Lord's Day Liturgy

53 Times a Year

Every Lord’s day when our church celebrates communion, I pray twice. We normally don’t do that at home, praying once before the meal and then again in the middle of it. In this practice we are following Jesus’ pattern with two prayers of thanks.

Paul wrote, “on the night he was betrayed, [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; see also Luke 22:19-20). I understand “in the same way also” to refer to giving thanks. The account in Matthew makes it clear. After giving His disciples bread and eating together, “He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them” (Matthew 26:26-27; see also Mark 14:23).

Giving thanks happens in two places, before eating and before drinking. This is why the Lord’s supper is sometimes called the Eucharist.

In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by the name of Eucharist. That’s too bad we have to carry so much vocabulary baggage around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in all four passages above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.”

We have a thanksgiving feast 53 times a year, with only one of those scheduled for a Thursday. Our family meals this week should be different because we’ve been practicing eating with sinners, eating with those who aren’t like us, eating with those who annoy us, eating with those who don’t deserve love, because we don’t either. What brings us together is the grace of Christ, and He invites all who believe to eat at His table. That’s a reason to give thanks.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Emblems of Both

All the ones believing in the Son see life. All the ones not obeying the Son remain under God’s wrath. When Christians come to the Lord’s supper we see the emblems of both life and wrath.

The bread and the cup symbolize the body and blood of the Lord. He took on flesh and lived among us. More than that, He took on our sin and bore God’s wrath in the flesh. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. It was the will of the Father that the Son pour out His soul to death and be numbered with the sinners, with us, the objects of God’s righteous judgment.

The table reminds us of the wrath deserved by us. The table also reminds us that Christ took our wrath and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace. With His stripes we are healed. This is why He came from heaven, died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. By His knowledge we are counted righteous. We are His offspring, His children. Out of the anguish of His soul He sees and is satisfied.

So we who receive His testimony see and are satisfied. By the Spirit’s work, we have life. By faith, we see life. By grace, we eat and drink life. Christ, the Righteous, has brought us to God and we commune with Him. If we believe, our iniquities, our guilt, our sorrows have been taken away. God didn’t rewrite history. God gave us life, forgiving us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us, nailing it to the cross. Come, take, and eat this meal of remembrance because wrath has been satisfied and we see life.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Toppling by Table

One theme we keep repeating during our communion is the depth of the ditch of self-examination; we’re never quite sure when to stop digging, when we’ve hit the bottom. Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner warrant’s God’s discipline, so we ought not to come to this Table casually, let alone under the impression that God invites us due to our credentials. Nevertheless, we fall into the ditch when we can only think about ourselves. Our attention here, and our affections, belong on someone else.

This is the problem of any idol. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warned against the example of idolatry that Israel set. The people served the idol of indifference, sitting down to eat and drink and rose up to play. They served the idol of sensuality, indulging in sexual immorality. They served the idol of self, grumbling and complaining about their circumstances. They were tempted in ways we all are, ways that are common to man. But He won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability, He will also provide a way of escape.

Paul then exhorts believers away from idolatry and explains how to do it. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” In other words, we topple idols by communing with Christ and with each other at this Table.

Week by week, as we commune with Him, we decrease and He increases. We become what we eat, though, of course, in His world, that doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen, as sure as night becomes day every morning. He is conforming us into the image of His Son. He is building up the whole body, uniting us and purifying us for our wedding day, for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We look to Him as we eat His flesh. We wait for His return as we drink His blood. He gets all our attention here and, as that happens corporately, we are made like Him and united in Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Upsetting Continents

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Life Meal

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”!

Lord's Day Liturgy

Sharing More Than Sentences

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Welcome to Watch

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Real Love

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Neighbor’s Eating

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Using Bad Words

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.