Barger, in his book entitled, “Ons Kerkboek,” makes the remark that in the event our Baptism Form may be considered the best known of our liturgical treasures, we do not hesitate to say that of the entire collection of liturgical works, the Lord’s Supper Form is the most beautiful. Although it is very difficult to judge comparatively the familiarity, beauty, depth and riches of one form with another, the point is well taken that in our Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper we have a treasure of limitless spiritual value. We fear that this is not always appreciated by the church. Not less than four times a year the Form is read and the focal points of truth contained in it are not always given the proper stress and emphasis. Our spiritual sensitivity does not always respond as it should to the hearing of these things. The reading tends to become a formality instead of a spiritual exercise of faith. Over the years we become so intimately acquainted with this Form that we tend to grow careless in devoting our wholehearted attention to the old, old story as it is brought to our remembrance in the celebration of Christ’s death. At least in the sermon we remain more alert in the expectation that the minister might bring something out that we haven’t heard before but in the reading of a Form that we have heard so often that we can almost recite it from memory, we tend to digress in our thinking while this procedure is in progress. All this is certainly not conducive to a spiritually healthy celebration of the Lord’s death.
Another author found in the words of Exodus 35 the expression of the proper spiritual attitude and disposition of those who approach the table of the Lord. And certainly then this same attitude must prevail when we listen to and give consideration to the truth of the Word of God expressed in the Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” Such is the Word of God to Moses as he approached the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Now we do not plead for a literal execution of this Word of God and neither do we desire to equate this liturgical form of the church with the Holy Scriptures, given through holy men who were inspired by the Spirit of God, but we do stress the fact that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper confronts us with “holy things.” We are dealing with the death of our Lord, the only ground and basis of our salvation. This is the very heart of the gospel through which God Himself reveals to us, as He also did to Moses, that He is “the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.” He is a Covenant God Who in Christ establishes the basis on which He communes in friendship with His people. And as we then celebrate this work of God in the Supper He has instituted, we need to be instructed from the Word in the truth and meaning of all these things. This purpose is served by the Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper which we begin now to discuss in this rubric of our Standard Bearer. Let us then examine this liturgical form with reverence and godly fear in the consciousness that we are treading on holy ground. And may the consideration of its content serve to excite in us a deeper sense of appreciation for our spiritual heritage that is more and more reflected each time we are privileged to commemorate the death of our Lord till He comes.
Ds. B. Wielenga, in his book, “Ons Avondmaals Formulier,” makes the observation that when God gave the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to His people, He set a crown upon all His covenant work. He further remarks that the Lord’s Supper is the place where heaven and earth are brought closest together. The past, the present and the future of the history of salvation meet each other and join hand in hand at this point. On this observation he then further elaborates to show that the Communion is a supper or meal of faith, love and hope. The former it is because it is a feast of remembrance. It brings before our conscious mind the central wonder of redemption—the death of Christ. It focuses our attention upon that Wonder of history as the object of faith and enjoins us to believe in Him Who was “delivered for our transgressions.” But, since the sacrament is the communion of God’s covenant, it also testifies to us of our present blessedness. God dwells with us and bestows upon us through this means of grace all the riches of His covenant. The Lord’s Supper is like an Elim in the desert where the weary pilgrim rests in the enjoyment of the riches of grace as he drinks from the fountain of salvation. Here he tastes the bountifulness of God’s love and the unmeasurable depths of His goodness. Indeed, a sacrament of love. And, finally, for the future the sacrament also has significance. We are enjoined to do this (remember the death of our Lord) “until He comes.” Without the promise the celebration of His death would be quite meaningless. He is coming again. He is coming as the Bridegroom, the King and Judge of all the earth. The commemoration of His death by means of the sacrament is therefore also prophetic for it points to a higher, better, and more perfect communion which is in store for them that love God. And from this point of view it is a sacrament of hope. Looking back then to His death, we are assured and comforted through the present possession of the gifts of His love and we look forward in the assurance that when He returns He will dwell with us forever in heavenly glory and perfection. The sacrament is designed to strengthen this faith in us and this is accomplished only as we, through His grace, “give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard.” This we do with deep gratitude to our Reformed fathers for the heritage left us in our liturgical forms and which we receive as objects of study and investigation in order that both we and our posterity may know, understand and believe the truth. To this end we embark upon the task of searching out our beautiful Lord’s Supper Form.
If we were to single out any particular characteristic of the Lord’s Supper Form that makes it distinctively beautiful, we would have to say that this is to be found in its Scripturalness. It is through and through Scriptural. Did this ever strike you as the form was being read? Watch it the next time as you follow the reading in the Communion Service. Take note not only of how many direct quotations from Scripture you find in the Form but also observe the length of some of these quotes. And then do not, of course, overlook the fact that in much of the Form where you do not have direct quotes of Scripture, you find indirect reference to specific things clearly taught in the Word.
