For You: An Introduction to the Lord's Supper
June 19, 2016
Part 1: The Big Picture
When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ comes with his kingdom, there will be a feast. The books of Isaiah and Revelation describe this feast as like a royal banquet. Listen to how Isaiah puts it. Listen with faith and hope and love, because you will be there:
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the LORD God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
These are amazing words. One day, we will dine with the King. And it is going to be awesome. Because there will be no more death; no more tears. Because the food will probably be better than anything you’ve ever tasted on this old and fading earth. Because you will see Jesus Christ face to face.
Brothers and sisters, I hope that you look forward to all of this. Looking forward to all of this with faith and hope and love is the essence of what it means to be a Christian. I hope that you yearn for the new heavens and the new earth. I hope that you seek first the kingdom of God. I hope that you want to meet Christ face to face and hug him.
But that day has not yet come. Right now, we wait. Right now, we look forward with faith, hope, and love. We look forward to Christ and his kingdom like pilgrims who wait for a homeland. Like sojourners who walk toward a better country.
The thing is, it can be hard to wait for Jesus. We struggle to set our minds on heaven with faith, hope, and love. We are often captivated or distracted by things of this world. We may be tempted to settle down here. We can get caught up in our own stories. Our own dreams. Our own kingdoms. Our own bowls of stew. We sin against God. And we lack assurance of our salvation.
But our Lord Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. And he has given you help. He has given you his Holy Spirit, his Word, and his Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to get you through the world that is passing away and bring you into the world that is to come. And he has given you all of this because he loves you.
So that’s the big picture for understanding the Lord’s Supper. It is a meal for travelers. It is a meal for waiters. It is a meal for believers in need of help.
But the following questions remain: What exactly is it? And how does it actually work?
Part 2: Back To The Basics
The Lord’s Supper can be understood in one simple sentence: It is a sign and a seal of the covenant of grace.
The covenant of grace is the new way - and the only way - to have a relationship with God. Originally, we were supposed to have a relationship with God by keeping covenant with him. By having perfect obedience and righteousness before the law. But now we can have a relationship with God by being united with someone else who keeps covenant for us. By resting in someone else who has perfect obedience and righteousness before the law. That person is Jesus Christ. And that’s what the covenant of grace is all about. It’s all about the person and work of Christ.
And the Lord’s Supper works as a sign and a seal of all of this.
First, it works as a sign. Just as a photo of your mom points to your mom, the Lord’s Supper points to Jesus Christ. It is like a picture of who Jesus is and what he did for us. The bread represents his body. The cup represents his blood. The fact that it is given out represents the fact that Jesus gives his life for us in his death. And the fact that we eat of the bread and drink of the cup points to the fact that we are one with Christ and united with him. So the Lord’s Supper works as a sign.
Second, it works as a seal. Just as a host of security features validates that a $100 bill is authentic, the Lord’s Supper validates that God’s promises to you in Christ are authentic. It is like a promise that who Jesus is and what he did for us is all real. The bread and the cup assure us that Jesus’ salvation and love for us is true. So the Lord’s Supper works as a seal.
Part 3: Nothing Beats It
Brothers and sisters, this makes the Lord’s Supper a wonderful and important resource for our spiritual maturity and growth. When we feel unloved or unsure about God, we can look at the bread and the cup and be reminded of God’s covenant promises and that they are real. When we are discouraged by our sinful hearts and feel ashamed and guilty, we can look at the bread and the cup and remember that God fully accepts us and forgives us in Jesus Christ. When we feel lonely, we can look at the bread and the cup and see that even though Jesus is not physically with us, he is spiritually with us.
The Lord’s Supper is a crucial way that God shows his love for us. Think of it this way. When the Word of God is faithfully and rightly preached to you, you hear the gospel of God’s love for you in Christ. You hear it. But when the Lord’s Supper is faithfully and rightly administered to you, when the bread and the cup are right before you, you actually see God’s love for you in Christ. You actually taste that God loves you. You actually smell that God loves you. You literally touch and feel that God loves you. And, of course, you also hear that God’s loves you. The genius and the glory of the Lord’s Supper is that it is the ultimate sensory experience of God’s love for you and his promise to you. The Holy Spirit hits all five of your senses. The Lord has chosen to communicate the reality of his promise to you in this way. Through his supper, he promises you that he loves you. He promises you that he will change you and grow you. He promises you that he will bring you into his kingdom. He promises you that his death and resurrection apply to you. He promises you that he will never let you go.
The Lord’s Supper is also a crucial way that God feeds us. The Holy Spirit works through the Lord’s Supper in such a way that we are spiritually fed by Christ. This is a mysterious work. I cannot explain to you exactly how you are fed in the Lord’s Supper. But I can tell you that you are. With the bread and the cup, you truly partake in Christ. You feed off of him, just as a branch lives off of a vine. The Holy Spirit nourishes and supplies and feeds us with the Son Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, nothing beats the Lord’s Supper. Many believers try to deal with their loneliness by upping fellowship or accountability. Many believers try to deal with their shame by increasing their service and church work and mission trip participation. Many believers try to deal with their lack of assurance of God’s love by searching for subjective spiritual experiences. Many believers try to deal with their spiritual malnourishment by feeding on things others than Christ. In other words, many believers run to human philosophies and man-made traditions. But nothing beats the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper was given to us by Christ himself. It was meant to deal with our loneliness and our shame and our lack of assurance and our spiritual hunger. Nothing beats the Lord’s Supper.
