THE SACRAMENT OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
THE REGENERATED HAVE A TWOFOLD LIFE
In this article deBres starts out by speaking about two forms of life. "One is physical and temporal ... the other is spiritual and heavenly." Both forms need to be nourished and sustained. By the physical, temporal life is meant our physical bodies, which require food, bread. "For the support of the physical and earthly life God has ordained earthly and material bread. This bread is common to all just as life is common to all." Here deBres writes that all people depend on earthly bread in order to survive. However, some people have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and so also live a spiritual, heavenly life. This form of life also requires nourishment and sustenance, though not by means of physical food, but spiritual food: Christ's flesh. Writes deBres, "For the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, He has sent them a living bread which came down from heaven, namely, Jesus Christ, who nourishes and sustains the spiritual life of the believers when He is eaten by them ..." Christ is the spiritual food for the soul of the believers, the regenerated.
It was Christ Himself who said He was our spiritual food. Said He to the Jews in John 6:48-51, "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." Manna could only nourish and sustain the physical body in its temporal existence, but Christ's flesh, spiritual food, nourishes and sustains unto eternity.
THE LORD'S SUPPER
Having established that the regenerated have a twofold life for which they require two forms of food, deBres moves on to discuss how the regenerated may be sure of their receipt of spiritual food. For like all things spiritual, spiritual food and drink likewise are invisible to the naked eye. In order to reassure us therefore that He does indeed nourish and refresh our souls with spiritual food and drink, Christ has given us a sign and seal of this reality by means of the sacrament of the Lord's supper. "To represent to us the spiritual and heavenly bread, Christ has instituted earthly and visible bread as a sacrament of His body and wine as a sacrament of His blood."
THE CONTENT OF THE SACRAMENT OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
Article 34 confessed how in the New Testament Baptism replaced the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision. This did not mean that the New Testament sacrament took on a different meaning, or that its content had changed; rather, the NT sacrament of baptism was a new picture meant to illustrate the same message as the OT sacrament of circumcision. Since circumcision involved cutting the flesh (that is: the drawing of blood), there is this difference between circumcision and Baptism, that the former includes blood in its picture, while the latter doesn't; the latter includes the notion of washing. The reason for the lack of blood in the New Testament picture of Baptism is that Christ, at His death, shed His blood and thereby fulfilled all sheddings of blood (see further Article 25).
The same can be said of the Lord's supper. The Lord's supper is the
New Testament picture which replaces the Old Testament picture of Passover.
However, the content of the sacrament of the Lord's supper is in essence
the same as the content of the Passover. In Matthew 26:26-30 we read of
Jesus instituting the Lord's supper. Of great significance is Jesus' timing
of this institution. Where was Jesus at the time? What was Jesus doing
when He instituted the Lord's supper? In Matthew 26:17-25 we read of the
preparation and celebration of the Passover which Jesus celebrated with
the disciples. "Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened
Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, 'Where do you want us
to prepare for you to eat the Passover?'" The disciples carried
out Jesus' instructions, saying to the man at whose house they were to
celebrate it, "The Teacher says, 'My time is at hand; I will
keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" This
is exactly what happened. "Now when evening had come, He sat down
with the twelve.... And as they were eating (the Passover),
Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the
disciples and said, 'Take eat; this is my body.' Then He took
the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from
it, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant, which
is shed for many for the remission of sins.'"
When Jesus instituted the Lord' supper, He was eating the Passover. To understand this new sacrament, it is of great significance to appreciate that the Lord's supper was instituted during the Passover. This timing serves to draw out the connection between the Lord's supper and Passover; the one flows into the other.
