From the very beginning of the church, Christians gathered on the Lord’s Day to celebrate Jesus’ victorious resurrection. Luke writes in Acts 2, “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (vv46-47).
One historian notes, “From that time, and throughout most of its history, the Christian church has seen in communion its normal and highest act of worship. . . . The most remarkable characteristic of those early communion services was that they were celebrations. The tone was one of joy and gratitude, rather than sorrow and repentance” (Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, p. 108).
We confess our sins early the in the service, God speaks to us through the preached Word, and He offers us the right hand of fellowship in a striking way in communion. We are His companions, literally the ones who have bread together, and the right hand means commitment, friendship, and solidarity. We are seated in heaven with Jesus permanently at God’s right hand where there are pleasures forevermore. We taste those pleasures now as we take His hand and offes ours back to Him and to one another.
One of the earliest church fathers to write in Latin was Tertullian, and he used the word sacramentum to refer to baptism and communion. The sacramentum was the oath a Roman soldier took when he joined the military.
Soldiers sign up once for service, and so do Christians—our baptism doesn’t wash off. So why have another sacrament? Why take communion, bread and wine, every week? Because soldiers and citizens continue to pledge allegiance. Husbands and wives repeat their love and enjoy their commitment. We are fickle and we need it, and God would nourish, strengthen and bless us in fellowship with Him every week. Continue reading
The Lord’s Supper is a feast for many. One time when Jesus entered Capernaum a Roman soldier, a centurion, came and pleaded with him to heal his servant. Jesus agreed to come heal him, but the centurion said no, he wasn’t worthy, and Jesus could just speak the word. He understood this because he too had authority and servants that would do what he said.
Jesus was astonished by this and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:10-11). Continue reading
Communion is a sign and seal of God’s covenant with us. This is often how God works in covenants.
Abraham had faith in God and was already justified, but God gave him the covenant of circumcision, which Paul says is “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11).
The faith, the righteousness preceded the sign and seal. It’s this way in family covenants also. At a wedding, the bride and groom take an oath, that’s a covenant, which is signified by rings and sealed in their sexual union.
If communion is only a sign and seal, then why do it? Most importantly, God said to show the covenant this way. Abraham’s faith needed expression, and God wanted to give him a way to pass it on to his children. They were in covenant now, too. James says our faith is seen by what we do.
But second, the sign and seal are means of renewing the covenant. We don’t renew it because it wears out, but because we wear out if we don’t. Husbands and wives renew their love and enjoy their marriage covenant. Calvin said God gave “his church another sacrament, that is, a spiritual banquet, where in Christ attests himself to be the life-giving bread, upon which our souls feed unto true and blessed immortality.”
We are marked and fed here again by Christ’s love.
One of the ways Christians have gotten themselves into trouble at the Lord’s Supper is by thinking wrongly about the elements, the bread and the wine. Jesus didn’t say “This is my body, broken for you” so that we could ignore what He is doing and instead wonder “How are the bread particles undergoing molecular transformation into Jesus’ body?” Continue reading
Throughout much of the Church’s history Word and sacrament have not gone together. During the Middle Ages Mass would occur with Lord’s Supper being offered in part (bread not wine) but without preaching.
You’ve no doubt been to many worship services, in fact most Protestant worship services, where the Word is taught, but the sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, isn’t offered.
Many Reformers in the sixteenth century wanted Word and sacrament to go together the way they do in Scripture. Martin Bucer tried to get the whole Christian community into the cathedral in Strasbourg to hear the Word and receive communion every week, and so did Calvin in Geneva, but it didn’t happen.
They wanted this because the Supper is the sign and seal of God’s Word, assurance that it’s really offered to us. It is put in our hands and in our mouths showing His fatherly care and hospitality to us. We eat and drink acknowledging that we accept His grace. If nothing is said, if there’s no Word, then what are we receiving? And if we hear the Word, it says “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Using phrases like “covenant renewal worship” can make worship start to sound complicated, esoteric, academic, and jargony.
But worship is not like that, so we should keep it simple. God forgives sinners, so we confess. He listens and speaks to us, so we pray and hear his word. God is our Father who provides and Friend who enjoys us, so we eat with him.
Adam and Eve had the tree of life. Worshipers in the old covenant had portions from peace offerings when they were able to make it to the temple. We have bread and wine every week, the body and blood of Christ, in the Lord’s Supper.
This is wonderful, and by faith it’s yours. Hear Solomon: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Eccl. 9:7).
One danger of talking about what you believe and what you do is coming to the conclusion that you are really important. How many men have disqualified themselves from the ministry because they made small compromises, or what seemed like small compromises, along the way because the work was “too important” to slow down?
This Supper is a delightful reminder that God gives the increase. This is the culmination of our worship service—the honor we give to God—and here we are seated at his Table to be nourished by Him. It is obvious that we only work out our salvation because God is at work in us.
We don’t know what will happen this year, even this week or this evening. We should strive by every means possible to serve our Lord, but trust Him to give the increase, and to bless him when the increase is not what we expected. At the last Supper and the early meals following the resurrection, the apostles could not have anticipated the extent of the blessing of the Holy Spirit about to be poured out on the Church in Jerusalem. Nor would they have understood that within a generation most of them would be martyred for their faith.
We have no idea what God will do, and every reason to trust him.
This is a table of unity. The Apostle Paul urges us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He says “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father over all and through all in in all” (Eph. 4:3-6).
We should not fail to notice that there is also one table. Christians often lament the Church’s lack of unity as we experience division and strife. This does happen sometimes when there is a real conflict, but it does not occur simply because we meet in different buildings in different parts of the world. We lack unity when we can’t eat this Supper together, when we separate from others like Peter and Barnabas did from eating with the Gentile Christians in Antioch.
Eating this meal deals with our sins, and not just our sins against God. It maintains the unity of the Spirit and bond of peace between one another. We all partake of one Christ, his one body broken and blood shed, and in him we are one church. Our unity is not seen in our denomination or network or latest cooperative effort. It’s far too important to be left to that. It’s demonstrated, maintained and given here to encourage us. God sets the lonely in families, in his family here. So anyone baptized and trusting in Christ is welcome, and those who are not are not asked to partake under compulsion but to consider the gift of God offered to them.
Martin Luther was once told that the Lord’s Supper ought not to be given to those convicted of a public crime because of the likelihood they were unbelieving. Luther replied: “This doesn’t concern the one who administers. His only concern should be that he offer the true Word and the true sacrament. I don’t worry about whether he [the communicant] has true faith. I give the sacrament on account of the confession which I have heard, the condition of his heart be what it may. I wager a thousand souls that the absolution and the sacrament are right. I must believe him when he says he is penitent. If he deceives me, he deceives himself. Nevertheless, the sacrament is true and the absolution is true. It is as if I were to give somebody ten pieces of gold and he took them to be only ten coppers. The gold is right in front of his eyes. If he doens’t know what he’s taking, the fault is his and the loss is his.”