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The Lord's Supper: communing with Christ & His people in worship
The Lord's Supper is not just a snack after a lecture, but builds on and is supported by the other elements of the worship service.
Reformed worship is an integrated whole with each of the elements of the worship service building upon one another. God calls His people to worship, and His people respond to that call. Reformed worship is a response to the truth of Who God is and what He has done in creation and redemption.
This is all the more the case when we come to the Lord’s Table. Our Westminster Standards remind us that all who come to the Lord’s Table should prepare themselves to meet with Christ there by faith and commune with Him and His people at the table:
What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper?
It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper, that they examine themselves, of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith to feed upon Him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves. (Westminster Shorter Catechism No. 97)
So there is an individual aspect to preparing to come to the Lord’s Table, but coming to the Lord’s Table is a group, corporate activity. The Lord’s Supper, by its very nature, is a corporate act, which is reflected in it being commonly called Communion or Holy Communion. It is not communion with Christ only, but with all His people at the Table.
Sometimes we erroneously suppose the observance of the Lord’s Table conveys a benefit that can be separated from the worship service as a whole, but nothing can be further from reality. This is why Reformed Christians reject the idea of “private communion” or “virtual communion” but teach that the Lord’s Supper (i.e. Communion) can only take place within the context of gathered, corporate worship. Our Standards again emphasize this clearly, stating that to do otherwise is “contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ” (WCF 29.4).
In light of the nature of the Lord’s Supper, it should be understood that corporate worship is the culmination of one’s private preparation to commune at Christ’s Table. While private preparation is vital, the most important preparation for communion takes place with the people of God as we worship together.
In a worship service with the Lord’s Table, each of the elements of the worship service work to prepare us to commune with Christ.
In public worship, we confess our common faith together, we confess our sinfulness together, and together we are assured by God in His word that He forgives us all our sins for the sake of Christ, that He has made us worthy to commune with Him by faith. We then respond by offering to God our needs and our wealth confident He will meet all our needs in Christ.
In the reading and preaching of the word, God speaks to His people from the Scripture as He declares afresh Who He is and what He has done for us in Christ. Preaching is not simply a lecture about God or about theology; preaching is not a moral exhortation to be better citizens and try harder in parenting. Preaching is God speaking to His people. Preaching is the high point of the worship service and sets before us the character of the God with Whom we commune at the Table.
Likewise, the Lord’s Supper is not just a snack that follows a lecture on theological topics, but a response to the preaching of the Word. As God both reveals and confronts us with His character in the preaching, we see how undeserving we are of any good thing in communion with Him. And yet the preaching also confronts us with the good news, the gospel, that God has dealt with us not according to what we deserve, but according to His grace and mercy in Christ.
The Lord’s Table illustrates the same reality that is set forth in the preaching: God serves, blesses, and receives those who come to Him acknowledging their need of His grace in confession of their sins. The Table demonstrates what is declared in the words of the Assurance of Pardon: God not only forgives sinners, but welcomes and provides abundantly for them in Christ.
For this reason, it is vitally important to be participating fully in public worship, especially when we come to the Lord’s Table. God uses the ordinary means of grace - the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer - to communicate the benefits of redemption to His people. There is more going on in worship than we perceive; the Spirit is at work in us and upon us in each of the elements of the worship service. We are not coming to a lecture, but divine worship where God meets with and transforms His people.
Because of how the various elements in a Reformed worship service build on one another and prepare us to worship God in word and sacrament, that is all the more reason to be present and actively participating in all the elements of the worship. In fact, participating in public worship together is one of the ways we rightly “discern the Lord’s Body” on the Lord’s Day.
We should give God thanks for how even the elements He has revealed for His worship proclaim the reality of the gospel to us and since they are there for us, let us make joyful and diligent use of them.
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