1) The Lord’s Supper is primarily a recognition and proclamation of the absolute lordship and supremacy of Jesus Christ. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).
We call this sacred meal the “Lord’s Supper,” not the Pastor’s Potluck or the Believer’s Brunch, or the Church’s Chow. “The Lord’s Supper” is not just an arbitrary designation some theologian gave it, that title comes right out of 1 Corinthians 11:20. Both words are instructive:
- Lord’s: It is not just any meal, it is the Lord’s Supper. Jesus commanded it, He ordained it, and it points directly to Him. If this meal is anything at all, it is first and foremost a recognition of--and surrender to--the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Every time believers gather around the two simple elements of bread and cup, they are consciously submitting to—and also proclaiming—the Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ as King and Head of the church. The very act of putting that piece of bread in your mouth is a declaration to yourself, your neighbor and the world “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. Jesus is God.”
- Supper: But that second word is important too. It is a supper. That implies that you and I come empty and hungry, not full and proud. You come in need, as a beggar to consume a meal that you did not and could not prepare for yourself—belly aching to be filled by the goodness and mercy of God! Just as could not be saved by bringing good deeds to God, so you can’t be nourished by bringing your own worthiness to the Table. No one should ever approach the Table as though it were some form of “institutional religion” or “ritual,” or “high church formalism.”
Whenever The Lord's Supper is received as a church, unity is one of the many glorious results. There has never been a revival where hatred, envy, rank, and jealousy are the results. When the church comes to the Lord’s Table, there is no rank, no hierarchy. The smallest child and the most wizened elder are the same rank.
3) The Lord’s Supper (as an act) must never be divorced from repentance (as an attitude). "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor 11:27-29).
One phrase that we need to unpack here are the words “unworthy manner.” It cannot mean that sinners are not welcome, or that if one is struggling with temptation that he is not welcome. Some have refrained from the table because they feel unworthy. But that is not the point. John Calvin said that would be like a man refusing medicine on the grounds that he is sick.
On the contrary, "unworthy manner" means to receive the supper flippantly without doing the heart work of “examining oneself” mentioned in verse 28. You might ask yourself these questions:
- Do I recognize myself as being a sinner in need of a Redeemer?
- Do I desire to turn from my sin and acknowledge Christ’s supreme Law?
- Do I trust that Christ’s blood alone has justified me and made me righteous?
- Have I come hungry for grace or full of pride?
That’s not just an opinion. I am drawing that statement from 1 Corinthians 10:16. Where Paul says, "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?" (1 Cor 10:16). That word “participation” is the Greek word koinonia which means the an intimate form of person-to-person fellowship.
Some love to be in nature, hiking or kayaking, mountain climbing or swimming. But being in nature is never called participation in the body and blood of Christ in Scripture. Others love praise music or the good old hymns from centuries past. But music is never called koinonia with the body and blood of Christ. Others still love a good sermon, or commentaries, or church history. Some (nerds like me) like books by dead theologians. But these are never called koinonia with the body and blood of Christ.
Theologians have long debated exactly HOW Christ is present in the elements of the Lord’s Table. In the middle ages a view developed that the bread and cup literally transform into the body and blood of Christ in a doctrine called “transubstantiation.” Others have swung too far to the other side and said that nothing special happens at all; that the LS is just a visual reminder of the cross in history, like an old dusty dog-eared photograph. This is called the “Memorial” view.
But John Calvin and the Reformed theologians of our church have always said something different. We have maintained that while the bread remains bread and the juice remains juice; that nonetheless something much more is happening here. Something on the spiritual level. We are actually being drawn into the presence of the Reigning Resurrected Christ. We call it the “Real Presence” view. It states that in some mystical way, Christ is actually, really, and truly present with us in a first-hand way. Although His body is literally raised to the Right Hand of God, that He is really and truly among us at the Table. God shows up!
In some mysterious way—even the best theologians admit some mystery here—we are feasting on Christ and what He has done for us. It is quite literally “soul food.” Therefore, the moment the bread hits your tongue, you taste the forgiveness that Christ bought for you with His body. The moment that the tangy crispness of the juice or wine hits your palate, you taste the grace that He bought for you by His blood.
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard