At the Lord’s Table
At the Lord’s Table
Where do you begin when you want to devote attention to the Lord’s Supper? What do you focus on? What is the core?
In the Roman Catholic mass, everything revolves around the elements of bread and wine, and what happens to them. In the so‑called consecration by the priest, they are changed to the body and blood of Christ. In that last‑mentioned capacity, they are honoured and subsequently presented to God as an offering.
It is for Rome the necessary continuation of Golgotha. Without the mass, there is no reconciliation. The focus on the elements of bread and wine and the question of their relationship to the physical body and blood of the Lord has defined their theology for a long time (see, e.g., Heidelberg Catechism q/a 78, 79).
In groups where faith experience is central, people focus on something else. They fear an automatic and purely external celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In their great earnestness, they believe everything begins with the state of those attending the supper: are you worthy to celebrate the Lord’s Supper? If not, it is life threatening, for you will eat and drink judgment upon yourself. Much literature has appeared which busies itself with the question: when are you worthy to participate in the Lord’s Supper?
In contrast with both presented lines of thought, it seems to me the biblical approach is to begin with the living Christ who allows the bread and cup to be extended to us in order that we would take it, eat, and drink. In this, Christ wants us to remember him; that is, keeping him close to us. He desires that we believe that he entered death for us, and earned reconciliation with and joy in God for us. The Lord’s Supper table is the table where Christ offers us his fellowship. Let us look at this more closely.
Bread and Cup⤒🔗
When Christ institutes the Lord’s Supper, he is sitting with his disciples at the Passover meal for the last time. It is the night in which he will be betrayed by one of his disciples and will handed over to his enemies. In a short time, he will die and leave them, but he does not leave his disciples without comfort. He continues to be connected to them. One of the means by which he shows this connectedness and even his closeness to them is the Lord’s Supper which he institutes. For this Lord’s Supper he first uses the bread that has been placed on the table at the beginning of this Passover meal; the so-called bread of bondage. It brings to mind the bread that Israel ate in Egypt — dipped in a sauce of bitter herbs — which represent the bitter hardship Israel experienced there. Christ says, From now on you are to take bread at the Lord’s Supper, and in doing this, you are to remember me. Do not think of my physical body anymore, but think about how I took your bitter misery upon myself and carried it to the cross. I will soon carry your bondage to the grave. I am giving myself as an offering to erase your sin and guilt. Every time that you celebrate the Lord’s Supper after my departure, remember — as you receive the bread and eat it — that I gave my life in your place. I took your misery upon myself. For you, I descended into death. Take the bread and eat it. Do it in remembrance of me, and believe that I let my body be broken for you.
At the Passover meal, the wine flowed freely. There were four cups during the meal: the one at the beginning with the prayer of blessing (Luke 22:17), the cup at the recounting of the story of the exodus, the cup of thanksgiving, and the cup with the song of praise at the end. The third cup — the cup of thanksgiving — came after the main course of the meal, the Passover lamb (Luke 22:20). This is the cup with which Israel celebrates the joy of being delivered. They raise the glass which contains the wine “that gladdens the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15). Redemption only exists thanks to the offering of Christ. He let his blood be poured out, but through this, there is reconciliation now (Lev. 17:11). This reconciliation may be celebrated. With the cup of thanksgiving, God is praised and thanked. Glasses clink because of the redemption through Christ’s offering — his death.
When I describe it in this way, it is apparent that the bread and cup are not the same things twice, or indicate exactly the same thing twice. The bread is the bread of misery. It is placed before Christ who offers himself for our sins. The cup is the cup of thankfulness after the sacrifice of the lamb, whereby God is praised. The bread is not accompanied with the wine, but rather “the cup.” It is a cup with wine, obviously, but people very deliberately and consciously speak about the cup. And it is the cup of thankfulness which comes after the main course. Our form for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper does not speak about wine “that we shed or pour in”, but about a cup whereby “we praise and thank God” or about a cup with which we give thanks (1 Cor. 10:16). That is the action that takes place. We give thanks to God and praise him for the reconciliatory offering (the blood!) of his Son who is our Passover Lamb. We raise our glasses, as one would say.
