October 31st is Reformation Day. We remember Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis to the Wittenburg church door and the recovery of the gospel of grace, the light after darkness. We celebrate sola fide, justification by faith alone. Against the Roman Catholic Church that taught the need for co-righteousness, some from Christ and some from men, Luther and the other Reformers fought against the heavy burdens of buying salvation through indulgences or earning God’s grace through good works or through penance and confession.
The Reformers are our people. We stand downstream from them. I wonder, though, if they would recognize us as their descendants if they watched us around the Lord’s table.
I’m not wondering as much if they would disagree with our understanding of Christ’s bodily presence in the elements. We know which ones of them taught a special presence, which ones taught the sacrament as symbol, and which ones tried to put a foot on both of the fence. We don’t wonder about those things because the printing presses made plenty of copies of their position pamphlets. What I wonder about is if they would think our glum faces and conscience beating is more penance-like than Protestant.
Put another way, why do you think you are allowed to eat and drink? Is it because you have recognized and confessed every sin you can remember? Is it because you make sure to feel badly, as woebegone as possible, about your sin that caused His death? Is it because you made sure to get everything right with those you’ve sinned against?
Thorough confession of sin, deep sorrow for sin, and even seeking forgiveness from someone you sinned against, are all necessary, but none of them qualify you or make you worthy to participate. What does? Fide, faith and faith alone.
We honor God’s work in the Reformation by feasting at His table, knowing that Christ alone is worthy and that He invites us to be nourished by grace alone when we receive it by faith alone. Eating a gospel supper like this upsets countries and continents.
The Lord’s Supper was instituted by our Lord at the Last Supper. It was the night He was betrayed, the eve of His crucifixion. This was His final meal before being condemned as a criminal, judged by the Jewish and Roman authorities and then executed under a guilty sentence.
Criminals sentenced to death today get a last meal before their execution is carried out. Though the chronology is reversed–Christ ate and then was tried–because of Christ, we are no longer on death row. We were. Apart from the cross, God would be just to make this meal, or any meal, our last. But it isn’t. This isn’t our last meal, this is our life meal.
Our celebration of participation in His life does not come at the cost of justice. The Judge wasn’t duped. We are not singing because God forgets our sin and sentence. We sing because God sent His Son so that all who believe would not be condemned.
Eating and drinking is not a reminder of our condemnation, it is a reminder of One who was condemned on our behalf. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). We don’t sit and stew over our sin, we sing in and for our Savior. Our judgment is not in the balance. No trial awaits us. The jury isn’t out. The verdict is in: “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”!
Our time around the Lord’s table celebrating the Lord’s supper is also called communion. The KJV translates 1 Corinthians 10:16 accordingly.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16, KJV)
The Greek word for “communion” is κοινωνία, translated elsewhere as “sharing” (NAS), “participation” (ESV), “fellowship” (YNG). What is our communion? What is it that we share, that we have in common?
It is more than our doctrine, though we affirm the full deity and humanity of Christ along with His substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of sinners that enables God to be both just and the justifier of those who believe. You can pry the hypostatic union and sola fide out of our cold, dead orthodox hands; we will not give those up.
But our communion, though composed in sentences, cannot be contained in sentences. Our communion, our fellowship, our common connection is life. Jesus said,
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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 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. (John 6:53–54, 57 ESV)
Certainly this is a hard saying and many do not want this type of communion. But as Peter acknowledged, there’s no one else to go to. Jesus alone has the words of eternal life because in Him is life. We eat and drink here together as an eternal society. We will have life and fellowship with Him and with each other forever.
Paul told the Corinthians 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). How so?
Among other effects, the Lord’s table is evangelistic, not to those who eat and drink but through them. The bread and cup don’t save, but someone might be drawn to the gospel by watching others celebrate it.
This meal that portrays us eating Christ’s body and drinking His blood makes absolutely no sense to the natural man. Without faith it’s disagreeable, disgusting, and detestable. What God would require mock cannibalism as worship? Well, our God does, the Father God who gave His only Son. The scandal of this table begs why the death? What could make that death a cause for feasting? Because the death came from love; the Son died because we deserved death. We believe this so much that we put our faith where our mouth is.