And so the Lord’s Supper is a pretty special and awesome thing. But it can also be a perplexing thing for many. People have a lot of thoughts and questions about the Lord’s Supper.
Part 4: Questions and Answers, Do’s and Dont’s
Here is one thing people often think about. People can think, “Man, I had a bad week. I’m sinful and I don’t feel worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper. I would feel like a hypocrite if I took part in it.” People can think this way. Maybe you’ve had these thoughts before and felt guilty for receiving the bread and the cup.
Brothers and sisters, you should not think these thoughts. Remember: the Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. It is not a sign and seal of your faith. As a sign, it does not point to the level of your spiritual maturity. As a sign it points to Jesus’ death. As a seal, it does not confirm that you are a good Christian. As a seal it confirms God’s promise of salvation.
The Lord’s Supper is not a sign and seal of your faith. It is not for you to use as your own badge of honor. It is not a statement about yourself. It says nothing about your condition. It is not something you dedicate to God. It is not a thing that you do. It is not an activity on your part.
In other words, the Lord’s Supper is not about you, and it is not by you. It is about Jesus and it is done by Jesus, period. It is about Jesus’ death and the promise of God’s salvation and grace. And it is done by Jesus’ himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is for you, but it is not about you. It is for you, but it is not done by you. It is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. It is not a sign and seal of your faith. We call it the Lord’s Supper. We don’t call it My Supper.
If you make the Lord’s Supper a sign and seal of your faith, then you will either feel guilty or proud when you take the bread and the cup. You will feel guilty because you’ll think, “This ceremony is supposed to show that I love God. But I don’t. So now I feel bad about what I’m doing.” Or you will feel proud because you’ll think, “This ceremony is supposed to show that I love God. Well I do. So now I feel really good about myself.”
But if you make the Lord’s Supper a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, then you will not feel guilty or proud. You will just feel glad because you’ll think, “Jesus died for me and my sins. I am united with Christ. I belong to Jesus, and Jesus belongs to me. I’m forgiven and going to heaven. God loves me. His promises are good and true.”
So, brothers and sisters, maybe you did have a bad week. Maybe you feel sinful and unworthy to receive the Lord’s Supper. But the Lord’s Supper is precisely meant for fragile and weak and fearful believers like you and me. So do not be afraid. Receive the Lord’s Supper with joy and gladness.
Another thing that people wonder about is the bread and the cup. People wonder if there is something special or supernatural about the bread and the cup. They wonder what exactly happens when they eat and drink it.
Here’s the key. Just remember that the bread and the cup are just signs and seals. Nothing less. Nothing more. Yes, they are special because they are set apart as signs and seals of the covenant of grace. Your slice of bread for breakfast on Tuesday, no matter how warm or tasty it is, is not a sign or seal of the covenant of grace. It is not set apart or consecrated for the Lord’s Supper. Just eat it and get going to work. So yes, the bread and the cup are special. But they are also not. Because what is truly special are the things that they point to and confirm as signs and seals. Jesus’ death is special. God’s promise of salvation and grace is special. The bread and the cup? In and of themselves, not special. Don’t love photographs of your dad. Love your dad.
Sometimes people think that the bread and the cup become the actual body and blood of Jesus. But if the bread came from Costco, it’s still just Costco bread. If the juice is Welch’s grape juice, then it’s just Welch’s grape juice. What’s in that plastic cup is not some holy magic juice that gives you special Christian powers if you drink it. If you rip off a gigantic piece of bread from the loaf, please don’t think that you’re getting gigantic grace from God, or that you have more of Jesus or are more blessed than the person next to you who took a smaller piece of bread.
And please don’t think that we’re actually eating the flesh and blood of Jesus. The bread and cup does not magically transform into the actual body and blood of Christ. We are not cannibals.
Also, please don’t treat the Lord’s Supper as like a taste test. It is not a time to ponder the flavor of the wine and grade it. It is not a time to think, “Man, this bread tastes like cardboard.” So don’t confuse the sign and seal with what what they point to and with what they confirm. And don’t focus on the sign and seal themselves. Focus on what they point to and confirm: the death of Christ and God’s promise of salvation.
Part 5: Epilogue
I’ll close now. When Jesus comes back to judge the world and bring his kingdom, the Lord’s Supper will become obsolete. One day, there will no longer be a need for signs or seals. For when Jesus comes back, we will see the Lord face to face. We will walk by sight and not by faith. And there will be no more sin or death. God will finally wipe away all tears. There will be a brand new thing for us, something that we have yet to see: a feast. A royal banquet with Christ. Let us look forward to that. Let us look forward to the Lord. And every time that you take the Lord’s Supper on this earth, keep in mind that Jesus can come back any moment now. And keep in mind that it could be your last bread and cup.
But there will be a brand new thing for the Lord as well, something that I dare say he has yet to see: a feast. A royal banquet with you. He is looking forward to that. He looks forward to you. And every time that you take the Lord’s Supper on this earth, keep in mind that Jesus has already had his last earthly meal.