There is every reason for this joy, because with Christ’s offering of blood for reconciliation and the forgiveness of our sins, the new covenant of which the prophets spoke, has dawned. Finally, it has come. The death of our Lord is the great news that we confess. That which God’s children have awaited for centuries has now come: the new covenant in which God purifies his children from all sins and pours out his Spirit over them. The new covenant has legal power in Christ’s blood. Just as God sealed his covenant at Sinai and commanded the sprinkling of blood on the altar and on the people, likewise, the blood of Christ binds God and his people in the new covenant. At and from the Lord’s Supper, this wonderful message receives a voice.
What Christ Intends←⤒🔗
What is Christ’s desire with the Lord’s Supper? What is his intention with it?
Christ, as already stated, is at the point of giving his life for us. Thereafter, he will go to his Father in heaven. On earth he will not physically sit around a table with his disciples again. But he is not “gone.” And he most certainly does not leave his disciples to their own devices. He remains connected to them. And he instructs them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper during the time when he is no longer on earth: to take the bread and the cup, and to eat and drink. Every time they do that, they may see this as Christ extending his hand to them. In the bread and the cup, they may know him to be very near and may taste the bond with him.
That Lord’s Supper contained a very direct and personal message for them. Think of me, he said, how I came and gave my life for you, how I let myself be bound and endured hellish agony in your place. I indeed did that for you who now receive the bread. And I have earned reconciliation and joy for you; for you whom I now ask to raise the cup. As often as you receive the bread and the cup, you may believe that I am near and that you are dear to my heart, that we have fellowship with each other. I am here for you, as immediately and as personally as you receive the bread and the cup. With it, I guarantee that I gave my life for you and that I will raise the glass with you on the day of judgment.
We may experience every Lord’s Supper celebration in a manner comparable to that of Zacchaeus, who was addressed by the Lord Jesus, and was privileged to hear that Christ desired to go to the table with him and grant him redemption. I desire to go to the table with you, Christ says at every Lord’s Supper, and I have a personal message for you. I have completed my work and have attained for you reconciliation with my Father. Bread and cup are the guarantee that I give you that it truly happened and that it is for you. Nothing needs to be added to it. Believe it and find rest and joy in it.
But isn’t Christ in heaven now? Isn’t it different for us than it was for Zacchaeus? He received Christ at his own table, in his own house. Yes, that is true. Therefore Christ says: this bread and this cup represent me. The bread unites you with me and the cup makes you one with me. Truly I am in heaven with the body and blood that I offered, but in the bread and cup I am with you, and it will be so until I come at the end of age and the kingdom of God comes in which we will together celebrate the wedding feast. That is a different meal than our Lord’s Supper, but the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual foretaste of it.
What is the Lord’s Supper really about? The living Christ allows the bread and cup to be extended to me and he declares: these two represent me and my work. Take, eat and drink, and know that, in this, I am near. Believe that I come to you with my promise of salvation because you embrace me in faith, welcome me, and desire to live in communion with me.
To say it differently, in the Lord’s Supper it is about the communion with Christ who dwells in heaven, who has done so much for me, and who wants to abide with me on the way to the unquenchable joy of the marriage feast. I belong to my beloved and he belongs to me. Whoever remembers him in this way will surely not have forgotten that on Monday!
Christ guarantees us the completion of his work for us. He wants to assure us of his love and faithfulness. The form for the Lord’s Supper says, “In order that we might firmly believe that we belong to this covenant of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ during his last Passover instituted the holy supper.” We may belong and live in this covenant founded in his blood. It is one sentence in the form that, for us, often functions as a transition sentence from one section of the form (remembering Christ) to the next (instruction), but it is a crucial sentence. It indicates exactly what Christ wants with the Lord’s Supper: to assure us that we may live within God’s covenant. With that, Christ is doing a life‑renewing work for us, as demonstrated by what he did with Zacchaeus, Levi the tax collector, and others. When Christ seeks you and declares his love for you, you change. Zacchaeus discovered this when his old shoes no longer fitted, and he repented.