In addition, the world is represented around the table. If you’re an unbeliever, you might say, “I know that guy. How could that person be allowed to eat?” Or maybe, “How could those people possibly have anything to share, any reason for communion?” The answer is God’s love. Our eating is evangelistic because if it makes you ask why that person, it may also make you ask, “Why not me?” Our drinking is evangelistic because if it makes you ask what those people have in common, it may also make you ask, “How can I get in on that?”
If you don’t believe in Christ then don’t participate. You have no business celebrating another’s death when you have your own judgment coming. But if you don’t believe, you’re more than welcome to watch. There may be reason for you not to eat, but there is no reason for you not to believe.
For us who do believe, we ought to be making the world crazy with wonder about God’s love as we proclaim His death until He comes.
We celebrate God’s real love for us at the Lord’s table. The bread is real and the cup is real. For those who believe, the communion with God through Christ is real, the knitting together of the body is real, and the love of God is real. We don’t eat and drink for sake of vague nostalgia. We remember the historical sacrifice of the Lamb on the cross. The love we commemorate is not fuzzy feelings. It is love that endured a brutal and bloody bodily death.
God’s love is personal, corporeal, knowable. His love took on flesh, dwelt among us, walked in perfect obedience, and humbly died in place of others who deserved personal, corporeal, knowable wrath. His substitution on behalf of His people showed the greatness of His love, not only because laying down one’s life for another shows love (John 15:13), but also because no one greater could lay down His life.
Chew the bread; His body is that real. Drink the cup; His blood is that real. His body and blood, given in love, enable our real life in His love.
Immediately preceding Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church about communion, he admonishes them about their selfishness.
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, ESV)
The congregation certainly called what they were doing the Lord’s table. So why does Paul say “it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat”? Because self-absorbed, self-serving does not belong at His table. Taking, hoarding, and mocking don’t belong at the Lord’s table, the Lord who gave and gives, the Lord who shares Himself and His resources extravagantly, the Lord who gives and shares with those who are not at His level, the kind of people that a selfish god would mock.
Eating with an attitude of superiority toward others, brought in from before the service or that arises during our time together, is one way of eating and drinking in an unworthy manner. That sort of selfish participation makes one guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
The Word became flesh for us. He gave His body for us, represented by the bread. He bled for us, represented by the cup. Let us thank Him, and let us honor His sacrifice as we sacrifice for each other, as we wait for each other, and think more highly of our neighbor’s eating than our own.
Most of us shy away from using the word “magic” for much the same reason we prefer to offer providential blessings rather than wish to someone “good luck.” Magic doesn’t make us think of a Maker of magic; it removes the power from a Person behind the power. So we avoid terms such as magic and mystical. Instead of using bad words with a good reason, we use good words without thinking much of it, including words such as “spiritual.”
This communion meal is magical, I mean spiritual, I mean there is something about it that a rationalist observer cannot explain. Something real happens here, but it only happens by God’s Spirit whom we can’t see coming or moving or blowing among us. When we gather around this table in faith, the Spirit spiritually takes the bread and the cup and turns it into stronger faith. When individual parts eat and drink together, the Spirit spiritually melds the many into one. These effects are the Spirit’s gracious work. We can’t make it happen, but we can believe that He is feeding souls and building the whole body into a spiritual house.
As those who have been born of the Spirit, come and eat. Magical, I mean, spiritual things happen around this table.
One of the ways we know if we’ve been born again is our attitude 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. We’re united by spiritual birth to the Head and His Body.
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. 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, and celebrate your born again life in Jesus the Christ. Come, eat, and commune with your born again family.
We are witnesses of the Light. We see Him by faith, not by eye-sight, but that’s okay because we call men to spiritual sight in the Light.
As witnesses we proclaim the Logos, the Light, the Lord. The apostle Paul said, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
How is it that we are proclaiming? We usually think about proclaiming in verbal terms, with words and stuff. Paul says we are proclaiming while at this table, so are we talking with our mouths full? Didn’t mom tell us not to do that?
Right, and that’s not what Paul is talking about. He’s saying that our participation is a proclamation. Eating and drinking is saying something even if we don’t say anything at that moment.
I’m emphasizing this because salvation isn’t something only in our heads, it has to be there, but it isn’t only there. God is spirit and Person, in Jesus a person with flesh and bones. The world is His, not just our words. Eternal life is lived, not merely thought about. So proclaim the gospel of grace by fellowshipping around His table.
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.