological and occupational standards. There is no better way to spend time than appearing before God. Similarly, it doesn’t matter how lowly a position one takes as long as he can be in the presence of God.
We sing a popular version of this Psalm today and it applies in a brand new way. In His Son, Jesus Christ, we are invited into the place His glory dwells. We are satisfied and our souls are made wet by the Spirit as we see and taste His beauty. And around the Lord’s table, He invites His people for a meal of communion, a meal of blessing, and He holds nothing back.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
This promise is certain because He has already given us His Son. One meal of peace with the King is better than a thousand elsewhere.
Eating at the Lord’s table week by week ought to feed, foster, and fortify our faith that God is on our side.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)
In a series of rhetorical questions, God, through Paul, lifts up our hearts to trust Him. We need not fear tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, or slaughter (verses 35b-36). These things cannot separate us from His love in Christ Jesus (verse 35a). These things can’t stop His Spirit from leading us as adopted sons (verses 12-17). These things can’t cancel His guarantee to glorify those He predestined, called, and justified (verse 30). No suffering hinders our future glory (verse 18). No weakness can keep us from conquering through Him who loved us (verses 26, 37).
Why? Because the Father gave His Son for us. The Lord’s supper is our remembrance and proclamation of the Lord’s death, of the Son being given for us. Just as Jesus gave His disciples bread and the cup, He gave His body and poured out His blood so that we might hope in God.
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)
Christ died for us, He rose for us, now He intercedes for us. This meal celebrates that He is our help, our life, for all time. He is on our side.
The Lord’s supper is a meal of peace and provision. Not only do we commune by eating His food, we must eat His flesh to live. Jesus said,
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48–51)
This connection is so close that it’s disagreeable.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:52–53)
As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57–58)
The imagery is God’s miraculous supply of manna to the Israelites. Of course, the imagery also fits with the peace offering. The sacrifice was killed, cut, cooked, then consumed. Jesus Himself prophecies that He would be killed and that He must be consumed. Without identifying with Him by consuming Him we have no life.
That’s how serious God is about being with us. He sent His own Son to take on flesh so that we could live forever with the living Father, with the Son who lives (6:57), and with the Spirit who gives life (6:63). God wants fellowship with us, so we must eat Christ’s body and drink His blood. That’s true life and true communion.
The Trinity intends to share their life with men. Eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3), it is sharing loving fellowship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. At the center of this life-giving work is the cross. The one sacrifice of Christ satisfies the death penalty our sin deserved, His sacrifice purifies us, and it enables us to share a meal with God. His offering brings peace.
The end of the sacrifice is not forgiveness, the goal is fellowship. The cross brings peace, participation, communion. It can’t happen without rebellion being defeated, without righteousness being declared. But the cross, and our remembrance of it, does not end on the battlefield or in a courtroom, but in a dining hall.
We would not know how to handle the Old Testament peace offering. “What? We get to eat as worship? We get to enjoy a meal together with God?” We’re more comfortable with a theological dictionary then a loaf of bread. So, alright, let’s look at that dictionary and select a big word.
What does “atonement” mean? It is an early 16th century word that describes repair work done for a damaged relationship, in particular, the reconciliation of God and men through the death of Jesus. Atonement brings us together, we have at-one-ment (-ment as the resulting state of being at one).
In many ways, communion is the pinnacle of our worship. It is the final offering, a fellowship feast of peace with God. Those who are forgiven in Christ, who are devoted to serve Him, are invited to eat with Him.
In his first letter to them, Paul admonished the Corinthian church about their failure to commune at communion. They were eating and drinking, they were in the same place as one another, but they were still disconnected from each other.
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:20–22)
Their Lord’s table liturgy also involved a meal of fellowship, which was fine, except that there was no fellowship. Honoring the sacrifice of Christ requires relationship, it requires us to consider one another, serve one another, love one another, because Christ did. Their worship looked more like a segregation than a congregation.
Together we eat and drink symbols of Christ’s sacrifice and this cannot be done rightly without sacrificing ourselves to God and for one another. Small sacrifices may include waiting patiently for someone else in front of you. It may look like getting the elements for someone else. It may look like watching another’s kids while they’re up front. It may look like singing your guts out in a song you don’t particularly care for.
It includes being thankful even when your last week was brutal and the upcoming week looks no better. It includes not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought, but realizing that each one of us is just a stone in the temple wall. When we eat the Lord’s supper, we fellowship with the other living stones as God builds us as a spiritual house.
So here we go, all together now.
When you sit down to dinner, when does the nutrition start to work? When do you feel most connected to those around the table? When is the best part of the meal; what part do you enjoy the most?
Some of the benefits come after the meal. The body digests the food, turning it into energy and (depending on what you’ve eaten) muscle. We look back and remember the conversation and the laughs shared. There are benefits, but we wouldn’t say that the best part is after.
