Monday, February 4, 2013

Coming to the Lord's Table

How do you see the Lord's Supper?  For many years, it was for me a basically gloomy affair.  I do not blame this on anyone but myself, but there were certain tendencies in the churches in which I grew up that did nothing to expunge this idea firmly lodged in my mind.

For one thing, too much emphasis was placed upon the solemnity of the event that any joy to be had was thoroughly eclipsed by a mood fostered by pastors and laymen alike.  I'm not saying that solemnity is bad, but what was often lacking was holy reverence coupled with holy rejoicing.  (The importance of solemnity was also given as a reason not to have the Lord's Supper more than once or twice a year.) 

Also, a focus on one's own worthiness via self-examination was certainly more likely to bring a person into mourning than into joy.  The bright sunlit fields of the gospel became overcast by the dark clouds of my own sin.  This emphasis on self-examination, though right, is often wrongly put alongside the idea of being worthy or fit for the Lord's Table, an idea based upon a wrong interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:27, "Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."  (The word "unworthily" is not a reference to intrinsic worthiness, which is impossible, but to the manner in which we partake of the Lord's Table.)

Eventually, I came to see that the Lord's Supper is really another means of grace that God has given us to delight in Him.  Even in the Old Testament, God's people were told, "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10).  There was only one day a year in which the Israelites were commanded to afflict themselves, the Day of Atonement.  Maybe this is the reason so many Baptists want to have the Lord's Supper once a year!

Despite this discovery, however, I still find myself coming to the Lord's Table with a sense of a need to "get myself together" - to make myself fit and worthy.  As we celebrated the Lord's Supper last Sunday, I told the people that I really want to celebrate it in a cathedral with a choir in the background and thirty minutes of silence beforehand.  Why?  Again, because I want an atmosphere that is conducive to saving myself for the Lord's Table.  I think the reason for this is that this is our native mindset - we are naturally wired by sin to save ourselves, and this extends to everything, including Communion.  So I have to continually remind myself that to have this kind of mindset is opposite to what the Lord's Table is actually telling me.

When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we are not coming to a Table to put something on it, but to take something from it.  The message of Communion is not that we are to make ourselves worthy but that Someone Else has been worthy for us.  When we take the bread and wine in remembrance, we are not remembering what we have done to save ourselves, but what our Lord has done - "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (I Cor. 11:26).  His body was broken so that mine does not have to be broken in penance.  His blood was shed so that I do not have to bear the weight of the wrath of God.

When our focus is just on self-examination, we inevitably become introspective and turn in on ourselves.  However, the Lord's Table is shouting at us to look away from ourselves to Christ.  It is not about my worthiness for Him.  It is about His worthiness for me.  And that is something to rejoice in.

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