Life Theology

The Lord’s Table on Good Friday

For the Christian, the Lord’s Supper is about covenant renewal. When we partake of the Table together, we are dramatizing the gospel: Jesus body and blood given for us. It is a reminder of what Jesus has done for us–a means of grace to reinforce our faith in him.

Often times, before communion (another name for the Lord’s Supper) Christians try to “get right with God” and confess every known sin. We beat ourselves up, feeling that if we wash our conscience, then we will be “worthy” to approach the Table. We think that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:27-24, when he says not partake in an “unworthy manner,” mean that we need to clean up before showing up. But Paul isn’t writing about cleaning ourselves up; he is writing to people who are making a mockery of the Supper. The Lord’s Super is about Christ’s humble, self-sacrifice for us. The Corinthians were cutting in line for more bread and getting drunk on the wine (vv.20-21). Put simply: the Corinthians were making the supper about them, instead of making it about what Jesus has done and using it as an opportunity to serve others in the church.

When Paul says each person should “examine himself” (v. 28) he is essentially saying, “Realize that this is about the unselfish, atoning death of Jesus. If you get this, it changes your life. It makes you more humble, more serving, more loving, more others-oriented and less narcissistic. Come to the Table in this manner.”

Therefore, when you are ready to partake tonight, do not beat yourself up. Do not try to confess every known sin. Do not stay back until you “feel good” about your status with God. Do not try to “clean up” before showing up.

But wait! What about all the dirt left behind? Sure, we have idols. Brokenness. Wounds. But that is why we joyfully acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is about the unselfish, atoning death of Jesus. He took all of our sin and shame on the cross and washed it away.  He removed the wrath of God and brought everlasting favor. Now daily he is washing us–because we are already washed.

Confess, yes. Repent, yes. Preach to your heart that Jesus has paid it all, yes. If you are entangled in grievous sin, pray with the elders (James 5:14-16). But you cannot get more right with God than you are in Christ. Hebrews 10:14 tells us, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Ephesians 2:6 says, “[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” You are already perfect in Christ. God can’t love you more than he already does if you are connected to him by faith in Jesus. Lay hold of God’s grace by faith and rejoice!

So how do we approach the Lord’s Supper? The same way we approach God daily: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). God has washed our consciences clean with the blood of his Son. We can’t get cleaner than we are now.

If you are not a Christian, and you attend a service tonight, then sit back and watch the live-action drama of the gospel. Watch people eat and drink and cherish the fact that Jesus gave up his very life so that they might never taste eternal death. If you partake of the Supper but are not connected to God by faith in Jesus, you will be guilty of eating and drinking in an unworthy manner because you would be doing something with your body that you don’t believe with your heart.

But you don’t have to be guilty. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:35, 37).

Christians and non-Christian need the same thing. Communion doesn’t save us; Jesus does. Christians must confess that Jesus is our only hope and he has washed us clean. Non-Christians must confess that Jesus is their only hope and only he can wash them clean. Feast on him as your supreme Treasure. Come with all your warts, all your wounds, all your dirt. Acknowledge that he paid it all on the cross and that you don’t need to clean up before you show up. Then partake of the Supper in order to proclaim and rejoice with all the saints that the Lord’s death is our only hope until he comes back (1 Cor. 11:26).

Ministry Theology

Martin Luther and the Lord’s Supper

In his short chapter “Of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” in Table Talk, Martin Luther challenges the Roman Catholic view of how the sacrament (i.e. communion, Lord’s Supper, the Table) is administered. This short chapter does not tell us everything that Luther believed about the Lord’s Supper, but it points to his general convictions.

Luther’s Issue with the Church
The root of Luther’s critique of the administration of the Lord’s Supper in the Catholic Church is not in the administration of the sacrament itself. His critique is primarily concerned with the false authority that the church places on its bishops. For Luther, the root issue was apostolic succession. Apostles were elected by God, whereas bishops are appointed by man. Apostles never had “supremacy” over another and neither should priests, especially over the church and the sacrament.

As for the administration of the sacrament itself, Luther takes issue with “elevation,” at which point the body and blood of Christ is transubstantiated through the priests words hoc est corpus meum (“this is my body”). Luther calls this doctrine “mere idolatry.” Luther still believed Christ’s presence is somehow in the elements, but not because of the priest’s words. It is rather through Christ’s word and institution that he is present in the bread and cup. Therefore, Luther fights against the meaning behind the practice, while not finding it necessary to change the tradition itself.

This immediately gets the modern evangelical’s blood boiling. Jesus literally in the bread and cup! No! It is true, for Luther does not dispute the fact that Christ is somehow present in the elements; it is simply not the priest’s words that cause Christ’s presence to be there. Luther believes that Jesus body and blood are in the “present administering, although they may be understood as fulfilled on the cross.”

Unlike the Catholic priests, who believed that the Lord’s Supper gave grace through performing the act, Luther held that it was for “the strengthening of our faith, not doubting that Christ’s body and blood were given and shed for us, and that our sins by Christ’s death certainly are forgiven.” In short, Luther believed that the fruit of the sacrament was the assurance of forgiveness. He did not believe the sacrament was the cause of grace.

Why does this matter for us today?
The contemporary evangelical will rightly fire back at Luther for his lack of haste to completely repudiate the doctrine of transubstantiation. At the same time, evangelicals can praise God that Luther resisted Rome’s claim to apostolic succession and supreme authority in faith and practice, as well as the Church’s insistence on grace/salvation through/by works. Still, evangelicals can view the Lord’s Supper, with Luther, as solely for sinners who are desperate for grace and find, at the Table, an opportunity to proclaim Jesus’ death for them once again—and continually until he returns (1 Cor. 11:26). Despite the fact that we do not hold to transubstantiation, we can, with Luther, wholeheartedly agree that the Supper is connected to ongoing covenant renewal in the gospel, providing a means of grace to reinforce repentance to and faith in Jesus.