Every week at our church, the service ends with one of our pastors inviting believers to participate in the Lord’s Supper. I’ve grown to anticipate these few moments more than I thought possible.
As a teenager coming back into Christian circles for the first time in a while, observing others taking part in the ordinance was akin to watching a foreign film sans the subtitles. There were stern warnings to non-Christians intermingled with the pageantry of deacons meticulously fulfilling their assigned duties. And I never could wrap my head around the order of the words etched into the wooden table: “This Do In Remembrance of Me.”
But, like many things observed within the local church, routines were wrapped with good intentions and those early days provided a foundation on which I could base the significance of the Supper for years to come. I’ve learned since to recognize and appreciate, to know and feel, the weightiness of our participation when we go to the table and when take the cup. Truly, this is sharing spiritually in Christ’s suffering on our behalf. It is participation in Christ’s body broken and his blood shed on the cross for the remission of our sins (1 Cor. 10:16-18). To be sure, the focus of observing this particular ordinance is on Jesus's sacrificial death on the cross.
My aim here is to consider what observing the Supper means for us collectively.
In light of our keen focus on the institution, instruction, and meaning of the Lord’s Supper, it is increasingly important we remain aware of the context in which the directives were given. We recall Jesus reclining at the table with his disciples as he takes the bread, then the wine, denoting a solemn and intimate occasion with his closest followers (Luke 22). And, we remember Paul’s instructions given not to individuals, but to the church at Corinth and perhaps other churches in the surrounding area (1 Cor. 11). These encounters, in addition to giving us specific instructions, are vivid reminders of the “togetherness” of it all. We reflect, celebrate, eat and drink, and we remember together, as part of a body.
Given the content and context for the ordinance, what does it mean for us practically speaking?
Setting the Table for Sunday
My wife and I have the privilege of joining a small group of our fellow church members each week in a “Community Group” setting where we share a meal, pray for one another, and discuss the week’s sermon. God has granted us all the tremendous gift of unreservedness when we ask for prayer and when it comes to confession of sin. We’re truly learning what it means to carry each other’s burdens and, often, the load gets heavy. We’ve seen what it means for lives to be wrecked by sin, for worry to wage its war on peace, and for trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God to begin to give way to doubt and not a little frustration. As is common to sharing life with others in this way, carrying these burdens with and for one another often means carrying them right into the theater where we meet on Sunday mornings and to be left holding them when the invitation comes to partake with our brothers and sisters in the Lord’s Supper.
Like most people, I’m prone in moments like these to retreat to my own thoughts, considering my sin and contemplating Christ’s undeserved forgiveness that meets me there. These are thoughts worthy of the time given them, no doubt. For better or worse, I recognize a tendency to try and make sure everything’s “squared away” before I approach the table. Often I'm introspective to a fault. Lately, however, I’ve been keeping my eyes wide open. And what I’ve seen is glorious.
Every single Sunday, the invitation is extended, and Christ is ever at work, building up his church in ways I never expected. I watch my brothers and sisters with whom I am in the trenches during the week, walking to the table, taking the bread, taking from the cup, and giving pause, taking time to remember. I see them embrace the truth of the gospel in a tangible way and I’m comforted by the fact that, in these moments, they’ve understood the good news rightly – they don’t succumb to the temptation to believe their sin is unfettered or that their struggles prohibit them from this participation. Instead, in keeping with repentance, they choose to acknowledge the obedience of Christ and are thus secure in their union with him. The gospel bears its promised fruit and the path to the table and the call to remember are laid wide open to us.
For Your Consideration
To be clear, I don’t offer these reflections to challenge or critque the ages-old ways of doing things, nor do I have much interest in ecclesiological novelty. I only desire for us to acknowledge more of what we could be missing in light of rampant individualism within the life of our local churches. I don't have in mind reorienting thoughts concering the content of the ordinance. That, for us, is set in stone. However, if you’ll permit me to, I’d like to extend the invitation to you to consider your approach.
As we go and take, we make it our aim to remember and to be aware, to consider the narrow and wide "angles" of the gospel. Our remembrance being in the form of a solid and sure contemplation of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ, coupled with a full-bodied awareness of the greater work God is doing in our midst as he redeems us from our sin and continues to faithfully build his church.