Previous article in this series: December 15, 2016, p. 127.
The sacraments are God-ordained elements of worship. The primary purpose of the sacraments as elements of worship is that they be part of the holy dialogue between God and His church. God speaks to His people in the sacraments and they respond to His speech in faith and praise. In this way the covenant of grace is known and experienced in the sacraments. We are now ready to consider, What is He saying to us in the Lord’s Supper? And how do we respond?
I Feed You
The main thing God says to us in the Lord’s Supper is, “My people gathered here before me, I feed you and I nourish you.” In baptism the main thing God tells us is, “My people, I wash you.” Here the main thing He tells us is “My washed people, I also feed you.” The Heidelberg Catechism points that out when it says in the middle of Answer 75 concerning God’s promise in the Lord’s Supper, that “He feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life.” The Reformed Lord’s Supper Form has the same emphasis. It says that Christ speaks to us in the Supper telling us that He has given His body to the death of the cross and shed His blood for us and as certainly feeds and nourishes our hungry and thirsty souls. This is a meal God sets before us, and by setting it before us God is telling us “I feed you with food for your soul.”
You Need Food
That means, then, that He is also telling us that in His divine judgment we need to be fed. We are malnourished. God says to us, “My people gathered before me, you need to eat; you need strength, you are weak spiritually.” In the Lord’s Supper God says, “Even though you are in the kingdom of God, washed by virtue of union with Christ, do not think that you automatically run the Christian race and live the Christian life out of that seed of new life. You need to be fed, you need to be nourished, even as a Christian, in order to carry on unto everlasting life. You get hungry spiritually as you fight the battle of faith. You must be filled along the way in order to go on fighting that battle.”
That is true. God’s testimony about that is objectively true regardless of whether we see it. But do we see it? Do you know that hunger? Do you see the need? Just as our bodies become weak physically when we have been engaged in strenuous activity, so also do we know that our souls become spiritually weak and famished as they go through the spiritual battles of this life? In that weakened state there are hunger pains; you yearn for food. It is only the hungry who are fed. And the first thing the Lord’s Supper teaches us is that we are hungry and need continual nourishment, influxes of grace in order to live the Christian life.
The Food We Need
The Lord nourishes us and strengthens us in the Lord’s Supper by telling us of two realities through the means of this sacrament. First, He declares to us the reality of our justification, that His broken body was offered on the cross for us, and His blood shed for us, that our sins might be forgiven. That feeds our hungry souls. We come sometimes limping into His house and to the Lord’s Supper. We fight the battle of sin. In a week of self-examination we see that so much sin remains yet in us. We are hungry for an assuring word that our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ, that He still loves us. “Tell us that, and it will be like food to our souls, it will strengthen us to keep going.”
And then secondly, our sanctification is declared to us in this Supper. That too feeds and nourishes us. Now that we are forgiven, we also need spiritual strength to go back and fight against the same sins we have asked Him to forgive. And in this supper He says, “Christ’s death and life are good food for that too. I will fill you with Christ Himself, His own life. And you will be strengthened by this food to go out and live for Me in your life. I will feed you, my poor starving people. I will feed you with Christ. I know you are famished, I know you need strength. Here is your food—My forgiving grace, and grace to give you power to keep my law.”1
Other Aspects of Salvation
That is not all our covenant God says in the Lord’s Supper. He says also that He will feed and nourish us together as we gather before Him. And that part of our strength will come from our being unified before Him. I Corinthians 10:17 tells us God says in the Lord’s Supper that “we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” We are one. God unites us in this meal and tells us we are united before Him.
In addition, He speaks to us in the Lord’s Supper of the heaven that is coming for us. Mark 14:25: “Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” He declares to us what is coming when He will eat and drink with us in the marriage supper of the Lamb. And does that not also nourish us and strengthen us?