Thus it also becomes clear in which manner the Lord’s Supper positively differentiates itself from the Roman Catholic mass: while Christ has instituted the Lord’s Supper to convince us of the completeness of his work, the mass teaches that another offering has to take place in order to ensure that completion. It also becomes clear what the difference is with what happens in some pietistic experiential circles. While Christ desires to seal his promises to us, they prevent him from doing so. Some even raise their children with fear of the Lord’s Supper. Bread and cup are not only life‑renewing for an elite group, but they are first of all life‑threatening. Watch out that you do not eat and drink judgment upon yourself! There are those who can tell you very little about the Lord’s Supper besides that!
The Gospel Squared←⤒🔗
There are Christians who see the Lord’s Supper as a commemorating meal. For them it is nothing more than a sort of symbolic act that demonstrates what Christ did. But the Lord’s Supper is more. It is called the “holy” Lord’s Supper to indicate that the Lord himself is active in it. The word “holy” shows this. The Lord himself instituted this supper. He has commanded us to celebrate it. Do that, he says, repeatedly. He wants us to remember him. He himself invites us every time that the table is set, to his table, and he corroborates the function and message of the bread and cup. He says of the bread, Take, and eat; and of the cup: Take, drink from it, and praise God.
As often as you take the bread, eat and remember Christ, and believe in him; he, at that same time, binds himself to you, so that you, connected to him, may share in his work. He gives himself as directly to you as you receive the bread. Just think that that bread represents him. And he becomes so much a part of you as you take that bread up into yourself. You in him and he in you. You were “lost in sin” and now you are “in Christ.” Although he is in heaven with his body, “we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones” (Heidelberg Catechism, q/a 76).
A closer relationship than that which a husband and his wife shares, binds you to him. The bread that you receive, makes you one with him. He guarantees you: as surely as you receive this broken bread, take it, and eat it, so surely I gave my life for you. And as surely as you receive the cup, so surely you may know the joy of the new covenant in my blood. You share in it as often as you receive the cup, drink from it, and praise God with it. The joy that I brought about, is for you. You and I are connected with each other through the Spirit. I am with you in the Spirit and in the faith whereby you lift your hearts to me.
You could call the Lord’s Supper “the gospel squared.” Christ does not only let you hear his gospel: this bread represents my body that I gave, and the cup represents the new covenant in my blood. He very specifically comes to you and makes it as visible as he can. We may see the bread and the cup; we smell the bread and the wine; we feel the bread and the cup in our hands and on our tongues; and we taste it.
Besides in baptism, God never comes as close to our skin as this. With all our senses, we experience it. The Lord could not bring it any closer to us. It comes to us; it comes in us; we take it up into ourselves. In this way, Christ gives himself to us with all that he did and all that he earned.
All of this, so that we would truly believe that we belong to this covenant of grace! If we receive a business card or a cell number from a very important person, we are overjoyed. But at the Lord’s Supper, we receive so much more from Christ! He gives and guarantees all his salvation to us. It is a significant moment when you receive the bread and wine from him. It surpasses everything.
How sad it is when Rome says, More is needed than the offering on Golgotha. Or when in mystical pietistic groups or churches, the bread and the cup are presented as life‑threatening and people are forbidden to eat of the bread and accept Christ, while this is the will of Christ himself. At the table, you may experience the communion with Christ intensely.
When you at the Lord’s Supper see the living Christ coming to you, this also sheds light on the self‑examination. Its purpose is not to give an answer to the question about whether or not you will be allowed to go the Lord’s Supper. Paul says, Test yourself and then eat of the bread! When Christ comes to you with his love and allows the bread and the cup to be handed to you, then surely you do not respond with a “no thank you,” do you?! The Lord’s Supper is especially about the taking and eating, and the taking and drinking. The Lord’s Supper is not there to be viewed from a distance. The Lord says, Take, eat and drink, remember, and believe.
In churches where you only have admittance to the Lord’s Supper by way of confession of faith and where the consistory exercises supervision over the holiness of the table, the self‑examination serves, first of all, in receiving Christ in the proper manner. That self‑examination is not detached from what Christ did, but is revealed in the light of his work. It is not coincidental that the self‑examination does not occur in a separate form, but is placed in the form for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The light from Golgotha reveals who you are. The self‑examination does not place the gospel on an unstable base, but places it before Christ. You do not just attend it, but you are conscious of what is happening and of what is special about the Lord’s Supper.
