After months of prayer and discussion, the elders at Harvest believe that it is time for our church to move toward celebrating weekly communion. As we have considered this change, we have had to think through various theological as well as practical considerations. In this article, I want to lay out some of our thinking about the role of communion in worship at Harvest.
Note: This is a longer article, but our hope as a session is that this would be a thorough explanation of a very important change in the life of our church.
What are the Theological Considerations for Moving to Weekly Communion?
The Lord’s Supper is incredibly multifaceted, so that the exhortation a pastor gives at the table can take a different nuance every week, bringing out and applying something from the sermon as we approach to participate in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus through the bread and the wine.
But at the same time, the theological aspects of communion really center on three themes. The Lord’s Supper is (1) a sign, (2) a seal, and (3) a communal meal.
The Lord’s Supper is a Sign
After Jesus gave the bread to his disciples, he took the cup and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27–28). By saying that the cup “is” his blood of the covenant, he was explaining that the cup functions as a sign—a symbol that points to a bigger reality. For a lengthier explanation of covenant signs, listen again to my sermon from Joshua 4.
The sign of the Lord’s Supper points to the reality of the gospel. While we hear the gospel that Jesus’ body was broken for us and his blood was shed for us in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of God’s word regarding the gospel, we use our other senses to experience that message through the tangible sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We taste, smell, see, and touch the gospel through the bread and the wine.
This is a very important point—the Lord’s Supper doesn’t give us a different way to be saved, but the Lord’s Supper simply gives us a different means of grace by which to experience the message that salvation comes through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for the glory of God alone.
Part of the reason for moving to weekly communion, then, is so that we taste, smell, see, and touch this sign of the gospel every week.
The Lord’s Supper is a Seal
On the other hand, the Lord’s Supper is more than a symbol. The Lord’s Supper does not only point as a sign to the gospel, but it also functions as a seal. By “seal,” theologians mean that the Lord’s Supper authenticates and confirms by the authority of God himself the trustworthiness of the sign. So, think of a seal like the president’s signature on a bill presented by Congress. That signature is more than a scribbling of ink—that signature actually confirms and authenticates that the law will go into effect with all the authority of the office of the president of the United States.
The classic biblical example of a seal comes in the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus gives Esther and her uncle Mordecai his signet ring (see the word “sign” in “signet”?), which they used to impress a special symbol into wax on decrees that went out for the salvation of Jews living in all the far corners of the Persian empire (Esth. 8:10). That marked wax was a seal, since it authenticated that the decree went out with the full authority of the king of Persia. Without the king’s seal on the document, that document was merely a piece of paper.
In the same way, the Lord’s Supper confirms and authenticates to us that the gospel is true—and not only true, but true for you. That isn’t to say that simply eating bread and drinking wine will confirm your salvation in and of itself, but rather that the sacrament points to the gospel—that all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in the finished work of his broken body and shed blood at the cross for salvation, will be saved. Every time you receive the Lord’s Supper, God personally confirms the authenticity of the gospel to you once more.
A second part of the reason for moving to weekly communion at Harvest, then, is so that each week we can receive God’s authoritative seal that the gospel is true for us.
(For more information on how seals work, listen to my sermon from Joshua 5:1–12.)
The Lord’s Supper is a Communal Meal
Finally, the Lord’s Supper is not a personal, private experience between you and Jesus. Rather, most of the admonitions about the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament center on the communal nature of the sacrament. This begins when Jesus tells his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15 ESV). Jesus wanted to share this meal with those closest to him before he went to the anguish of the cross.
Then, Paul writes about the communal nature of the Lord’s Supper twice in his first letter to the Corinthian Church. First, he writes this:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16–17 ESV)
At communion, we all partake from one bread as an expression of the fact that we who are many have become one body in Christ.
Second, a bit later in the letter, Paul rebukes the Corinthian church, since the rich were leaving out the poor, getting drunk while the poor went hungry (1 Cor. 11:21). The Lord’s Supper is to be a communal meal that draws us together as a congregation as we together feast on the gospel through faith in a way that no other element of the service quite matches.
A third part of the reason for moving to weekly communion, then, is that God might draw us together in the gospel as a community.
How Should Members Prepare for Weekly Communion?
What does this change mean for you? Practically speaking, this means that you have a new aspect to the way in which you prepare for worship each Lord’s Day. Remember, communion is not give you something different from the gospel, but communion does give you a different way to experience the gospel. Here are some ways to approach your own preparation.
The Lord’s Supper is Not for Unrepentant People
Remember that as you partake of the Lord’s Supper, Paul explains that you experience a “participation” in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). For this reason, it is important that you never approach the Lord’s Table with sin that you have no intention of repenting from. Do not imagine that you can play games with God by going through the motions of communion while also forming plans to go right back into your sin.
In fact, as I write this, I have been preparing a sermon from Joshua 7, where the story of Achan reminds us that God always both exposes and destroys sin, one way or another. Do not conspire against your Lord at the Table as Judas before he left to betray his Master.
The Lord’s Supper is Not for Perfect People
But at the same time, the Lord’s Supper is not something reserved for “perfect” people who have their lives together because such people don’t really exist. All of us are sinners, broken by the fall and justly deserving of God’s wrath and displeasure. We do not come to the Table because we are worthy, but because of God’s sovereign grace toward us in Jesus Christ.
What this means is that you should not come out of a sense of your own worthiness (that would be to come unrepentantly, as discussed about), but you should also not abstain from the Table simply because you recognize your sinfulness and unworthiness. In fact, it is only when you begin to understand your unworthiness to come that you are able to come with the right perspective.
The Lord’s Supper is for Repentant, Believing Sinners
Jesus calls you to the Table as an act of repentance and faith. When you come to the table, you come to turn away from your sin, confessing that you have rebelled against your Lord. But also, you come believing the promises that Jesus Christ not only saves sinners in general, but that what he did at the cross by dying for sinners and offering them his own righteousness is for you.
We come to the Table not because we have no sin, and not when we conspire to return to sin directly afterward, but as we look in faith to Jesus, believing the promises that his blood has fully atoned for our sin, and that he will unfailingly complete the good work that he began in us (Phil. 1:6).
Therefore, as you prepare to receive communion every week, there are two things you need to do as the weekend approaches: (1) repent from your sins, and (2) believe the gospel.
Why Harvest is Moving to Weekly Communion
All of this is not to say that communion is better than the other elements of worship. Rather, this is to say that we worship God as a congregation uniquely through communion. But at the same time, eating and drinking with God is portrayed in the Scriptures as the consummation of our time in worship. For example, when Moses and the Israelites renewed their covenant on Mount Sinai, their time included reading God’s word, preaching, sacrifices, and then, finally, a covenant meal:
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (Ex. 24:9–11 ESV)
And in the New Testament, we are told that the end of time will be celebrated with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9), where Jesus himself will serve us at his table (Luke 12:37). The Lord’s Supper is both the fulfillment of the covenant meals of the Old Testament (Passover, etc.), as well as the anticipation of the great feasts we will enjoy with Jesus throughout eternity.
At the end of the day, that’s what this change is about: taking advantage of the privilege that Jesus gives us to feast in covenant fellowship with him. Toward that end, let us feast with Christ at his table, week by week, together.