The Aim of Worship

The flow of worship at the church I pastor follows a pattern by which we rehearse the gospel message. We are confronted with God, we confess our sin, we receive his grace, and we celebrate our new and renewed lives. Week after week we do this.

And this worship is not meant to be passive. We invite participation in a number of ways – through song and corporate prayers and creeds. This participation reaches a climax at the end of the service where we are invited to ‘participate’ in the Lord’s Supper.

As important as all the other elements of worship are, they all nevertheless lead us to this final act of participation. The rest of worship presents Christ to us. At the table, we take him by an act of faith to ourselves. The rest of worship exposes what a life of faith looks like. At the table, we take hold of the One who can enable us to live that life. And at times, the rest of worship exposes our sin. At the table, we have the opportunity to repent of our false saviors and take hold of the True.

So, in a sense, all of worship prepares us to respond to Jesus at the table. As we worship this morning, listen, sing, pray, and attend to all with the knowledge that you will, at the end, join in communion with the one who makes it all real.

Until He Comes

When Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we do so not merely as an ancient ritual celebrating a historical event. Rather, we come to the Table within an Easter framework, believing that he who lived and died is yet alive. Our participation is set in the context not only of ‘what he has done’ but also in the context of ‘until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26).

CommunionRightfully, therefore, we come to the Table looking forward to the consummation when we will join with him at the eternal Table, where sin and pain and death will all be taken away and when we can dwell on his beauty and enjoy him forever. The joy and rest of that is beyond comprehension, and so we take the bread and drink the wine with great longing in our hearts.

But sometimes, we come empty. We come as those who are in the wilderness, whose ‘now’ experience of any taste of that which will be future is weak and diminished. We come lonely and isolated, assuming (often wrongly) that all around us are having a deep and refreshing walk with God while we feel exiled and cut off. We take the bread and drink the wine and walk away unfulfilled, and unaware of what the Spirit is doing deep within us.

Even then, we must come to the Table, and come again, with that Easter longing in our hearts, persisting in our longing ‘until he comes’. The coming we long for in such situations is not simply his return in glory, but his return in intimacy with our souls, which we passionately desire.

Our doctrine of the Holy Spirit dances around Jesus’ teaching that the Spirit ‘blows where he wills‘, coming and going according to his own purposes. We rather think we can by formulae get him to show up. That is, of course, a fiction. He will come when he wills, and he is never late.

The King, our covenanted husband, has his reasons for being away. But we long for him. We long for intimacy with him. We long to love him and to know his love. We come to the Table pursuing these longings until he comes, with the hope that come he will. Sometimes we take the bread and the wine with force, desperate to be fed with the One of whom these are symbols. In the midst of great doubt, there is an act of faith, performed until, in his time, he comes.

Come to the Table, until he comes.

Come, Lord Jesus.

“This is Jesus. I want a lot of it.”

I was asked the other day about why I believe we should use leavened bread in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In response, I passed on something I wrote about that several years ago.

The Passover meal celebrated by Jesus and his disciples would have used a loaf of unleavened bread. Whatever it looked and felt like, my guess is that it was certainly NOT a wafer. And I would be surprised if it would have been mistaken for a Matzoh cracker. The wafer and the cracker have arisen as convenient forms for unleavened bread

But as they have, they have lost completely the picture of anything that would resemble food that sustains the hungry soul. There is no question that the bread used at the last supper was unleavened. There would have been no other bread available in a Jewish household on those occasions.

Communion breadBut if the Lord’s supper was to be celebrated more frequently than during the Passover, and in Acts it clearly seemed to be, then it would not be a perpetual diet of unleavened bread. That would not adequately convey our coming to Christ for regular sustenance. Rather, what should be used, and I suspect WAS used, was the regular leavened bread of everyday life.

The unleavened bread of Passover was symbolic of depravation… that in fleeing Egypt, there was not time to leaven the bread. But with the Lord’s supper we have quit fleeing, and we come regularly to eat with the one who sustains us… Jesus.

We should eat a big loaf of good, wholesome, leavened bread, and take a big chunk of it, acknowledging our hunger for and dependence upon him.

This reminded the woman who was asking of a little girl in her former church who would every week tear off about a third of the communion bread and shove it into her mouth saying,

“This is Jesus. I want a lot of it.”

Somehow I think that she was better at ‘discerning the body of Christ’ than many of the rest of us.

Thoughts on Communion

Helpful to me in understanding the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is an image I first heard articulated by John Calvin in which he says in effect that as we take bread and wine into our bodies, the believer in that act is through the mouth of faith taking Jesus to himself. As the bread and wine represent the common food of everyday life which feeds and nourishes our bodies, so taking Christ to ourselves by faith not only represents a radical break from all other devotions, it is the way that we genuinely find strength for our faith and trust in him.

Expressing that much better than I are two Anglican sources I encountered this morning. The first is from the Anglican preacher John Stott and the second, quoted in a commentary by Anglican scholar F. F. Bruce, comes from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

Christians anticipating communion this coming Sunday could do well to reflect on these things.

“Just as it was not enough for the bread to be broken and the wine to be poured out, but they had to eat and drink, so it was not enough for him to die, but they had to appropriate the benefits of his death personally. The eating and drinking were, and still are, a vivid acted parable of receiving Christ as our crucified Savior and of feeding on him in our hearts by faith.” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pages 72-73)

“Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.” (Anglican Book of Common Prayer)