The Lord’s Supper: A Grace Shaped Habit
Each week at Word & Table we participate in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. Other churches call it taking communion or celebrating the eucharist.
To explain Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:26 that Christians participating in it “proclaim the Lord’s death until he come.” So the Supper is a proclamation, a common confession, an affirmation by the members of His body that Jesus lived, died, rose again, ascended to heaven, and will come again. Christians believe that the work of Jesus in history has real implications for how people experience life now. His life is an example to us. His death was an atonement for us because of sin. His resurrection is a promise to us that we will live again. His ascension is a guarantee to us that no power on earth can prevail over us. All these things Christians proclaim when they partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Beyond being a proclamation, the Lord’s Supper is a way in which Christians train themselves for godliness. Participating in it is supposed to do something to the one participating. It’s more like basketball practice than it is like watching game highlights. This isn’t obvious to all Christians. Many Christians have lived with the Lord’s Supper as a dead ritual because the meaning was never explained to them. Or some Christians know it as an emotional ritual where they believe they are supposed to be worked up because in it they remember the story of Jesus’ death and connect it to the reality of their own sin. For people who are naturally emotive or who have a sensitive conscience this might be easy, but ultimately both these views of the sacrament fall short.
The Lord’s Supper is a ritual more like the ritual of brushing your teeth. The ritual actually does something that benefits you! Brushing your teeth benefits you every time you do that ritual. If you participate in it incorrectly, it is of no benefit to you. But if you use toothpaste and brush properly then you derive benefit from it. Likewise, the Supper is a spiritual benefit to you if you participate in it correctly. It is a mystery, hard to put into words, but because Jesus is alive, believers who partake of the bread and wine experience connection to the living Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. As a physical meal nourishes us physically, so also this spiritual meal nourishes us spiritually. What does that spiritual nourishment look like?
The Lord’s Supper gives Christians spiritual nourishment in at least four ways.
1) It grows them in grace.
When a Christian comes to the table and partakes of the Supper, they do so on the basis that their invitation to partake is only by grace. They don’t invite themselves to eat. They don’t make themselves worthy to eat. To take communion is to receive the salvation of God by grace. People who regularly practice receiving grace grow into people who give grace to others.
2) It confirms their connection with Jesus Christ.
People who are committed to one another regularly celebrate that connection or reaffirm it in a culturally relevant way. Co-workers have celebratory business lunches. Friends send each other cards on special days. Married couples dress up and go out to dinner on their anniversary. What is the purpose in these kinds of events? It confirms the union or connection of the group or the couple. Similarly, the Lord’s Supper confirms the connection or union between Christ and his followers.
3) It renews their thankfulness to God.
If you believe you are saved by sheer grace, it should make you a much more thankful person. Seeing that salvation by grace pictured in the sacrament reawakens thankfulness for that salvation, but also for other things that have God as their source. The beauty that is found in the world is a gift of God. The beauty of the Lord’s Supper helps Christians remember all the world’s beauty, to thank God for it, and to recommit to engage in that beauty.
4) It renews their community bond.
The community bond of Christians is rooted in Christ’s love. This is what Christians mean by the word fellowship. It is a mutual commitment for the other’s good based on the love of Christ given for the world pictured in the sacrament. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples it brought them closer together, and it still does so today.
The spiritual nourishment of the Lord’s Supper comes from a regular participation in the habit. Brushing your teeth may seem boring at times, but good dental hygiene has real benefits. It’s a ritual that you don’t want to neglect, especially in a world with so much sugar! Likewise, we don’t want to neglect a regular visible and sense-oriented participation in the grace of Christ. In a world marred by sin, it’s a habit you don’t want to neglect. Eat, drink, and be nourished by this grace shaped habit!