To what end or purpose did the Lord institute His Supper in the church?
It is with this question that the next main section of the Communion Form is concerned. We must not only be subjectively prepared to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in the proper way, so that we may be received of God in mercy and be made partakers of all His benefits, but we must also understand objectively what we are doing. If this is not the case with us, the celebration of the sacrament becomes nothing more than a dead formalism.
Knowingly or unknowingly there is purpose or motivation in everything we do. Because we do not always analyze our deeds and discover for ourselves the deepest reason for the things we say and do, we are not always conscious of the purpose of things, but it is nevertheless there. Moreover, we may add that this motivation of our deeds is of just two kinds: good or bad. Either we aim to glorify and honor God in the things we say and do and thereby do good, or we have an ulterior motive which is sin. We either think and act in disobedience to God which is sin, or we live from the principle of obedience which is the evidence of faith. An ethical sphere of neutrality is non-existent. And so it is also with respect to the Lord’s Supper. There has to be a reason or purpose in our celebrating this sacrament and that purpose is either good or bad. There is not another alternative. In a sense then it may be said that this part of the Communion Form also belongs with the self-examination, since it is designed to direct us to the consciousness of the purpose of the sacrament. We must be sure that the purpose mentioned here coincides with that which lives in our hearts.
The Communion Form enjoins us to “consider, to what end the Lord hath instituted His Supper, namely, that we do it in remembrance of Him.” Ideally speaking this should not be necessary. If we lived in the awareness of our spiritual fulness we would not have to be told to remember Christ and His death. But idealisms are not reality. Sin is very much present with us, and we are so preoccupied with the things of self and the present world that the thoughts of what Christ has done for us become rather remote. We need a constant spiritual awakening and this must come to us, not once in three months when the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated, but continuously through the preaching of the Word. The aim of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper then must not be construed in such a way that it serves to arouse in us a consciousness of those things that we are otherwise oblivious of but, it serves, in assisting the preaching of the Word, to focus our attention upon Christ, Who dwells in our hearts richly by His Spirit and grace.
The remembrance of HIM is the exclusive objective of the celebration of the sacrament. Fruits, results and effects of this celebration must not be confused withpurpose. It may indeed be said that we commemorate the Lord’s death in order that through this means of grace we may be spiritually nourished and edified in faith, but this is not the purpose. The purpose is Christ exclusively, and only when that purpose is sought in sincerity can those other desired effects be reaped in reality.
Although then the remembrance of Christ in the celebration of the sacrament is objectively the aim that permits the intrusion of none other, this also must, subjectively be the desire and purpose of the hearts of those: that participate in this commemoration. We must not celebrate the Lord’s Supper simply in compliance with a certain ecclesiastical regulation or to conform to a certain accepted tradition amongst members of the church. We must experience in ourselves the honest desire to probe the depths of the passion of our Lord and to do this through the means which He has instituted for that purpose. There must be a genuine hunger and thirst for the knowledge of God and this cannot be a spasmodic thing but is a continuous experience that finds a real satisfaction in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament is designed unto that end. The child of God does not desire knowledge just for the sake of knowledge, but he longs to know in order that he may possess and in possessing may experience the spiritual benefits of that which he knows. He wants to remember the death of Christ, not simply as a historic fact, but because he seeks constant enrichment by spiritual possession of the benefits of that death. In this attitude he approaches the table of the Lord.
With this in mind we may consider the manner in which we are to remember the death of our Savior in the celebration of His Holy Supper. We shall follow the communion form in enumerating the objective significance of this remembrance, and although it is quite possible to enter into a detailed discussion of each of the points enumerated, we will refrain from doing so lest we intrude upon another rubric of our paper. We suggest, however, that these points be the subject of serious meditation in the hearts of each of us; that they be discussed in our homes and in our social visitation. Our age of worldly-mindedness is not conducive to this sort of spirituality, we know, and the results are all too apparent. But us not be conformed to this world but always remember and speak about the death of our Lord for without this we cannot possibly be filled with its benefits.
Herein are we to remember HIM:
(1) Christ was sent of the Father into the world. This statement touches on the reality of His incarnation, and directs us to the truth that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the promises of God contained in the Old Testament, Of this we must be confidently persuaded in our hearts, for unless we are able to see HIM as the central realization of all God’s works from of old, the remembrance of His death will be meaningless. Long may we then ponder this point of remembrance, for before us is opened the vast storehouse of treasurecontained in the Old Testament Scriptures. They, too, are the revelation of Jesus Christ and the focal point in them is that they reveal Him as the promised Savior in Whom God will accomplish the deliverance of Israel.
(2) Christ assumed our flesh and blood. Here we must remember that this was necessary because, as our Heidelberg Catechism explains, the only mediator that can possibly deliver us from the misery of sin and death is one who is “very, righteous man and very really God.” And if we desire to engage in some dogmatic probing we have a wonderful opportunity here to search out the Scriptures and the Confessions with a view to discovering the true teaching concerning the natures of Christ and their relation to each other. But the significant point from which we may elicit unspeakable consolation is the fact that in assuming our flesh and blood, He became like us in all things, sin excepted. We have a High Priest that can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. We have the sinless Jesus Who is and can be our representative before God for He is one with us.
(3) The third point of our consideration is the fact that “He bore for us the wrath of God from the beginning of His incarnation, to the end of His life upon earth.” In parenthesis we are reminded here of the fact that under this wrath which He bore “we should have perished everlastingly.” Since several other points that follow also direct our attention to this suffering of Christ in the flesh, the emphasis here must be placed on the fact that He suffered Divine wrath for us and also that He suffered this all His life time. Our Catechism mentions this in answer to the question: “What do you understand by the words, ‘He suffered?'” Consider this beautiful confession: “That He, all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so by His passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, He might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favor of God, righteousness and eternal life.”
(4) Next, “that He hath fulfilled, for us, all obedience to the divine law, and righteousness.” Here we are to consider that His work of suffering was not simply a negative work but it was very positive. In the obtaining of the positive benefits of salvation, Christ died—and this is emphasized once more here—for us. He did not need righteousness for Himself, for He is the eternally righteous One! But we, who are unrighteous and disobedient, need one to obtain righteousness for us in the way of perfect obedience. This Christ did by walking in love in the way of all the commandments of God. He performed the Father’s will. He did all His good pleasure. Of Him it was and could be said: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” And while considering this point it is not at all superfluous to give attention to the fact that Christ hath fulfilled all obedience to the divine law, and righteousness. Of this, too, we are confidently persuaded. We do not speak of a Christ Who suffered and died in an attempt to accomplish salvation or of a Christ Who made salvation possible for those who are willing to comply with the condition of acceptance, but the Christ of God has performed a perfect and complete work. He obtained salvation!
(5) The fifth point of our consideration directs us to the manner in: which Christ did this. Our Form of Communion states: “Especially, when the weight of our sins and the wrath of God pressed out of Him the bloody sweat in the garden, where He was bound that we might be freed from: our sins.” There is more here but let us take just this much first. Oh, what a glorious contemplation there is for us here when we take time in our busy (?) life to remember the sufferings of our Lord and Savior. Shamefully we must confess that also this is not done as faithfully as it should be. But without probing the depths of the theological implications of that suffering of Christ and limiting the scope of our observations to the historic revelation of that suffering, we must attempt at least to understand a little bit of what He endured. Have you ever tried to live those hours with Him in the garden, before the Sanhedrin and Pilate? If you have, the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper becomes meaningful. Then we begin to understand the meaning of His death.
There are still more points of consideration mentioned here in our Communion Form but these will have to wait until our next article.