How should you prepare for the Lord’s Supper? This article point to the necessity of preparing for communion, how self-examination should be carried out, the purpose of communion, and practical ways to prepare yourself.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2008. 5 pages.

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

We must not only examine whether we have a wedding garment, but also whether it be well kept and brushed; whether no moths be got into it, no new spots dashed upon it … Graces are to be purified, as well as sins purged out; grace, as well as metal, for want of rubbing and exercise, will gather dust.

Stephen Charnock

The commemoration of Jesus’ death at the Lord’s Supper is not to be approached lightly. We too often minimize preparation for this sacrament. Perhaps we prepared ourselves thoroughly before our first communion, but having done that, we often do not see the need for further preparation. To properly prepare for the Lord’s Supper, we must understand why preparation is necessary, how we are to examine ourselves, and the purposes of the Lord’s Supper.

Why Preparation is Necessary🔗

Here are four reasons why we must continue to prepare for the Lord’s Supper:

  1. The Command of God🔗

“Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup,” says 1 Corinthians 11:28. God commands us to prepare because He knows that we are prone to self-deceit. The corruption of our heart makes us prone to spiritual thievery, and the rebelliousness of our heart makes us prone to avoid self-examination.

  1. The Recipients of the Supper🔗

Since the Supper is reserved for true believers in Christ, we must examine whether we possess true faith (2 Cor. 13:5) and other marks of grace, such as those presented in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) and named as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).1The Lord’s Supper does not plant faith but strengthens faith that is already planted. Thomas Watson writes, “None but the spouse communicates with her husband; a stranger may drink of his cup, but she alone has his heart — so strangers may drink of the cup at the Lord’s Table, but true faith alone can drink of Christ’s blood and have true communion with Him.”2

  1. The Design and Holiness of the Ordinance🔗

The greatest purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember Christ (1 Cor. 11:24b). That demands asking ourselves whether we truly know Him personally (John 17:3).

Also, the holiness, royalty, and excellence of the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ. Since Communion is a holy ordinance established by a holy Institutor with a holy purpose, it is intended only for those who are made holy in Christ.

  1. The Dangers Involved🔗

There is great danger in coming unworthily to the Lord’s Supper. The tragic consequences of doing so include being “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27) and condemnation (v. 29). God reckons with an unworthy partaker “as with a cru­cifier of the Lord Jesus,” Watson writes. “He does not drink Christ’s blood, but sheds it; and brings that curse upon him, as when the Jews said, ‘His blood be upon us and our children.’”3

Preparation for the Lord’s Supper reflects our preparation for the Judgment Day. We can deceive people in the church when we attend the Lord’s Supper; we can come without the spiritual wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness. But we will never fool Christ on the great Judgment Day. If we neglect self-examination here, God will examine us on the Last Day before His throne where we will have no answer to a thousand questions (Job 9:3).

How we must Examine Ourselves🔗

Self-examination is much maligned these days. Many Christians view it as an unhealthy and morbid introspection. Admittedly, self-examination has its dangers. If we perform it apart from the Word and the guidance of the Spirit, building our righteousness upon ourselves rather than upon Christ, it will end in ungodly introspection. John Calvin says self-examina­tion can become “sure damnation” to us or we can let “carnal security insinuate itself.”4Nevertheless, Paul’s instruction to conduct biblical self-examination before eating the bread and drinking the wine is ignored at our peril (1 Cor. 11:28-29).5

True self-examination for believers, according to the Westminster Larger Catechism, includes examining their “being in Christ, their sins and wants; the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, and repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; their desires after Christ, and their new obedience” (Q. 171). These marks of grace are summarized in the Dutch Reformed confessional literature, which says that proper self-examination consists of three parts: degree of guilt, experience of grace, and sense of gratitude.[1]6An undue focus on any one to the exclusion of the others will lead to unhealthy and potentially dangerous results.

  1. Degree of Guilt🔗

To examine how we would stand before God apart from Christ, we must first consider our sins and the curse due them. This is not a pleasant exercise. It is painful to recall the many ways in which we have rebelled against our Creator. This is a time to grieve our past and present sins and to ask ourselves whether we experience a real depth of heartfelt sorrow for having transgressed God’s law.

The aim of this examination is not depression, however. Nor are we to incite sinful passions in ourselves by dwelling on what tempts us most. Rather, we are to consider how far short of God’s standards we fall, how just God would be to condemn us to an eternity apart from Him, and how undeserving we are of His mercy.

