The Lord’s Supper

Dear Reader,

In my many posts on discipling children I raised the topic of the Lord’s Supper. I would like to explore that a little more. It is an area which is somewhat of a mystery to me. That is probably a good thing. A  lot of what God does is supposed to be mysterious to us. Things like the trinity and the two natures of Christ. We just can’t get our limited brains all the way around them.

I was raised Catholic with their view on the Lord’s Supper as the real body and blood of Christ. And on one level, I never had a problem with that. I never had a problem with God being able to do that. He is God after all. The reason I don’t still subscribe to that view is not its impossibility. It is a more theological issue. The sacrifice of Christ for our sins is a done deal. This is the message of the book of Hebrews:

“Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebr. 7:27)

“But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebr. 10:12-14)

It makes no sense to keep sacrificing Christ every week. And really the message I got from the Catholic Church mirrors its view of communion. The message was that our sins need to be continually repented of and atoned for. Because if there are any big ones left on your conscience when you go, you might not be saved. It was very unsettling for me. It made me nervous and scared. The message of my current (reformed or Calvinist) church is that Christ paid the price once for all my sins. Even the ones I haven’t committed yet. It is a very reassuring message. And so Christ’s sacrifice does not need to be redone every week.

But where does that leave us as to the meaning of the sacrament? I know there is a variety a views among protestants. Despite my leaving the Catholic church some 20 years ago (boy, am I getting old), a lot of the protestant explanations of communion always seemed lame to me. Christ is in, around, and over the elements but they are not His body? What on earth does that mean? It seems like an attempt to have it both ways. But if the sacrament is not the body of Christ and does not cleanse us from sins nor save us, what is it for? What does it do?

Here is the best explanation I have gotten: Communion is a means of grace. It is God’s gift to His people. It is like a family meal in that it binds us, the church, together. If you miss one sit-down meal with your family, you probably don’t miss much. But if you miss the big weekly meal every week for months on end, well, it is a sign your relationship with your family is not good. And even if it was okay to start, after missing a lot it will begin to deteriorate. So the Supper benefits the body, the whole of the church, by binding them together

But it also has a benefit for the individual. It is a means of grace. It is not a gumball machine where you put you money in and get your gumball every week. God does not work that way. But He does command us to celebrate the sacrament and bless us through it. It is spiritual food for us. It is like an essential nutrient. You may go for a while without it in your diet and feel no ill effects. But eventually, the lack will take its toll and your (spiritual)  health will be impaired.

But it is not an automatic function. If you come to it unworthily, either because you are not part of God’s covenant family or because you are in the family but you are in some open rebellion against Him, then the blessing becomes a curse to you. You would not sit and have a peaceable meal with your family if you had some big dispute with them. Nor should you receive the sacrament when we have some looming sin against your brother that you need to repent of. First you make the sin right by confessing and repenting and then you come back next week and take the meal.

Now I am sympathetic to the view that says even the youngest members of the community should come to the meal. But I also respect the commands not to take the meal unworthily. That is why I would have children wait till they have some minimum comprehension of what is going on in the meal and what their responsibility is in taking it before participating.

But on the other hand, as respectful as we should be of the commands about the meal’s sanctity, we must also recognize that it is primarily  a blessing of God for our benefit. Therefore if anyone is able to partake, they should be able and even encouraged to do so. Too often I think we put children off. We want to be so sure that they are on the right path that we delay their participation unnecessarily. If this sacrament is a benefit to them, we should not deny it to them.

Now in a discussion of this issue in our adult Sunday school class last week, a woman who had grown up in the church expressed reservations about allowing younger children to participate. Her experience was that she had become a communicant member around age 12. But around age 16 she had serious doubts about her faith. However, she felt she could not pass up taking the Lord’s Supper while she doubted because others were watching her and would judge her (and perhaps her father who was a leader in the church) negatively. I don’t think the solution to situations such as this is to deny the sacrament to children. We all go through periods of faith and doubt and perhaps even rebellion in our spiritual walks. We cannot set a time like when you are past the teenage years, we have confidence in your faith and you can take the sacrament. If it is really a means of grace, it should be all the more important to take it when one can. Who knows but perhaps it will sustain you through future dry periods. And I do not think that having doubts in itself is necessarily a reason to abstain from the supper. There may be a point at which doubts become so overwhelming that one feels hypocritical taking the supper. But the line is hard to define. The sacrament is meant as food for our spiritual health. So when we are feeling weak and doubtful, perhaps that is when we most need it, as a tangible representation of Christ’s sacrifice for us and our participation in Him. My last observation would be that I do not think this woman should have been made to feel like she had to take the sacrament because people were watching. It sounds like there was a bad atmosphere in the church on that point and I am sorry that at 16 she felt that pressure and that her spiritual life seemed to depend upon other’s opinions of her and her family. That was not as it should have be. But I think we should change that attitude rather than use it as an excuse to deny all children access to the sacrament which is meant for their benefit.

Nebby

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