In order to come to an understanding of what Passover was all about one must read of its institution as described in Exodus 12:1-14. The setting of the first Passover celebration was Israel's approaching exodus from Egypt. Passover itself involved the killing of a lamb (hence the shedding of blood) and eating that lamb. Two elements can be distinguished in Passover: it involved 1) an offering, and 2) a meal. The offering, the slaughtered lamb, pointed to Calvary (as did all other sheddings of blood in the Old Testament). The eating of the lamb had to be done within the family circle; Passover was a meal to be eaten together with others, within the communion of saints. At the command of the Lord a lamb had to be slaughtered and eaten. Further, the blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the lintel and the two doorposts of the homes of the Israelites. The angel of the Lord, when he saw the blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts would pass over that house, but kill all the firstborn in those houses where this blood was lacking. The Passover would bring on Israel's Exodus from Egypt.
Hence the setting of the Passover was one of deliverance from Egypt. This deliverance was in turn symbolic of man's deliverance from Satan's power (see Figure 1, Article 22, Page 86). Israel's deliverance from Egypt spelled out the Gospel of salvation. While the people of the land perished (as symbolised by the death of all Egypt's firstborn) the people of Israel were taken from Satan's side to God's side, taken from slavery to freedom.
God commanded that the Passover be celebrated once a year (Leviticus 23:4ff; Numbers 28:16ff; Deuteronomy 16:1ff). Each year the people of Israel were required to remember both the slavery they experienced in Egypt (symbolic as it was of slavery to sin and Satan) as well as the deliverance from this slavery (symbolic of deliverance from sin and Satan through Jesus Christ). Israel was not to forget; the gospel of redemption was to stay close to their hearts.
INSTITUTION OF LORD'S SUPPER
Jesus, consequently, also ate the Passover. In Matthew 26 one reads how He celebrated the Passover together with His disciples in an upper room. For that celebration too a lamb had been killed, with a view to Christ's death on the cross (which was to take place the next day, Good Friday). That celebration too, was a meal, eaten together within the communion of saints.
"As they were eating Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples" (Matthew 26:26). Meat (the sacrificed lamb) constituted the main part of the Passover meal. Yet Jesus did not choose a piece of meat for His new sacrament; He instead picked up some of the bread laying on the table. Why? The lamb spoke of the shedding of blood, looked forward to the death of the Saviour on the cross. Christ was about to go to the cross; tomorrow would be Good Friday, when Christ would shed His blood to fulfil all sheddings of blood and thus also make all pictures with blood unnecessary. On the threshold of Calvary Jesus Christ institutes a new picture for the edification of His New Testament people, a picture that takes into account the development of salvation history; the New Testament Church looks back on a cross where redemption has been accomplished. So the New Testament picture no longer needs to include blood in it. That's why Christ chose a different element, the bread, to replace the meat of the Passover. This bread, blessed and broken, symbolised His broken body on the cross. "This is my body," said Christ. So also the wine, which by its red colour symbolised Christ's blood shed on the cross. "For this is my blood," said Christ.
Just as the Passover was instituted in the context of Israel's redemption from Egypt, so the Lord's supper was instituted in the context of redemption from Satan: tomorrow Christ would go to the Cross to have His body broken and His blood shed for the payment of sin, for the redemption of Christ's own. Though the Passover and the Lord's supper have different nuances (eg, the Passover looked forward to the cross of Calvary and the Lord's supper looks back on it), the two pictures have exactly the same message in common: man's redemption from slavery to Satan and sin.
THE LORD'S SUPPER AND THE COVENANT
During the institution of the new sacrament, Jesus held up a cup and said to His disciples, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:27,28). The word 'covenant' usually directs our thoughts to the sacrament of Baptism. We readily confess that Baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant. However, the word 'covenant' should equally make us think of the Lord's Supper, for the reality of the covenant is driven home to us also in the sacrament of Lord's Supper. The blood of the Old Testament sacrifices and Passover lamb as well as the blood of THE sacrificial LAMB are closely connected with God's covenant. In Exodus 24:5-8 we read, "Then (Moses) sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient." And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words."
