Volume 17, No. 4 (April 2022)
THE SCOPE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
At the Table we are reminded of the event of Christ’s crucifixion, but in its remembrance we draw comfort from the realization that when Jesus died, He died for each of us—thus bringing the significance of the past event into our present experience.
There is also a crucial future aspect as well. Paul writes: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) We look ahead to when we will eat, drink and enjoy table fellowship with our Savior in the kingdom. (Luke 22:16,18)
The really distinctive thing about [the Lord’s Supper] . . . is its essentially historical and eschatological character. Looking back to an event of the past, it looks forward to the consummation of God’s design; and in the present, at each celebration, it finds a creative meeting of the two. (C. F. D. Moule, Worship in the New Testament, 19)
The [ordinances], as Calvin used to say, bear witness to the fact that Christ is in a manner present and yet in a manner absent. But when Christ is finally present in the Parousia we shall no longer need [ordinances]—although we shall still worship. (James B. Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, ed. Ray S. Anderson, 364)
Of all Christian worship practices, the Lord’s Supper is the most multi-sensory: we hear “the old, old story of Jesus and his love;” we see, touch, smell and taste the elements.
The Lord’s Supper is a serious time, but ultimately not a sad one. It is not a funeral service for Jesus! Rather we somberly remember the price paid for our redemption (1 Corinthians 6:20), yet acknowledge that the work is finished (John 19:30) and that Jesus is our victorious and risen Savior (Romans 1:4), having conquered sin and death (Romans 8:2).
So there is room in the celebration for serious reflection, but also for overwhelming joy and gratitude.
PERSONAL BUT CORPORATE
Participating in the Lord’s Supper offers the opportunity for personal reflection about one’s former state and the glorious reality of all that we are and all that we have because we are in Christ by His redeeming work. And it provides the reminder that in Christ all of our sins (including our latest ones!) are forgiven thanks to His shed blood.
Yet at the same time the Lord’s Supper is a uniquely corporate observance. Many of the activities of worship we can also do when we are alone (Bible study, prayer, even singing); but the Lord’s Supper is something we do together in the body of Christ.
Churches should consider ways to give attention should be given to this corporate aspect during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper: perhaps by singing together as the elements are served; perhaps by serving one another the elements; perhaps by looking at our neighbor and reminding him or her as we partake that “this is the body/blood of Christ, given for you.”
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Much more could be said about the wide range of doctrinal understandings and practices of the Lord’s Supper among various Christian groups, and there are many books that address these issues. For a balanced overview, please see Chapter 50 in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.