M. Thaxter Dickey
The need to think properly during the Lord's Supper is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34. Misuse of the Lord's Supper results in serious consequences for those who partake unworthily. In this case many members of the church were sick and some even dead because of abusing the Lord's supper. Note that the passage does not condemn those who are unworthy to partake for so we all are. If the requirement were worthiness then no one would qualify for "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:25).
What is condemned is partaking in an unworthy manner. Now that doesn't mean that only a specific form of ritual is acceptable but rather that the condition of the heart must be right. Matthew 5:23,24 gives us an example of engaging in service to God in a worthy way. We cannot enter into His presence with sins that are unrepented. Nor are we participating worthily if our thoughts are far from him (Matt. 15:7, 8).
But keeping our thoughts from straying is a difficult task. It is impossible if we only try to get rid of the worldly thoughts that fill our minds. For each time we chase one away several return to plague us (Lk. 11:25). What we must do if we are to participate with our minds as well as our bodies is to find some positive thoughts on which to concentrate. And there are many topics worthy of thought during the Lord's Supper.
1. Remember Jesus (Lk. 22:14-20, Matt. 26.26-28). The purpose of the Supper is that we might remember Jesus. It is in fact the only memorial He left. But small mementoes can powerfully bring back memories as anyone who treasures a small belonging left them by a departed parent can testify. In the same way by our participation in the communion Jesus should be vividly real to us not just a dusty historic figure. It is impressive to think that His living memorial in the form of the Supper has outlasted what were at one time more physically impressive and seemingly permanent stone monuments.
What should we remember of Him? First of all, we can remember events of His life: how He cried over Lazarus even though He had power over disease and sin and even death. We can remember His compassion for the Widow of Nain, the careful attention to small things which brought to His notice the widow's mite, His righteous wrath in cleansing the temple, and His continued mastery over the Pharisees as they tried to humiliate him, His concern for the little man, Zaccheus, who was pariah to everyone else.
We can also remember His suffering and death. Paul calls these thoughts to the minds of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:23 when he writes: "The Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed . . . ." And which Christian does not have graphically impressed in his memory the hours of Jesus' humiliation and mistreatment during the trials, His glance at Peter as the cock crew, His domination of Pilate in their moments together, His gracious "Father forgive them they know not what they do," His responsible concern for the care of His mother as He hung on the cross, or His final triumphant shout as He "gave up the ghost,"? How easily we should be able to fill our minds with these scenes.
We could remember, too, that He inaugurated the New Covenant of His Blood (Matt. 26:28). By His death He put -into effect "His last will and testament." A will is made by one person for the benefit of the other and the beneficiary can only accept or reject those benefits and the conditions of the will. lie cannot alter the terms. And how much better are the terms of the New Testament than those of the old (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15-17,22).
We can remember that He is the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29). It is for this purpose that He came into the world. And remembering this we can remember that our sins have been forgiven. And if that is not a compelling thought on which we may well spend a few minutes then something surely is missing from our spiritual lives.
2. Recognize Jesus as the Source of Life and Nourishment (Jn. 6.-47-58). Another train of thought which would be proper during the Lord's supper is this: that we are what we eat and so we become like Him as we eat of His body and'drink of His blood (Jn. 6:35). This may seem to some an unpleasant picture but we are alive by His death. Some unbelievers may try to confound us by saying that the communion is a cannibalistic ritual. Yes and nol Never has it been truer than of Christians that we live because someone else died. But it is also true that Jesus loved us enough to freely offer Himself in our place (Rom. 5:8 and 1 Jn. 2:2) and our parlicipation in the Lord's Supper is a means of being made alive "in Him." But we also die so that He may live in us (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:2).
This convinces me that we ought to learn the habit of regular devotions – and an essential one is this weekly breaking of bread. If it represents the bread by which we are made spiritually alive then we cannot afford to miss it. A life preserving ritual is not one easily forgotten orlightly forsaken. That is why the early church, by God's plan, participated in weekly observance. To miss deliberately is to spurn the blood of Christ, the only thing which can save us (Heb. 10:29).
But we do partake of these emblems and He dwells in us and so we no longer live the same kind of life (Gal. 2:20 and Jn. 6:36). Communing with the Lord in the Lord's Supper is then a time for renewing our commitment (1 Cor. 10:21). If we are honest in it we can profitably pray to God while we are engaged in the breaking of bread vowing to be as Christ like as possible in the week to come.
3. We Share Here With Others (1 Cor. 10:16, 17). Paul condemned the Corinthians for not communing together (1 Cor. 11:20, 21). Christians are set apart by their participation in this breaking of bread. The Supper is a communion and we share with Christ in it (1 Cor. 10:16) as we share with Him in our lives (Phil. 3:8, 10). And thus we are not liked by the world (Jn. 15:18; Lk. 6:26) because, by our observance of His memorial feast, we show His death till He comes again (1 Cor. 11:26).
It is a proclamation to the world. By partaking we say to the world: "I believe: that He lived and died as the Son of God, that He rose from the grave by the power of God, and that He's coming again (Acts 1:10,11) to claim His own Qn. 14:1-3; Matt. 26:29) and to judge the world (Acts 10:42). And thus there is a glorious hope on which to fix our minds during the Lord's Supper. It is wonderful to think on and draws us closer to Him. The feast then is anticipatory as well as commerative (Matt. 26:29).
We should also remind ourselves that as Christians, partaking of the Supper together, we are one body (Eph. 4:4) of which Christ is the Head (Col. 1: 18). There is peace among us (Eph. 2:14-17). And unity is our sign of godliness (Jn. 17:20, 21). If we are to love each other as Jesus loved us (1 Jn. 4:9-11), how can we sit week after week and year after year without getting to know those who share this precious moment with us and without learning to care for them? It is said that families who share together stay together. And what greater thing to share together than this participation in the communion with Christ death? And what greater family 'unity could there be than that among the family of God?
4. Examine Ourselves Individually (2 Cor. 11:27; 13:5). We must participate in the communion in the right manner, as is true of all worship (Matt. 5:23,24). So it is fitting as we engage our minds in this act of worship that we examine ourselves (2 Cor. 11:27). Self-examination prevents rashness and promotes solemnity, a necessary ingredient of sound worship. No progress is ever made without regular examination. We really should prepare for this moment before we come if it is to be of maximum value to us and acceptable to God. For if we've not given a thought beforehand to our purpose for coming then it is unlikely that we are participating in a worthy manner.
During the Lord's Supper itself is a good time to continue this self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28). Here are some questions which may help in that endeavor.
(1) Do I really desire to follow Christ (Matt. 16:24)?
(2) Do I fully appreciate what Christ has done for me (Rom. 5:6-10)?
(3) Am I truly repentant of my sins (Acts 3:19)?
(4) Am I humbled by this supper (Lk. 17:10)?
(5) Do I love my fellow participants (1 Jn. 4: 11)?
If the answer to any of these questions is negative then we have something to work on before we next gather to break bread. And the occasion of the Communion itself can be a source of spiritual strength for learning these things or coming to feel them more deeply. If all of our answers are yes then the Lord's Supper will be a meaningful experience for us each Lord's day – one from which we will draw great encouragement and comfort.