Now it is true that there are other features of the Communion Form that also greatly enhance its beauty. The fact, for example, that this Form is entirely nonpolemical in character although at the time that it was written there were prevailing many false views concerning the Lord’s Supper that could have been refuted. Our fathers refrained from doing this. They simply set forth the positive truth of the Word of God concerning this sacrament in order that the faith of the church might be fed and nourished. Consider, too, the simplicity of language. The form is so simply written that it can be followed and understood by a child. All of this is very well but we must remember that the most simple, non-controversial statement of a position has no appeal to the mind of faith if it is not rooted in and harmonious with the Holy Scriptures. Therein lies the beauty and strength of this piece of our Reformed liturgy.
We make just a comment here about this singular beauty of this confession. Later on in connection with the discussion of the Form itself we may have an opportunity to elaborate upon this point but we want to mention in passing that the truth is set forth in our Communion Form from both its positive and negative aspects. Positively the truth concerning the sufferings and death of Christ are explained and through this exposition of the central truths of God’s revelation to us the hearts and minds of believers are strengthened. With equal force the negative aspect of the truth is set forth when the Form warns all who in life and confession do not believe, that they have no part in the Kingdom of God. All who lead lives that are contrary to the mandates of the Word of God simply have no place at the table of the Lord. Their presence there is only an aggravation of their judgment. They eat and drink damnation unto themselves not discerning the Lord’s body. Sharply the antithetical line of the truth must be drawn and applied for as in the gospel, so in the sacraments, it must be proclaimed: “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat of the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! It shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” (Isaiah 3:10, 11) Could the modern clamor to shorten and revise the present Communion Form stem from a desire to obliterate this sharpness of the truth by bringing the witness of the sacrament into harmony with a perverted gospel that proclaims a general, universal love of God to all men without distinction? With Ds. Wielenga we also may say: “Truly, we may be thankful to our fathers and in them to our God, Who directs all things by His counsel and providence, for this precious piece of liturgy and manifest this gratitude through hearty estimation and serious attention.” (hartelijke waardeering en ernstige opmerkzaamheid)¹
Rev. H. Hoeksema, in his “Liturgy Notes,” states: “Our form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper had its origin in the Palatinate, and the author of its present form is Caspar Olevianus.” This Caspar Olevianus is the same man who assisted Zacharius Ursinus in the composition of our Heidelberg Catechism.
In connection with the historical background of our Lord’s Supper Form we will begin by quoting the following from the Liturgy Notes of Rev. Hoeksema.
“The older editions of this form have an introduction containing some stipulations regarding the admission of members to the Lord’s table. In later editions these introductory remarks were eliminated. This introduction stipulated:
1. That they who seek admission to the table of the Lord must first be instructed properly in Christian doctrine.
2. That having been sufficiently instructed, they should be asked whether they entertain any doubt in their minds concerning any point of the doctrine they have been taught. If it appears that there is such doubt, it must be removed by further instruction from the Scriptures till they are satisfied. If they are satisfied, they must be asked to confess and to promise:
a. That they will abide by this doctrine.
b. That they will forsake the world.
c. That they will live a Christian life.
d. That they will submit to Christian discipline.
They must finally be admonished to live in love and peace with their neighbor, and to remove whatever offense there may be in this regard.”
It is to be observed that although we no longer have this introductory part in our Lord’s Supper Form, the various points covered by it are still observed by the practice in vogue in our churches where confession of faith is required before admission to the Lord’s table is permitted. It might be interesting to know why this introduction was deleted since there apparently can be no objection to its content.
Rev. Hoeksema further points out that “instead of the simple a Church has Lutherans admission to the Lord’s table, the Romish the sacrament of confirmation. The so have confirmation, but they do not regard this as a sacrament. At Geneva, Calvin had the custom of having his young people recite the Catechism as a public confession on their part on the Sunday before they were admitted to the Lord’s table. In London (England), the young people were examined on the Sunday before their first celebration of the death of the Lord, and made a brief public confession. With us, this is virtually still the custom.”
From all this we note that although customs here and there vary somewhat, there is general agreement that public confession of faith is requisite and considered in itself as a seeking of admission to the Lord’s table. It has always been thus and the present custom of public confession of faith covers in the main the very points that were contained in the original introduction to the Lord’s Supper Form. This is further evident when you compare the questions which we use in connection with the confession of faith with those things that are mentioned above as contained in the original Lord’s Supper Form.
¹ “Ons Avondmaals Formulier” by Wielenga, Pg. 10.