Pastoral Perspectives

Meal Above All Meals

Singaporeans love to eat and drink. During this Covid-19 pandemic, we lament over the fact that if we eat out, we can only gather in groups of 5. But do you realise that we can actually gather up to 100 people in church to have a meal?  Really? Which meal am I referring to? The Lord’s Supper!

This meal was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ before he went to the cross. It is meant for us to regularly partake. However, I am afraid that many baptised believers have either allowed it to become a humdrum – a routine which they mindlessly go through – or they don’t even care if they participate in this meal at all.

As your pastor, I have extended the call for you to come back for the 8.30 am live service so that you can have the opportunity to share in this meal. Yet many other reasons seem to have taken priority, thus preventing you from doing so.

What is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper? It is a means of grace, a channel by which the bountiful grace of God reaches us to sustain and strengthen our souls as we eat and drink by faith. How so?

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  (1 Corinthians 11:23-29)

Firstly, the Gospel is proclaimed each time we participate in this meal. We proclaim it to ourselves. We proclaim the Lord’s death. We also proclaim his resurrection because “until he comes” implies that he did not remain dead – he rose from the dead, and he is coming back for us again. So the bread and cup proclaim, or shout out loud, the saving death and resurrection of Christ.

Some would say that to participate in the Lord’s meal is to re-enact the Gospel of salvation, like putting up a drama for the salvation story. This is so that even when we have unbelievers in our midst, they will understand the sacrifice that Jesus has made for us.

Secondly, by having the Gospel proclaimed to us, we will remember (“do this in remembrance of me”). We remember that night when the Son of Man was delivered into the hands of very wicked men. We remember that Jesus had asked to be spared from drinking the cup of suffering, yet he prayed, “not my will but yours be done.” We remember that he was whipped, beaten, and had a crown of thorns thrust into his scalp. We remember his body terribly broken even before he could make his way to Calvary.

We remember the nails that pierced into his hands and feet. We remember the excruciating pain that he had to endure, and that he finally died of suffocation when his legs were no longer able to prop him up. We remember the blood that flowed from his wounds. We remember that it was a very dark and sad day. We remember the distraught faces of his disciples. Were you there? Do you remember?

It was for our sake that Jesus hung on that cruel cross. It was our sins that held him there. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

By remembering, we are overwhelmed by a deep sense of gratitude. We are assured and reassured of God’s love for us so that even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances, we know that his steadfast love never fails.

Thirdly, in participating in the Lord’s Supper, we affirm the new covenant that we have entered into. The old covenant led to death because God’s people failed to obey his laws and they failed to keep their side of the covenant, thereby bringing judgement upon themselves. But we belong to the new covenant.

Listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: [first promise] I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And [second promise] I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And [third promise] no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For [fourth promise] I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

John Piper points out that this new covenant sealed in Christ’s blood shed for many brings about

  • our forgiveness of sins,
  • our delight in God’s law,
  • our personal relationship with God, so that
  • God can say, “I am your God and you are my people.”

Fourthly, when we partake of this meal, there is an opportunity for sanctification to take place as we examine ourselves so that we do not partake in an unworthy manner. If Christ loved his church so much that he was willing to die for his church, we should feel remorseful when our attitudes and actions are so inconsistent with Christ’s love. Therefore we search our hearts and our self- examination should lead to confession and repentance.

John Calvin describes “worthy” participation in these terms: “This is the worthiness – the best and only kind we can bring to God – to offer our vileness and our unworthiness to him so that in his mercy we may be taken as worthy; to despair in ourselves so that we may be lifted up by him; to accuse ourselves so that we may be justified by him.”

Fifthly, when we gather around the Lord’s Table, we look forward to Christ’s return (“until he comes”) when we are able to feast with him in the marriage supper of the Lamb. “We eat only little bits of bread and drink little cups of wine,” says John Frame, a theologian, “for we know that our fellowship with Christ in this life cannot begin to compare with the glory that awaits us in him.”

There is so much meaning and significance surrounding the participation of this meal. As we sit with Jesus at the Table, we trust him to be our soul-sustaining food and drink. Our faith is awakened and we are drawn into a deeper communion with him. But we are not eating this meal with Jesus alone; we are also eating this meal with fellow believers.

The communion is not just between us and the Lord but also between fellow believers. As we come together to the Supper to feed spiritually on Christ, he not only draws us closer to himself, but also to each other in the body. Therefore, communion is never meant to be a private affair. This meal helps us to fix our eyes on Jesus and walk forward hand in hand with fellow pilgrims toward the Celestial City, in the strength that he supplies.

So come, let us share in the richness of this meal that is above all meals!