There are some things we do not really know the value of until they are taken from us. The Lord’s Supper has been one of those things for me. For almost two years our church was unable to regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper due to Covid lockdowns. For the genuine Christian the Lord’s Supper is a source of great blessing and comfort and to be deprived of it on a regular basis is detrimental to the spiritual health of the soul. In his “infinite kindness” God “condescends to lead us to himself even by these earthly elements, and to set before us in the flesh a mirror of spiritual blessings” (Calvin). All the spiritual benefits we receive in the Lord’s Supper are experienced in God leading us into a nearer and sweeter union and communion within himself in Christ. As we partake of the bread and the wine we will feel a closer communion with the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16). As a result, we will feel our spiritual lives be nourished and sustained, our hearts more established and built up in grace, our faith strengthened, our assurance increased, and our lives more conformed to the image of Christ in holiness and love (HC, LD, 28; Belgic, 35; WCF, 29). However, none of these benefits come to us automatically, but only as we appropriate and receive them by faith (Belgic, 35). So, as we come together again in person what can we do, under God, to derive the greatest benefit from celebrating the Lord’s Supper? Following the lead of the preachers of the Dutch Further Reformation, I want to suggest that three things are needful: (1) good preparation for, (2) celebration of, and (3) reflection upon the Lord’s Supper.
Good preparation is necessary because: (1) we carry within ourselves remaining sin and an inclination to worldly conformity; (2) partaking of the Lord’s Supper is an event of extraordinary solemnity in which we approach God; (3) God requires us to prepare ourselves whenever we approach him in such an extraordinary manner, and (4) God generally bestows a blessing when we seriously prepare ourselves to approach him in the right manner and frame of mind. So what does preparation for participation in the Lord’s Supper consist of? Because of space, we will briefly note two things:
- (1) Stimulation: Because our hearts so easily grow cold toward the things of God, preparation must begin with a stimulating or stirring up of the desires of the heart. For example, let us stir up (a) a strong desire to be among God’s people, to appear before the Lord, and to delight ourselves in his presence; (b) deep gratitude for the gracious, sweet, and friendly invitation of the Lord Jesus himself to his table; (c) anticipation of the wonders to be unveiled to the believer in the Supper; (d) a yearning to commune more intimately with Christ in the Lord’s Supper; and (e) an earnest expectation of the extraordinary benefits that may be enjoyed by those who partake in faith.
- (2) Examination: Self-examination prior to participation in the Lord’s Supper is a necessary work enjoined by Scripture: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). Examination consists principally of three things: (a) a genuine hatred for sin, sorrow for sin, and repentance for sin; (b) the content of one’s faith in Christ crucified and risen for sin and reliance on the promises of the gospel; and (3) heartfelt gratitude to God as evidenced in one’s life of love and obedience.
Regarding the Sunday of the Lord’s Supper, it is important not to go to bed too late the night before or sleep in too long in the morning, lest we come to the Lord’s table in a tired, hurried, or flustered frame of mind. During the reading of God’s Word, singing, prayers, and preaching, join in wholeheartedly with the congregation and let your heart be focused on what is read, sung, prayed, and preached. As you approach the Lord’s table (either physically or mentally as you wait to be served by the elders), do so as one who has been personally invited by the Lord Jesus himself. Consider yourself seated in the very presence of your heavenly Father, and Christ your Bridegroom, and let childlike love and awe and reverence well up within your heart.
As you partake of the Lord’s Supper, partake as one who has been personally invited by the Bridegroom himself who says: “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25). Do not merely focus on the external signs, for they cannot feed your soul. Rather, receive Christ immediately by faith, leaning and relying upon him, resting on his promises, and clinging to the covenant of grace. In a conscious and feeling manner, reflect on the relation between the sign and the thing signified: in the signs behold the breaking of Christ’s body on the cross and the shedding of Christ’s blood, and with that his love and his grace and the effectiveness of his suffering for the forgiveness of sins.
And then personalise it. As you eat and drink, be consciously active in faith, embracing Christ by faith, magnifying God’s free grace to you in him, and drawing comfort and assurance from the sign that has been given to you as a seal. The Lord’s Supper is a guarantee that what the sacrament declares and promises is true for you. The Lord’s Supper is a seal and pledge given by the Lord Jesus to assure you. When you partake of the Lord’s Supper Christ says to you: “You are mine, my sacrifice of atonement was for you, I stood in your place, your sins have been wiped away, my grace is sufficient for you, my love is toward you—and that this will forever remain true.” The Lord’s Supper says, “This is really true, and it is true for you.”
Finally, as you leave the Lord’s table (or the place where you celebrated the Lord’s Supper) say to yourself, “My Jesus will keep his promises. I am satisfied with this and I rely fully on them. “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24).” Comfort yourself with the promise and hope of his return when he will take you to be with himself in glory forever: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Depart as one who has been sent by the Lord Jesus to bear testimony to his saving work, to proclaim his glory among the peoples, and to reflect his image in your daily living.
After celebrating the Lord’s Supper, it is very tempting to go home and plonk yourself down on the couch and turn on the footy or some other form of entertainment and squander the benefits of the Lord’s Supper. So what ought we to do? We need to apply the lesson that God taught Israel upon their arrival in Canaan when faced with its abundance: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness…And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you…Take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (Deut 8:2, 10, 11). Reflection, then, consists of remembering, meditating, and reflecting on the benefits we have received from the Lord.
This will do several things: (1) It will stir up gratitude in our hearts: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? … I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps 116:12,17). (2) It will stimulate us to walk before the Lord in holiness and godliness. The bread and the wine not only remind us how great our debt of gratitude to the Lord is but also how “wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on [we ought] to live for him” (HC Q1). (3) It will encourage us in our work for the Lord knowing that He will grant us grace and help in every future endeavour because he has already bestowed such great benefits upon us (1 Sam 7:37; Rom 8:32). (4) It will foster within us a desire to cultivate ongoing spiritual communion with Christ (1 Cor 10:16; 1 Cor 1:9; 1 John 1:3; Rev 3:20). (5) It will remind us that fellowship with Christ and fellowship with the world cannot coexist (1 John 2:15). (6) Finally, it will motivate us to live in continual anticipation of Christ’s return (1 Cor 11:26; Matt 25: 13; Rev 16:15).