The Lord’s Supper.
Celebrated by millions of churches and billions of people each week. But what is it? What is given in it? What is the power of the Lord’s Supper?
When Martin Luther drew up the four questions he used to teach people about the Lord’s Supper, the fourth question was a question of worthiness.
Martin Luther wrote this in his Small Catechism:
Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
There are three areas – all related – that we should focus on whenever we plan on coming to the Lord’s Supper. Repentance, personal faith, and a common confession of faith.
The Lord’s Supper gives us three things: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We receive life and salvation because we are given the forgiveness of our sins.
The forgiveness of sins is the chief blessing in this sacrament. Jesus Christ gives us His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine. He shed His blood on the cross. He sacrificed His body on the cross. He did this because He loves us. And when He did this, our sins were forgiven.
This is a free gift, given by grace alone.
But do not make the mistake of thinking that this gift – while free – did not cost. It cost Jesus everything.
The Lord’s Supper is a gift given and a gift received. God has to give it. We have to receive it.
How do we receive it? We have to prepare ourselves for it.
Martin Luther mentions “fasting and bodily preparation.” Apparently these were common things to do in the 16th century. Luther’s problem with them was not their commonality but that they were required by the Church. People had to do them to receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner.
Luther didn’t find that in Scripture. What Luther did find was that faith is the only requirement; faith in Jesus Christ. And faith in Jesus Christ leads us to repent of our sins.
Repentance is the key because the Lord’s Supper destroys sin. Repentance is us letting go of our sin before Christ’s body and blood destroys it. If we do not repent – if we do not let go – we can be destroyed along with our sin.
This is what might have been happening to some of the members of the Corinthian church that St. Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-30
27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
Repentance is a key element to receiving the Lord’s Supper worthily. But repentance can only happen if we have faith.
By faith I mean believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior, having a personal relationship with Christ. It is more than just knowing about Jesus. Even demons know about Jesus and it causes only fear. Christ died for you, not in some abstract way or in some general way. He died specifically for you, and you, and you, and me.
Too often, I think, we are content to be “John 3:16” Christians and not “Galatians 2:20” Christians.
John 3:16 says, 16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
But Galatians 2:20 says, 20“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The Lord’s Supper, then, makes our Christian faith intensely personal. Jesus doesn’t say He shed his blood “for the world” but “for you.”
This is the faith you have been given. This is the faith that is strengthened by God through His Word and the Lord’s Supper.
Common Confession of Faith
By “faith” I also mean our common confession of faith – that we all believe the same thing. This also is an important part of our reception of the Lord’s Supper.
Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor. 10:17 both tell us how important this common confession of faith was to the first-generation Christians. It was a way for them to define “family.” It was a way for them to make public confession to the world what they believed.
Today, we are criticized for this because it is perceived as being “stand-off-ish,” “closed-minded,” or even arrogant.
But even though we call this practice “closed communion” it doesn’t mean we’re “closed minded.” It means we take serious what God’s Word says.
Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before He eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
This is no game. The Lord’s body and blood are powerful things. It is a gift that requires great responsibility. It can be dangerous, as the church in 1st Century Corinth found out the hard way – they misused the Lord’s Supper and it literally killed some of them.
It was on this night – the night that Jesus was betrayed – that Jesus said the wonderful words “Given and shed for you.” This gift that we partake of once again is amazing. It is amazingly powerful. It is amazing love.
And as Jesus walked the way of the passion following what we call the Lord’s Supper, the words “given and shed for you” take on a profound meaning. Let us think on this as we walk with Jesus over the next several days – to the Garden, the courtyard of the High Priest, the Judgment Hall of Pilate, the cross on Golgatha, and finally the Garden Tomb.