Other positives come prior to the meal. We anticipate the food and the fellowship. We stir up eagerness as we prepare. But while getting ready is good–in fact, without any preparation things may go badly–we wouldn’t say that the best part is before.
The before and after have what in common? Neither is central. The meat of the meal, so to speak, is the meal. The meal is the end of the preparation and the start of nourishment. The eating and drinking, the chewing and swallowing, the talking and eye-contacting, are the climax, what we looked forward to and the taste we take with us.
The best part, the central part, is the meal. Something happens during that time. Not everything, but things necessary for everything else. The common turns into communion, just like for us around the Lord’s table.
Our communion is both an end of preparation and also a different sort of preparation, but all focused on our participation. We get ready for communion. We go out with the taste of communion. But this IS communion. God is, right here right now, uniting us in one body, in Christ, by grace through faith.
For 51 weeks our church has communed together at the Lord’s table. We’ve taken a distinct approach, or at least one that is different than most of us are used to, by practicing communion as a time for joy, not misery. Excessive, let alone morbid, introspection misses the point of the table. None of us are worthy for communion, not even the most mournful among us. The table reminds us that Jesus is worthy and that He invites sinners who believe in Him to share His life. We should confess sin, including the sin of acting like this is a funeral.
There was a death. Death by itself is not good news. There was a death and then a resurrection that defeated death! We get the forgiveness His atonement authorizes and we get the life that His life enables.
Perhaps our weekly meal could become an empty, external, motions-only observance. But I know very few people who complain about the emptiness of true feasts, of genuine fellowship, of eternal life. “Oh, we have too much life. We should have less life in order to reminds us how important life is.”
We are 51 weeks stronger in faith, 51 weeks more nourished in soul, 51 weeks more united in Christ, 51 weeks more knit together as a body. Christ changes us by the bread and the cup as we believe in Him. May we look forward to more rejoicing as we eat and drink together, proclaiming the Lord’s salvation until He comes.
Printed on Christmas cards for generations, Luke 2:14 remains one of our favorite seasonal sound bites. We’re probably most familiar with the King James Version, starting in verse 13:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:13–14)
This is a great statement. The incarnation demonstrates God’s love for the world, His intention to bring peace.
But perhaps you’ve heard someone point out that “peace, good will toward men” does not come from the earliest/best manuscripts. Maybe you’ve noticed the difference yourself, especially if you’re reading the NAS or ESV.
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
This is quite a different statement. “Good will toward men” sounds indiscriminate. “Peace among men with whom he is pleased” sounds limiting, much more narrow. The NIV makes it sound even more specific: “Peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Manuscript issues aside, we know that peace between God and men comes because of Christ’s work on the cross. The incarnation was stage one of His earthly work, and His faultless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection were necessary in order to bring peace. According to Colossians 1:20, He “made peace through the blood of His cross.” We can only be reconciled to God by the death of His Son and now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:10).
God is only pleased with those for whom Christ died, those who are justified by faith (Romans 5:1). The incarnation was absolutely necessary part of the peace plan. We rejoice that God sent His Son to take our judgment. But we do not rest in Christmas card theology. We rejoice in the cross and the empty tomb. That is why Christmas and Easter go together. That is why we commune together around this table.
Gospel ministers are sometimes referred to as ministers of the Word and sacrament. There’s no need to freak out over the word sacrament; here it means the same thing as ordinance. Not only in reference to the work of ministers, but all Reformed definitions of a church require these two elements as well, often including the third element of church discipline, which actually is hard to disentangle from the Word and sacrament.
Why both, Word and sacrament? Isn’t the Word enough? Many in the truth-tube camp–our camp–only look out one side of the car. We have trouble tripping too many steps outside our minds, usually for fear of falling into the material. For example, we gladly affirm the miracles of Jesus. We’re perhaps even more glad that we don’t have to fit miracles on our shelves today. Surely we’ll all turn into Benny Hinn healers or Joel Osteen prosperers if we think that Jesus might actually do something we could see.
Visible things didn’t make Jesus nervous. He did many wonderful works that confirmed His word. His word prepared the way for His works to be understood and the works gave the words gravity.
The same is true with this meal. It is real, and the physical nature of the bread and cup do not make them lesser class citizens. God loves the tangible, He made it and He became it, with body and blood and stuff. Without the Word to explain it, we would be ignorant in our eating and drinking. But when we receive the Word, we aren’t just going through the motions at this table until we can get our super spiritual Casper capes.
The Word became flesh. Do we believe in the actual incarnation? He died and rose so that we might live. He is food for us. This meal confirms and builds our belief in His Word. Let us not despise what God has put together, Word and sacrament, faith and food.