  1. Experience of Grace🔗

We must next examine ourselves regarding our experience of God’s grace and our faith in Christ. Do we trust God and His graciousness toward us? Having looked into the blackness of our own hearts, do we still trust God’s mercy displayed in Jesus Christ? Having reckoned with our sin, do we still believe we are forgiven because of Christ’s perfect, substitutionary sacrifice, or are we trying to expiate it ourselves through right living?

Perhaps we looked deeply into our hearts and concluded that sin is still too much a power in our lives. Perhaps we wondered if such sins as we are guilty of can truly be forgiven. Or, on the other hand, perhaps we looked shallowly into our hearts and concluded that we haven’t sinned too much and don’t real­ize that we are in dire need of Jesus. These are issues we must address. We are not to look for perfection; rather, we must ask if we have the fundamental faith to take refuge from the just wrath of God in the arms of Jesus Christ the righteous.

  1. Sense of gratitude🔗

Finally, we are to examine our Christian walk and ask our­selves whether we — out of gratitude to God — are striving against sin and pursuing holiness. Are we resolved to continue the Christian fight, or are we sick of it and already contemplating future sins? Do we hate sin and struggle against our spiritual enemies — ourselves, the lusts of the world, and Satan? Do we yearn to have our faith strengthened and our lives made holier? Do we earnestly desire to obey God, to walk in His ways, and to be more conformed to Christ? Or, have we grown weary of God’s standards and abandoned them? Do we merely maintain a religious façade to keep peace with our spouses, friends, and church? Are we living in loving harmony with all our Christian brothers and sisters? Have we kept ourselves from sins that Paul says disqualify us from coming to the Lord’s Table?

Again, the goal is not to find perfection within ourselves but to cultivate a desire to honor God above all, which is evidence that God is sanctifying us. Consider the following words from the Form for Administering the Lord’s Supper used in Dutch Reformed churches. Having recounted a long list of sins that disqualify one from Communion, the form says:

But this is not designed (dearly beloved brethren and sisters in the Lord), to deject the contrite hearts of the faithful, as if none might come to the supper of the Lord but those who are without sin; for we do not come to this supper to testify thereby that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves; but on the contrary, considering that we seek our life outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death; therefore, notwithstanding we feel many infirmities and miseries in ourselves, as namely, that we have not perfect faith, and that we do not give ourselves to serve God with that zeal as we are bound, but have daily to strive with the weakness of our faith and the evil lusts of our flesh; yet, since we are (by the grace of the Holy Spirit) sorry for these weaknesses, and earnestly desirous to fight against our unbelief and to live according to all the commandments of God; therefore we rest assured that no sin or infirmity which still remaineth against our will in us can hinder us from being received of God in mercy, and from being made worthy partakers of this heavenly meat and drink.

Self-examination has several purposes. It dissuades unbelievers from taking Communion, to which they have no divine right, and, with the Spirit’s blessing, persuades them to turn to Christ so that they too might enjoy the blessings of the gospel, including Communion. It is also designed for believers to stir up love for Christ and a sense of awe at the grace and mercy bestowed on them as unworthy sinners. And it strengthens their resolve to press on through the difficulties of life, to reject sins that have crept back into their lives, and to pursue holiness with renewed vigor.

The Purposes of the Supper🔗

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper also clarifies the purposes of this holy sacrament. Many of us are surprisingly unclear about exactly what we are doing when we partake of the sacrament. We know that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper do not change into the body and blood of Christ (which Roman Catholics believe), nor do we eat Christ in, with, and under the elements (which is what Lutherans believe), but as Reformed Christians, what do we really believe happens in the Lord’s Supper?

Calvin says that, in the Supper, we commune with Christ by faith and spiritually, that is, “in heavenly places.” Christ does not leave heaven to enter the bread; rather, in the Holy Supper, we are called to lift up our hearts to heaven, where Christ now is. We do not cling to the external bread and wine, but seek for Christ crucified in glory. Calvin writes, “Christ, then, is absent from us in respect of his body, but dwelling in us by his Spirit, he raises us to heaven to himself, transfusing into us the vivifying vigour of his flesh just as the rays of the sun invigorate us by its vital warmth.”7

When we next prepare for the Lord’s Supper, let us focus on partaking of this sacred meal humbly and reverently before God. The Lord’s Supper is a feast testifying that though we are poor, needy sinners, we have become rich in grace through the sufferings of our glorious Savior. Focus on five aspects of this amazing feast, remembering that it is:

  1. A Commemorative Feast🔗

John Flavel writes, “The Lord’s Supper is memorative, and so it has the nature and use of a pledge or token of love, left by a dying friend to a dear surviving friend. It is like a ring plucked off from Christ’s finger, or a bracelet from His arm, or rather His picture from His breast, delivered to us with such words as these: ‘As oft as you look on this, remember Me, let this help to keep Me alive in your remembrance when I am gone, and out of sight.’”8

We profit most when we focus on Christ. We remember what He has done for us from eternity past, in His teaching ministry on earth and in His suffering and death; is now doing for us at the Father’s right hand; and will do for us when He comes to take us to Himself to be with Him forever.

