I often wonder whether it will be possible to replay historical events in the life after death. At the top of my list would be to watch the Lord’s Supper. What were the Apostles thinking as Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, instituting the New Covenant? Was God’s promise of a day when He would write His law on their hearts and forgive their iniquity ringing in their ears (Jer. 31:31)? Could they see this promise being fulfilled before their very eyes?
The 12th article of the 1963 Mennonite Confession of Faith begins with this sentence, “We believe in observing the communion of the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance instituted by Jesus Christ to symbolize the New Covenant.”1 The New Covenant is one of the richest motifs in the New Testament. Understanding the Lord’s Supper is impossible without establishing an understanding of the New Covenant. When Christ offered himself up as the Lamb of God, He reconciled us to God, and secured three things: redemption from the past, strength for the present, and security for the future. This provides an incredible foundation for followers of Christ.
No matter how much we have violated the law of God there is always hope for forgiveness if we will turn to Christ in faith and repentance. The past haunts far too many professing Christians who will not face their failures. The New Covenant reminds us that we don’t have to run from the Father any longer; we can face our past knowing we have an Advocate (1 John 2:1).
Moreover, the New Covenant secures our future. Listen carefully to the author of Hebrews 9:15, “so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” Christ intends for His followers to be forward looking people. When we grasp that all the riches of God await the children of God for all eternity, trite pleasures lose their grip on us. There is a kingdom awaiting in which joy knows no boundaries. The King who inhabits this land is full of endless delights. Setting our mind on future promises changes the way we interpret current suffering. Consider the attitude of the believers in Hebrews 10:34, “and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession.”2 Past bondage, present suffering, and future fears melt away in the light of the New Covenant.
Perhaps a shallow understanding of the New Covenant can explain the current lackadaisical approach to worship, including the Lord’s Supper. The Confession continues, “We recognize the bread and the cup as symbols commemorating Christ’s broken body and shed blood….” When the bread is broken we must feel the weight of the fact that He was crushed for our iniquities. God the Father poured out his wrath on Christ because of our sin. When the cup is consumed we must remember and trust that our sins are washed away. The sin which could not be removed by any amount of human scrubbing (Jer. 2:22), is washed away in the pouring out of His blood. The bread and cup are symbols, yet they communicate life changing truth: eternal truth.
The Confession goes on to describe the bread and the wine as symbols “…of our spiritual life in Him…” I would like to draw special attention to the words “in Him.” When we gather to commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection, we must reflect on our spiritual famine prior to union with Christ. Participation in the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of our union with Christ. This is the relationship through which we receive all spiritual nourishment. When was the last time you earnestly contemplated John 15:5? “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Union with Christ is the foundation for every good thing God intends to do in our lives. The result of this relationship is intimacy with Christ, progress in overcoming sin, and increasing fruit of the Spirit. Not experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit? Struggling to overcome debilitating sin? Not moved to worship by the Lord’s table? Maybe you should revisit your connection to the vine.
Unity and Fellowship
Furthermore, the Lord’s Supper is not an individualistic exercise but rather is to be carried out in the context of the gathered body. Therefore the Confession’s authors remind us “…and of the spiritual unity and fellowship of the body of Christ.” Our union with Christ leads us to remember our unity and fellowship with the body of Christ: the church.
I would like to pose a few simple questions. Can you honestly say that you love every individual in your church—not just tolerate them? Can you scan the eyes of your church with a clear conscience—not holding grudges or hatred? Can you attest to a supernatural knitting of your heart with fellow members—not just carnal relationships? If not, then you are falling short of Christ’s intention for His body. You see the Lord’s table reminds us of our need for Christ and for each other. If we have peace with God, we must also have peace with our brothers. We all long for a supernatural unity in our churches. Let’s continue allowing the Lord’s table to teach and remind us that it is the Lord’s will and it is possible.
The last two sentences in Article 12 are the most controversial. Both ideas referenced are touchy. The issues at hand are close communion and frequency of the Lord’s Supper. I do not have conclusive answers on either but would like to make brief observations. There must be a sense of seriousness surrounding the Lord’s table; an unbeliever may never participate. However, who to commune with inside Christendom is a more complex question. By the statement, “…and who share the faith of the church,” I believe the authors intend to communicate that the table should only be shared among those of like faith and practice. As J.C. Wenger (who was influential in the drafting of this confession) says elsewhere, “The observance of communion requires a unity of faith and a common separation from the world.”3
Secondly, how often is observing faithfully? I am still developing my understanding on this issue. Scripture does not prescribe a number for a reason and churches should be free to differ. However, it does seem to me that the widespread practice in Anabaptism of only twice a year could be questioned. I would love to hear what others have to say.
Paul indicates that careless participation in the Lord’s Supper can have disastrous physical consequences, we all know this well. But do we spend time contemplating the joyful consequences of rightful participation in the Lord’s table? Isaiah speaks of a day when there will be a King who reigns over His people in righteousness. Not only that, but He will be their righteousness and they are marked by stability, peace, holiness, and trust. These people behold the beauty of the King and exalt and treasure Him. Those who dwell in this community will no longer say they are sick because they have been forgiven their iniquity (Is. 32-33).
The New Covenant and the Lord’s Supper are an ongoing reminder that the King has arrived! Participation in His kingdom will have joyful results. I may never be able to replay the first Lord’s Supper but I will not be disappointed on the day when I eat with the King face to face.
|Timothy Miller currently lives near Sarasota, Florida with his wife Sarah and son Malachi. He enjoys spending time with his family, hunting, woodworking, reading, sports, and traveling. Timothy is passionate about the Bible, truth, and understanding history. His greatest desire is to more intimately know Christ.
Mennonite Church, . “Mennonite Confession of Faith, 1963.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1963. Web. 26 Jun 2017.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. Print.
Wenger, J. C. Separated Unto God. Harrisonburg, VA: Sword and Trumpet, 2001. Print. Seventh Printing.
Header image: Leonardo da Vinci, Creative Commons.