Israel was encamped at the foot of Mt Sinai (see Exodus 19) when this event took place. A number of oxen were sacrificed, and the blood of these oxen preserved. Half of the blood was offered to God ("sprinkled on the altar"); the other half was set to one side in basins. We need to bear in mind that God had just made His covenant with the people (Exodus 20). The Book of the Covenant from which Moses read to the people (24:7) refers to Exodus chapters 21-23, which serve to spell out in greater detail the requirements of the ten commandments. After Moses read this book to them and heard Israel's confession of faithfulness to their covenant God, Moses sprinkled the remaining half of the blood on the people. This blood sprinkled on the people was visible proof of what God promised to each of them individually, namely, "you are Mine, and I am your God; see, you have blood on you as evidence of this."
Here God underlined His covenant with the symbol of blood. He wished to impress that the covenant He made with His people was real; God had made His covenant with each of them.
Christ also spoke of "blood of the (new) covenant" when He took the cup and blessed it. One doesn't read of blood being caught in basins, or of blood being sprinkled. Why not? Christ spoke of "the new covenant." In this covenant there was no blood of sheep or oxen, for His own blood would be shed. 'New' did not mean a different covenant than that of Exodus 24; it was the same covenant as that of the Old Testament but with Christ's sacrifice about to occur, this covenant was about to enter a new phase and Jesus wished to underline the reality of this covenant with the cup. In the Lord's supper too, the Lord wishes to drive home to us that He made His covenant with each of us. Just as the Israelites of Exodus 24 had visible proof of this when they washed the blood off themselves, so the disciples -and we today- have tangible evidence of the reality of God's covenant by drinking from the cup. I am to drink from God's cup, for He made His covenant with me.
A MEAL AT THE LORD'S TABLE
In Matthew 26 we read that Jesus and His disciples were eating around a table. Christ was the host, with his disciples around Him. Though the Passover was a sacrifice AND a meal (see above), the Lord's supper which Christ instituted had no sacrifice, no offering, because Christ Himself would die the next day. Christ Himself is the Passover sacrifice. "... For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Since Christ is our Passover Lamb, we no longer require the element of offering in the Lord's supper. Of the two elements that characterised the Passover, the Lord's supper retains 'only' the element of the meal.
One enjoys a meal with friends; not with enemies. Yet with whom did Christ eat? He ate with sinners, persons who by nature are enemies of God! Christ Himself is the host, and we are His guests. When I come to His table He offers me a piece of bread and says to me, "take, eat, this is My body." He also offers me a cup and says, "drink from it." These are commands, imperatives. I am told to do so. Christ will hear no protest. It is a surprise indeed, that I, a sinner, should be commanded to sit at the table with the Lord Jesus Christ. This spells out the marvel of the Gospel! To sit at table with Christ is possible only when my sins have been taken away; when I am no longer Christ's enemy. Truly, the tension which made God drive us out of Paradise is gone! He would have sinners sit down in peace at His table! We are allowed to be His friends!
THE BREAD AND THE WINE: SIGNS AND SEALS GIVEN TO THE PERSON
"Drink from it all of you," said Christ when He took the cup. Christ addressed each of the disciples. To Peter and to John and to Thomas and to Matthew He said, "it is for you; you drink from it." Christ personalised it. He addressed individuals at His table. The bread and wine, serving as signs of Christ's broken body and shed blood respectively, also serve as a seal on the reality that the Gospel is for me: it is personal. The bread and the wine which I am commanded to eat and drink seal to me the Gospel of the Table of the Lord. The bread and wine I consume at His table seal to me the reality of His promises to me. God's promises are as real as the bread and wine themselves.
NOURISHMENT BY FAITH
Does my sitting at the table automatically make me partake of the riches of the table? No. Writes deBres, Although the sacrament is joined together with that which is signified, the latter is not always received by all. The wicked certainly takes the sacrament to his condemnation, but he does not receive the truth of the sacrament." One can sit at a table laden with food, but this food will not nourish the body unless it is eaten. Likewise with the table of the Lord. It is laden with rich food for the soul, but the soul will not be nourished unless it eats this food, not with the mouth, but by faith.
