The Right Banquet Hall

God has prepared a banquet table and all who eat at the Lord’s table share not only His gifts, but also His very life. The bread at this banquet is unlike any other bread. The Father “gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32b-33).

The bread is heavenly but it’s not manna, it’s a Man. Jesus went on to teach, “I am the bread of life.” (v.35). “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (v.41), and “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v.51).

In the Logos was life (John 1:4), and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, You have no life in you” (v.53). Note: being in the right banquet hall or reading the menu accurately isn’t enough.

Communing with Him at this table and eating this bread doesn’t prepare us for life, it is life. Eating and drinking is abiding in Him (v.56). The fellowship here doesn’t lead somewhere else. “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me also will live because of me” (v.59). Believe, eat, and live.

Not an After-Creation Thought

When the Word created grain and grapes on day three, was He thinking about the glorious purpose that He would give bread and wine around a table some 4000 years later? When the Logos created man on day six, breathing life into his flesh and blood, did the He consider then how He would soon (in light of eternity) take on flesh Himself and spill His own blood for sinful men?

The apostle John not only wrote about the Logos and creation (John 1:1-4), he also wrote about the “book of life” that was “written before the foundation of the world” concerning “the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). That means that the cross, and our remembrance of it at communion, was not an after-creation thought for the Logos-Lamb. As good as God declared creation was before the Fall, as much as the Logos and the Spirit and Father enjoyed what they had made, the Trinity knew what was coming.

While we chew over the eternal place of the cross and even the communion elements, let us remember that the Logos was with God, and by His body and blood, we who believe can also be with God. Jesus prayed that we may be with Him, to see the Son’s glory given to Him by the Father because the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). The glory that He had with His Father before creation is the glory He shares with those who share in the communion meal by faith.

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.