Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper March 12, 2015

Last Supper1 Corinthians 11:17-34

There is too much to meditate on in this one chapter (the 1928 Prayer Book lectionary conveniently skips verses 2-16!)  It’s really a choice between focusing on the relationships and roles of men and women and meditating more on the Lord’s Supper.  Since the latter is not addressed so clearly elsewhere in Scripture, that will be my focus.

I contend that the way we come to the Lord’s Supper is a good picture of the way we are coming to the Lord Himself, who is in His Supper, offering Himself to us.  When you partake of the Lord’s Supper, you have come to God’s Holy Temple, you have come to partake of the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, and you have come to God’s holy New Covenant with man through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  You have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:23-24.)

How have you been coming?

The Corinthians came unworthily, not discerning the Body of the Lord, and for this they were judged.  If the Lord’s Supper were just some mnemonic device, then I doubt the Lord would have disciplined the Corinthians by making some of them sick or even to fall asleep (i.e. – die.)  Paul’s teaching and the universal teaching of the early Church (and the whole Church until the Reformation) is that Jesus Christ is truly present in His Supper, and that when we faithfully partake, we are partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and all of the benefits that come from this heavenly food, this bread of heaven.

We, the Church, are the Body of Christ and His holy Temple.  How shall such a Body be fed?  Only the heavenly food of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ will do.  But being in the presence of God Almighty and partaking of Him has terrible consequences, for good or for bad.

If Uzzah was zapped because he dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant when it was falling off its cart, what makes us think God cares less about the true Temple and the Sacraments of God’s presence and glory than in the Old Testament?  We may be lulled to sleep because He doesn’t routinely judge as clearly as in the case of Uzzah or the Corinthians.

But God cares about how we come to Him and how we come to Him in His Supper.

Paul warns us that we should judge ourselves, so that the Lord will not judge us: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (verse 28.)  Historically, Christians have gone to great lengths to prepare themselves to come before the Lord and partake of Him in His Supper.  They would fast that morning and pray before they got to church, before the service began, and during the service.  They would even prepare the night before.

One of my favorite poets, Edward Taylor, an American colonial Puritan (1642-1729), wrote a series of wonderful poems called Preparatory Meditations which are the crown jewel of American colonial poetry.  Contrary to an earlier Puritan generation of meditations, which often consisted mostly of meditation upon sin that a greater sense of guilt might be attained, Taylor’s meditations before the Lord’s Supper imaginatively engaged his whole person and are no mere intellectual exercises.  The full title of his work is Preparatory Meditations before my Approach to the Lord’s Supper.  Chiefly upon the Doctrine preached upon the Day of administration.

Taylor’s views of meditation were influenced by those of the great Puritan, Richard Baxter, whose views had a lot in common (surprisingly!) with Roman Catholic handbooks of devotion.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, the basic method of meditation I advocate for use with the Give Us This Day, the lectio divina is essentially the same.  Baxter believed that the meditations should consist of three acts, corresponding to the faculties of memory, understanding, and will.  In the act of cogitation, memory lays hold of the subject for meditation.  In meditation, you attempt to understand the heavenly doctrine in question.  The final step is judgment, in which you carry out a soliloquy or a pleading the case with your own soul or a “preaching to one’s self.”

It is this rigorous, serious view of meditation and preparation for the Lord’s Supper, common to both Roman Catholics and Puritans that is lacking among most Christians today, regardless of their church tradition.

We are not only supposed to seriously examine ourselves and our sins but also to discern the Lord’s Body (verse 29.)  I believe we fail to discern the Lord’s Body in a few related ways.  Some Christians so diminish the place of the Lord’s Supper that it is very infrequent and taken casually.  This flows naturally from a belief that nothing particularly special happens in the Lord’s Supper.  I’ve heard Christians raise the objection to weekly Communion that “It will make it less special if we have it every week.”  My response is that maybe we’d better stop singing hymns or praise choruses every week or having a sermon every week – better yet – let’s come together to worship only once a year: that’ll make it extra special!

We fail to discern the Lord’s Body as well when we fail to see Christ in His Supper.  Regardless of the precise means by which Christ is present in His Supper, He’s clearly there, and we need to discern this.  What if you really came to the Lord’s Supper and really partook of His food, believing that in doing this He was present with you and was coming again, through His heavenly food, to make Himself a part of you?

Here’s an interesting possibility.  Given the context of Paul’s discussion of the sad divisions in the Corinthian church and their looking out for themselves instead of one another, even in the Lord’s Supper, what if discerning the Lord’s Body also meant that we’re supposed to see the Church as the Body of Christ?  What if we really began to see, especially as we come together to eat the Lord’s Supper, that we are the Body of Christ and that partaking of His Body and Blood transforms us into His Body?  What if the real transubstantiation is not so much in the bread and wine but in us?

There is so much more to eat and digest here, but my spiritual belly is already full.  It may be a while before another Give Us This Day deals so directly with the Lord’s Supper.  You may want to take measures so that you will remember your meditations made today on Jesus Christ as He comes to you in the Lord’s Supper.

Prayer:  Pray the Lord’s Prayer, slowly, and applying each phrase to how God gives Himself to you in the Lord’s Supper. 

Points for Meditation: 

  1. Consider purchasing a book of meditations or prayers before Communion, or find some sources online of prayers you can use.
  2. Here is an Exhortation from the Book of Common Prayer, which, though lengthy, is of great value:

DEARLY beloved, on——day next I purpose, through God’s assistance, to administer to all such as shall be religiously and devoutly disposed the most comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; to be by them received in remembrance of his meritorious Cross and Passion; whereby alone we obtain remission of our sins, and are made partakers of the Kingdom of heaven. Wherefore it is our duty to render most humble and hearty thanks to Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that he hath given his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, not only to die for us, but also to be our spiritual food and sustenance in that holy Sacrament. Which being so divine and comfortable a thing to them who receive it worthily, and so dangerous to those who will presume to receive it unworthily; my duty is to exhort you, in the mean season to consider the dignity of that holy mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof; and so to search and examine your own consciences, and that not lightly, and after the manner of dissemblers with God; but so that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table.

The way and means thereto is: First, to examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And if ye shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God, but also against your neighbours; then ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them; being ready to make restitution and satisfaction, according to the uttermost of your powers, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others who have offended you, as ye would have forgiveness of your offences at God’s hand: for otherwise the receiving of the holy Communion doth nothing else but increase your condemnation. There-fore, if any of you be a blasphemer of God, an hinderer or slanderer of his Word, an adulterer, or be in malice, or envy, or in any other grievous crime; repent you of your sins, or else come not to that holy Table.

And because it is requisite that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore, if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice, as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.”

Resolution:  I resolve to examine myself and meditate more seriously before the next time I partake of the Lord’s Supper.


Last Supper – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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