If Christ comes to you and says, For your sins, I gave my life, you do not answer by saying, But I am not at all a sinner?! No, you confess: It was also for me that you gave your body. And when Christ says, I want to celebrate redemption with you, then you do not arrogantly pose the question: but I really do not know if your work is enough and if I really can celebrate with you? And when Christ says, I came to renew your life after my image, then you do not say, But it is another question whether or not I want that. I would rather continue to live in the old manner.
Self‑examination: it is not about the question whether or not you will respond to the call of Christ, but how you will celebrate the feast of redemption with him. You do not say: my life is not good enough, therefore I do not go to Lord’s Supper, and will continue living just as I have up until now. No, you hear the call of Christ, you receive his personal invitation, and you say, Lord, I detest everything that is not compatible with this invitation. I want to change. I am overjoyed that you are saying to me that it has been reconciled and wiped out. I do not want to continue unrepentant. I am coming to you for you to cleanse and renew me. Feed me, strengthen me, and let me live in your joy.
When Christ himself says of the bread and the cup: in them, I connect the one who gave my life and worked reconciliation through my blood, myself to you. That makes every longing to remain in a life of sin detestable. That is not what you want, is it? Aren’t you then placing yourself offside? Christ weaves around your heart: how can that possibly go together with holding on to Satan and his henchmen? That is engaging in an unworthy manner with the body and blood of the Lord. Then you call a condemnation upon yourself.
At the Lord’s Supper there is much to think about. At the Supper, Christ carries us back to the moment of his perfect love, when he loved those who were his to the utmost. And he says, Just as I was then, in the same way you may know me now, in the same way I connect myself to you, and in the same way I bind you to me. How serious it is then if you still doubt, and ask yourself: could it possibly be for me? What more must Christ do then besides giving his life, earning the joy of the covenant for you, and guaranteeing all of it to you? Should there really be more added to it? Can more even be added to it?
We know our worries and difficulties every day, and we are confronted with gigantic world problems. But all of this, great and small, comes into a proper perspective when we, specifically at the Lord’s Supper, are confronted with the deepest and greatest problem of all: our alienation from God. We cannot even talk about this with many people; they do not want to acknowledge it. But at the Lord’s Supper, we sit next to brothers and sisters who fathom the meaning of Golgotha. At the Lord’s Supper, you are confronted with the greatest questions that exist, and you may, at the same time, believe that God wants to forgive your deepest and most stubborn bosom sins. Just think about what you have done with your hands, and what you have said with your tongue; but with those you may now feel and taste the bread and the wine!
Every day we are busy with what we are missing, what we must do, or what we must choose between; we are witnesses of all kinds of human exertions, but at the Lord’s table, we momentarily put everything aside and concentrate on what God has done in Christ. A deep peace fills us. Our trust are fed. A new wider perspective is opened. Freed from all human pettiness and complaint, from big irritations and small annoyances about our neighbours, we experience a deep joy in God’s covenant. We come to the realization of what there is to celebrate.
At the Lord’s Supper, you share with your brothers and sisters. You may have a lot to say or think about them — whether you have a strong relationship with them or not — at the Lord’s Supper, you participate together. You eat of the one bread and drink from one cup. You form the fellowship of Christ; you live out of the same grace. You are on the way to the same wedding feast. You have been given to one another to help each other, to encourage, and to spur each other on. You awaken each other to thankfulness and praise. You belong to one another.
It is a powerful antidote against hate and revenge, against discrimination and feelings of inferiority. You are all totally dependent on the same Christ; together you raise one cup. However large or small the circle is, Christ comes to your gathering and is present with his blessing. That keeps the relationship among the members strong.
It will be clear: whoever truly prepares himself for the Lord’s Supper and studies the message of Christ in it, together with other believers (Ps. 111:1, 2), will hear and see and experience unbelievably great things. But that does demand conscious celebration! With the bread and the cup, we are called to “action”: take, eat, take, drink, remember, and believe. How important it is then that we stimulate each other and call each other to the conscious celebration of this meal, instituted by our Saviour with such wonderful intent: that we would fully trust that we, in spite of all our sins and shortcomings, may belong to the new covenant, brought about by Christ. This is a covenant that soon will find completion in the eternal joy of our Lord, who is our Bridegroom.
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