Liturgy was not my church tradition. For me, public worship has always been less formal. We sing, read Scripture, sing, take an offering, preach, offer a public invitation, make announcements, and dismiss. Honestly, the rhythm and genuine nature of that informality still feels good.
From my earliest memory, however, the observance of the Lord’s Supper was a stark contrast to every other worship experience. Even the way we talked about it was different. In a deep, slow, formal voice, say it with me, “The observance of the Lord’s Supper.”
In our modest church on the east side of town, we “observed the Lord’s Supper” about four times a year, probably every fifth Sunday. My dad was a deacon, so much of the preparation fell to him, which meant much of the clean up fell to me. And I loved it because he and the other deacons always prepared too much just in case the crowd swelled that day. The result was a lot of extra grape juice that I was supposed to pour back into the Welch’s bottle from the itsy bitsy glasses. I threw back as many of the leftovers as I could without getting caught.
What intrigued me though was how we actually observed the Lord’s Supper. While our worship was generally informal, when we came to the table, we straightened up. The trays with bread and juice were placed neatly on the table at the front of the sanctuary and covered with a white linen tablecloth. When it was time to take the bread and the cup, two deacons would rise from the front pew and neatly remove, fold, and set aside the covering. Four other deacons would rise to serve the bread to the congregation, pew by pew. They would make a formation at the back of the center aisle, and then march to the front and replace the trays in their original position. Another group of deacons would then take over and distribute the juice trays in the same way.
It seemed everyone moved in slow motion. The organist played only to be interrupted by the brief clanging of the silver serving pieces. The pastor read Scripture and cued the rest of us when to eat, drink, and pray. I didn’t understand all of it, but I knew something special was happening.
Now years later as a pastor, it is not silver trays, white linen, or marching deacons that impress me. We actually have none of that in my church, but for other reasons which I’ll describe here, taking the Lord’s Supper with my church has become one of the great joys of my life.
The Lord’s Supper invites sinners to Jesus.
For starters, the table illustrates the Gospel to people who attend our church, but are not yet followers of Jesus. The broken body and blood of our Lord Jesus are not subjects we ever avoid, but on this occasion, we draw attention to the brutal, substitutionary death of Jesus in a way that is unique, and thus, is powerful. We don’t literally eat Jesus’ body or drink His blood, but for us to literally consume the bread and cup confronts believers and unbelievers alike with what was required of Jesus to set us free and offer us new life.
In our church, we ask heads of households and individuals to come forward to take enough bread and cups for everyone attending with them, and then to return to their seats so the entire congregation can eat and drink together. Unbelievers, at that point, are simply observers. We do not draw attention to anyone except Jesus as we examine ourselves, remember Jesus’ sacrifice, and proclaim Him, so that those who are only watching are not embarrassed, but instead are humbly invited to come to Jesus.
The Lord’s Supper reminds the sufferer to trust Jesus again.
Every time our congregation takes the Lord’s Supper, many people walk to the table with a limp. I’ve pastored many of them long enough to know why. They’ve just lost their father or their unborn child. They are fighting cancer, and losing. Their son is a prodigal. Depression is closing in on them. Suffering is a way of life for all of us, but there are seasons the intensity is too much to bear.
So when we walk in and see the elements on the front table, when we pick up the bread and the tiny cup with our weak and calloused hands, we remember the nails that pierced our Savior’s hands and feet wounded him, but did not defeat him. We remember that the sin that corrupts our flesh has already been defeated by the One who knew no sin, but became sin for us. We remember that our “goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:10).
I have the honor of watching suffering saints come to the table and then eat the bread and drink the cup. They do not feel the wind of God’s favor at their backs. They do not see the purpose of God in their pain. But they come to the table anyway and they eat and drink by faith in the One who has walked the Via Delarosa before them.
The Lord’s Supper allows the believer to celebrate Jesus now.
I can only imagine the thick air in the room as Jesus instituted this meal. It was his last supper with his dear friends and a traitor before he would suffer and die for them. Coming to the table is still a heavy moment for me, but one phrase that leaps out in Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians is that taking the Lord’s Supper “proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
In all of the weight of Jesus’ sacrifice, there is a certain hope of his victorious return. The death we remember is actually a win worthy of proclamation today. So as I watch eager, aspiring young people approach the table, the bread and cup declare that no future accomplishment of theirs can ever achieve the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. And as I see older, and, perhaps, regretting adults eat and drink, the bread and cup preach to them and announce to the world God’s grace that is greater than all of our sin. So whatever our station in life, the Lord’s Table announces the Good News that we must neither wait for our victory, nor wane in our defeats.