To assist us in appreciating what it means to eat 'by faith', we may consider the instructions God gave to Israel concerning the first Passover. Read Exodus 12:1-14. Israel was told on the first of the month (vs 2) to set aside a lamb on the tenth day of the month (vs 3) to be killed on the fourteenth day (vs 6). On the first day of the month they were told what to do with the lamb's blood on the fourteenth day; they had to smear it on the door-posts and lintels of the doors of their houses (vs 7). They were also told on the first day that on the fourteenth they had to eat the lamb roasted (not raw or boiled), had to eat also unleavened bread (= bread made without yeast) and bitter herbs (vs 8). More, when they ate this meal on the fourteenth, they had to wear "a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand" (vs 11).
This meal which God wanted His people to eat on the evening of the fourteenth of the month had something quite distasteful, even offensive, about it. Blood around the door?! Bitter herbs for vegetables?! A lump of unleavened bread?! This is distasteful, offensive. Yet for two weeks the people could think on the coming meal…, could think about whether to obey or not…, really think about whether or not they wanted to swear blood around Mom's clean front door…. To top it all off, God spoke of an angel of death coming through the land checking the doors…. To obey took faith.
What was God's purpose in all this? Why the instruction in Exodus 12:11 to eat such a distasteful meal, in haste, dressed for travel, with sandals on their feet and staff in hand? Israel was about to leave the land of Egypt. The Lord was telling His people what was going to happen later that night. To believe the Lord's word and act on it required faith. One doesn't smear blood on the door-posts, or prepare a feast with bitter herbs and unleavened bread just for the sake of it. It was a question of obedience, no matter how off-putting it sounded. Failure to obey would be punished by the slaying of the firstborn in the house. It was an act of faith on the part of the Israelites to believe what God said, that He would deliver them from Egypt. They had to hold on to God's promises. See Hebrews 11:28.
To be seated at the Lord's table does not benefit me as such. Sitting at the Lord's table only benefits me if I believe that Christ saves me from Satan. This is a reality I cannot see with the naked eye. I cannot see with my eyes that my soul is nourished at the table. At the Lord's table I eat by FAITH and believe that my soul is nourished by what the piece of bread and sip of wine signify and seal to me, namely, that God's promises are true for me. It is by faith that I embrace and accept God's Word and promises. I believe that God's forgiveness and grace are for me. That is what nourishes my soul to everlasting life.
Here lies the difference between the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's supper. Baptism is a sacrament I receive. With the Lord's supper I need to respond to what God says. In the Lord's supper I need to work, busy myself with the Word of God. That means I am to accept in faith what God has promised me at Baptism, namely, "you are My child, and hence all My promises are for you." Therefore deBres writes, "the manner in which we eat (the body of Christ) is not by mouth but in the spirit by faith."
If at the Lord's table I am to eat and drink by faith, then I cannot just go without examining myself. This notion of self-examination is laid before us in 1 Corinthians 11:17-33. The Corinthians Christians had the practice of eating a meal together. This communal meal was common in the early church, and appears to have flowed into a Lord's supper celebration (see Acts 2:42). What actually happened in Corinth, though, was that the rich ate sumptuously while the poor looked on, and when the rich had eaten sufficiently, the Lord's supper was celebrated (see vs 21, 33f). Paul admonishes the Corinthians for this and instructs them to have their meals at home, for the brotherly love which the Lord's supper speaks of was so sadly lacking in their conduct. Their conduct spoke only of greed. "Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? ... But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment" (vs 22,34). It is in this context that Paul brings up the institution of the Lord's supper as Christ instituted it in Matthew 26, and which in turn prompted him to give the instruction for self-examination. "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you (when I first preached the gospel to you): that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me'" (vss 23ff). Since that, according to Jesus' institution, is what the supper of the Lord is, "you proclaim the Lord's death" "as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup" (vs 26).