Union With Christ
Our God tells us in the Lord’s Supper that we have this food, this nourishment, this unity, this hope of heaven, by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ His Son. This is a covenantal sacrament. It is a covenant meal in the covenantal assembly. And the heart of the covenant is union and communion with God in Christ. He Himself said, “This is the New Testament (or covenant) in my blood.” He tells us that we will partake of Christ Himself. So that, as the Catechism says, when we partake by faith, very really we are more and more flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, united to Him like a head united to the body is governed by the same Spirit.
Jehovah tells us in the Lord’s Supper that this will be how we are nourished. This will be how we have the food of justification and sanctification. He will unite us in the Supper more and more to Jesus Christ Himself, so that His life by His Spirit flows into us. In union with Him, His righteousness is imputed to us legally and we are declared righteous. In union with Him His actual life fills us, giving us strength. This is how we will be united to each other; we will all be united together by being united to Christ. This is how we will have heaven one day. We are united to Him and will be with Him where He is in glory. “I feed you My people, I feed you for strength along the way.”
And the final thing He says to us in the Supper is, “Come, eat!” He commands us to come and partake of what He declares to us, to eat not only with the external mouth but with the soul by faith, to eat this Christ. It is not only, “This is My body broken for you”; it is, “Take eat, this is My body broken for you.”
And together, the church gathered before Him as the covenant people respond to what He says and then does. This is worship, the holy dialogue. After He speaks, we do not just sit there; we respond to what He says. First of all, we respond by the activity of eating and drinking, not only with our physical mouth, but with our soul in faith. We do eat Christ for nourishment. We take the bread and wine and speak in our minds as we do so, saying, “Thanks be to Thee, Lord! Yes, I am hungry, famished spiritually! I need Christ! And as really as I am chewing on this bread, in my soul I am taking Him as my Christ by the faith Thou hast given me. Unite me to Him!” I eat!
Second, we respond with prayer and praise. We worship Him for what He has told us and given to us. How can we not?! We cannot just sit in worship and be silent. I point out that in the Reformed Form for the Lord’s Supper, our Reformed fathers again sought to capture this notion of a holy dialogue of worship also in the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. They were conscious of the fact that this is an element of worship and that it must be celebrated in the church as a dialogue between God and His people.
So after the section on self-examination that prepares us for this holy dialogue, the Form explains what God says to us in the Lord’s Supper: “Let us consider to what end the Lord hath instituted His supper.” God speaks to us in that section of the Form, telling us from Scripture what He will say to us in the sacrament.
Then, after that, we respond with prayer, “O most merciful God and Father, we beseech Thee that Thou wilt be pleased in this Supper…to work in our hearts by the Holy Spirit,” that is, “We beseech You to give us what You just said You would give us.” This is covenantal interaction, dialogue.2
After that prayer God speaks again in the elements: “The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ. The cup of blessing which we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ…. Lift your hearts to heaven and do not cleave to the external bread and wine.”
And upon eating, we respond with praise to our God. “Let us therefore jointly praise His name with thanksgiving and everyone say in his heart thus, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul,’” with Psalm 103 and many other passages fused together in a symphony of praise, for He has given what He promised. And then we speak in a prayer of thanksgiving: “O Almighty, merciful God and Father, we render Thee most humble and hearty thanks for what has just happened.” Following which, in some churches, we respond in the giving of a collection for the Benevolent Fund at the end, a practice that goes all the way back to the early church.3
Having been nourished and fed so freely by God’s grace in Christ, we respond to His speech and the nourishment He gives. This is dialogue. In prayer, song, and offering we do what I Corinthians 11:26 tells us to do, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew [proclaim] the Lord’s death till he come.”
1 In the actual partaking of the Supper God gives this blessing of salvation. The declaration is made especially as the elements are on the table and then are being broken and poured out.
2 In this section the Lord’s prayer was originally to be said in unison by the church at this point and at the end to capture this dialogue. See, G. VanDooren, The Beauty of Reformed Liturgy. Winnipeg: Premier Publishing, 1980, 42.
3 K. Deddens, Where Everything Points to Him. Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1993, 77.