This is my final note in a series of five notes on the Lord’s Supper. There are five words that help us think about the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper: remembrance, covenant, anticipation, invitation, and examination. The final word is examination. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29:
“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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
Paul does not warn against unworthy people eating and drinking. He doesn’t say, make sure you’re worthy to come to the Lord’s Table. No one is worthy to come to the Lord’s Table. It’s by God’s grace and because we need God’s grace, that we come to the Table. Paul warns against eating and drinking in an unworthy manner. We need to examine ourselves, lest we eat and drink in an unworthy manner. The Corinthians were eating and drinking in an unworthy manner because they weren’t eating and drinking together and because they were not sufficiently distinguishing the Lord’s Supper from their own suppers.
Paul says we need to discern the body when we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table. We may see a double reference here. The body refers to both Jesus himself and to the church. We need to discern both our communion with Christ and our communion with one another.
First, we discern the body of Christ, which is the church. To discern his body is to recognize that we are members of one another. Before we come to the Table, we need to examine our communion with one another. Is there any sin against another person that requires repentance, forgiveness, and restoration? In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul uses the Old Testament analogy of unleavened bread when we he talks about this examination. Before the celebration of the Passover meal, which marked the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread, the people of Israel had to get rid of all the yeast in their houses. They’d examine their houses to make sure there was no yeast anywhere. Likewise, Paul writes that whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we need to examine our house, that is, the church, this local congregation:
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
Any malice or evil between us, in our relationships with one another, needs to be cleansed before we come to the Table, so that we come to the Lord’s Supper in sincerity and truth.
Second, discerning the Lord’s body means discerning our communion with Christ himself. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:16 that in the cup we have communion with the blood of Christ and in the bread, we have communion with the body of Christ. In the Lord’s Supper we have fellowship with Jesus himself, with his body which is for us and with his blood, which is the blood of the new covenant, shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins. We need to eat and drink in a manner worthy of the body and blood of Christ.
How do we eat and drink in a worthy manner? We should come to table in humility, in repentance, in faith, in hope, in love, and with joy.
Humility: We come to the Lord’s Supper in humility, with empty hands and open hearts, ready to receive his grace and mercy and life, ready to receive the spiritual nourishment that only he can give. Jesus says to us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Repentance: We come to the Lord’s Supper in repentance, acknowledging and renouncing our sins before him and renewing our commitment to love and serve him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Faith: We come in faith, believing that he has forgiven our sins and confident that we are his, we’re God’s dearly loved children and the bride of Christ.
Hope: We come to the Lord’s Supper in hope, in the knowledge that this meal is only a foretaste of that future marriage supper and that one day we won’t eat and drink in remembrance of him because we will see him face-to-face and he will eat and drink with us.
Love: We come in love, because we love him and want to be with him: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
Joy: We come with joy in our hearts, because he is risen and he has invited us to his Table, and there is no greater cause for joy than communion with Christ: “in his presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).