In his 1856 commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, J.C. Ryle asked a simple question: “Are we in the habit of coming to the Lord’s table?”
In this question, the then Anglican Bishop of Liverpool used a word that might ring peculiar in the ear of a 21st Century church attendee when he described participating in the bread and the cup as a “habit.” In our day, we have amassed a number of habits, yet few would associate approaching the table with such a phrase. This is to our detriment. For every Christian, there are a number of benefits found in weekly communion, but I’d like to draw our attention to another benefactor—our children.
Demonstrating the Difference in Mom and Dad
Due to the consistent liturgy in our church, our members typically know what is coming. It is not a surprise to them to hear the call to worship, nor are they alarmed when the time comes for corporate confession. Liturgy can aid in developing rhythms of Christ-centered worship. A rhythm that I anticipate with eagerness is the close of the sermon and the transition to the Lord’s Supper. Though I’m sure some may find it strange, I’ve developed a love for observing others participating in the Lord’s Supper. I purposely work through this moment in our worship service with eyes open in order to see the hundreds of visual gospel proclamations found in fellow church members partaking in the elements.
As I watched this past week, I noticed a scene that while seemingly ordinary, in the moment, burst with meaning. As our pastor invited us to come and grab the bread and juice, I watched a mother instruct her daughter to stay in the seat until she and her husband returned from participating in the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the Church. Again, while the unfolding scene was surely unspectacular to those around, what I witnessed was a faithful mother in a moment of gospel instruction.
This mother, faithful in joining the church at fencing the table, was able to explain to her young daughter that there was a difference between them. The difference was rooted in the reality that the mother had already undergone the eternity-changing event of clinging to Jesus by faith. This is no insignificant difference; the difference here between the mother and daughter is the difference between sinner and saint. What I saw in this scene during the Lord’s Supper was a chasm between a mother and her child in which the Church delivered an opportunity for the mother to plead with her daughter to traverse to the other side. Moreover, it hit me that this paramount gospel instruction can take place weekly.
Demonstrating Who They Can Trust
Beyond affording parents weekly gospel opportunities as mom and dad teach their offspring why they are not permitted to come to the table, weekly participating also allows a weekly demonstration of who the child can trust with spiritual matters.
I must admit, I’m assuming much in this point. Namely, I’m assuming a healthy approach to church membership and a healthy fencing of the Lord’s Supper. Yet, if these items are in place, parents can use the Supper as a declaration of who the child can trust.
We say it often at our church, as we work through facilitating the Lord’s Supper, that if anyone is in the room and doesn’t know Jesus, all they need to do is watch those who are partaking in the Supper and ask them about their Savior. For, if they are partaking in the Supper, they are declaring that they’ve experienced the life-altering event of being united to Christ. In the same way, since the Supper acts as a demarcation of New Covenant faith, we can instruct our children to observe its participants.
Due to my belief in the autonomy of the local church, I believe it is up to each local congregation to practice wisdom in determining the frequency with which they participate in the Lord’s Supper. I do not aim to bind the conscience of churches where the New Testament does not seem to do so. However, I’ve tasted the deep joy and benefit in coming to the table week after week. One of these joys is the opportunity it affords the parents in our churches to declare the great news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to their children and instruct them about the faith that serves as the entry rite to come to the sacred table.
Parents, 1 Corinthians 11:26 tells us that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” While your participation in the bread and the cup serves as a gospel-proclamation to all who observe, in our “habit” of coming to the table, we must see to it that this gospel act finds its way to those watching most intently.