  1. A Covenanting Feast🔗

We remember God’s covenant with us in the Supper and respond in gratitude by covenanting ourselves — soul, mind, and strength — to Him in thanksgiving. We surrender our lives in response to the heavenly banquet God spreads for us in the Supper. The Supper enables us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God.9

  1. A Strengthening Feast🔗

It strengthens our faith, our love, and our hope, and fills us with gratitude and assurance as it directs us to the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

  1. A Witnessing Feast🔗

As we partake of the Supper, we continue to remember the Lord’s death, testifying that His death is our only hope of acceptance with God.

  1. A Love Feast🔗

Ultimately, the Lord’s Supper is about love: perfect love, superlative love, divine love, everlasting love. As we prepare for the Supper, we contemplate God’s amazing love to us in Christ. That so stirs up our hearts that we may say with John, “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

The Lord’s Supper is a love feast in which communicants also cherish each other and testify of the bond that they enjoy with each other as the body of Christ.10

Practical Helps🔗

Here are six practical ways to prepare for the Lord’s Supper.

  1. Review Christ’s Sufferings in the Bible🔗

Read the gospel accounts, especially the narratives of institution of the Supper and Christ’s passion. How can we remember Christ in the Holy Supper if we have only vague recollections of what Scripture says about His sufferings and death?

  1. Read a Great Book🔗

Read about the sufferings of Christ or the Lord’s Supper the week prior to Communion. Among the many available, my favorites are Friedrich W. Krummacher’s The Suffering Savior, Matthew Henry’s The Communicant’s Companion, and Wilhelmus à Brakel’s “The Practice of the Lord’s Supper,” in A Christian’s Reasonable Service.

  1. Meditate on Great Doctrines of Grace🔗

Brakel suggests meditating on eternal election, the covenant of redemption, the coming of the promised Messiah, the sufferings of Christ in bearing the wrath of God, and Christ’s resurrection and ascension.11

  1. Cultivate a Humble and Sensitized Conscience🔗

The best way to prepare for Communion is to humble ourselves before God. God brings us low to exalt us. So, search your conscience for any sins of which you have not repented. Confess them to God and to anyone whom you may have sinned against. Ask for strength and grace to mortify the old nature in yourself.

  1. Fellowship with Believers🔗

Spiritual bonding before the sacrament is a great way to build holy desire for God. Getting together with other Christians the Saturday evening before Communion to pray and speak about who Christ is and what He means to you can be an excellent means of preparation.

  1. Be Much in Prayer🔗

Do not only pray for a blessing for yourself, but pray also for the minister who officiates at the Lord’s Supper, the elders who supervise it, and for the congregation in general. Pray that Christ will be exalted, that the faith of believers will be strengthened, and that new communicants will experience the peace of God that passes understanding. Pray for adults and children who may be present to witness the administration of the sacrament, that they, too, may be drawn to Christ.

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper is not like preparing for an exam. The goal is not to pack one’s mind full of theological knowledge, though such knowledge can certainly benefit us at the Table. Rather, the goal is to cultivate a tender conscience, a loving and believing heart, and reverential thankfulness toward God. Coming to the Table in such a way, we are certain to benefit from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.


  1. ^ For a very helpful list of the essential marks of grace, see the Belgic Confession of Faith, article 29.
  2. ^ Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 244.
  3. ^ Watson, The Ten Commandments, 233.
  4. ^  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.7, 24. 
  5. ^ For an excellent help in preparing for examination, see Gerard Wisse, “May I Partake of the Lord’s Supper?” in his Christ’s Ministry in the Christian (Sioux Center, Ia.: Netherlands Reformed Book and Publishing, 1993), 99-123.
  6. ^ See especially the Heidelberg Catechism’s divisions and Questions 2, 81, and the Lord’s Supper Form.
  7. ^ Inst. 4.17.12.
  8. ^ Cited in Thomas, The Golden Treasury, 171.
  9. ^  Inst. 4.18.13.
  10. ^  Inst. 4.17.44.
  11. ^ Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2:582-84.

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