That reality in turn means, though, that I cannot lightly eat of this
bread and drink of this cup. If the bread and cup of the Lord's supper
point up what Christ did for me in having His body broken on the cross
and His blood be shed for my salvation, it will not do for me to act selfishly
and cold-hearted to my poorer brothers and sisters. So Paul says: "whoever
eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will
be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (vs 27). So: "
let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink
of that cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and
drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (vs
28f). Some in Corinth, because of their selfishness, were in fact eating
and drinking "in an unworthy manner" and the result was
that "many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep"
(vs 30). In other words: their selfish attitude at the Lord's table prompted
God to bring sickness and death within their congregation. Hence the desperate
need for self-examination.
How does one examine oneself? What does self-examination involve? To go back to the situation in Corinth, one could ask how the Corinthians were to examine themselves. They were to ask themselves what was important to them. Did one show the mark of a Christian by feeding one's own appetite while they ignored the neighbour's hunger? Yet that was not what the Lord taught in the Lord's supper. He gave up His life for the unworthy. The Corinthians in turn, as true Christians, were to give themselves in service to their poor brothers and sisters.
The fact that Christ invites me to His table, that he gives me all the riches of His covenant, and that He gives the same to everyone else at His table, determines the kind of bond that ought to exist between me and my neighbour: ie, a bond of love. If Christ laid down His life for me and for my neighbour, then I may not be cold-hearted to that neighbour. I need to love him as Christ loved both him and me. This was definitely not the case in Corinth, as Paul had to point out, and the result was sickness and death amongst them.
The "Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper" (Book of Praise, page 595) elaborates on this notion of self examination after first quoting from 1 Corinthians 11. Self-examination is divided into three parts:1. "Let everyone consider his sins and accursedness so that he, detesting himself, may humble himself before God." The point of self-examination is not to discover whether or not one has sinned. The Form takes one's "sins and accursedness" for granted, and asks us to "consider" these "sins and accursedness". Considering them is to make one humble before God. 'Humble' is the key word here. (See the first part of the Catechism which deals with our Sin and Misery, Lord's Days 2-4).
2. To believe that Christ by His death on the cross has made payment for all my sins. I am not to look at myself but to Christ, for in Christ I learn what God has done for me, a wretched sinner. God gave up His Son to death in order to pay for my sins. It is for me to examine myself whether I accept this as true, for faith is to believe that this is indeed so. (See the second part of the Catechism which deals with Our Deliverance, Lord's Days 5-31).
3. To have a firm resolve to show true thankfulness for what God has done in Christ. One does this by loving one's neighbour as oneself. (See the third part of the Catechism which deals with Our Thankfulness, Lord's Days 32-52).
Will I, having examined myself, confess that I am a lost sinner? Do I believe that Christ has paid for all my sins? Do I, in thankfulness to God, seek to live a life of obedience to God and love to my neighbour? It is my conduct -be it with so many remaining shortcomings- that needs to demonstrate what lives in my heart. But if such evidence of God's work in me appears in my life, my words, my attitude, God commands me (sinner that I am) to sit down at His table. For He wants to impress upon me what He has done for me in Christ. Therefore He tells me to eat the bread and to drink the wine. And He tells me that as surely as I taste these, so certainly has He given Christ for me. In the face of all my sins God speaks to me, telling me that Christ is for me.
For the purpose of self-examination, the celebration of the Lord's supper is announced in church a week in advance. However, that does not exclude the need for daily self-examination. Self-examination is to be 'part and parcel' of my daily life and not something I just do before attending the Lord's supper four times a year. Daily I need to look at my life, and ask myself if I am humble on account of my sins. Daily I need to look to Christ in the face of my particular sins. Daily it must be my firm desire to do God's will.
The attendance of children at the Lord's supper was not a point of discussion
in church history until recently. It is because of the need and ability
to "rightly examine ourselves" that children are excluded
from the table of the Lord's supper. They need first to reach an age of