Tears and the Table
A few days ago I talked about the Heidelberg Catechism’s assessment of the Mass. Not surprisingly, Heidelberg’s words (and mine!) generated a lot of heat…and hopefully some light. But there’s a lot more Heidelberg has to say about the Lord’s Supper. For example, Question 75 asks, “How does the Lord’s Supper remind you and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his gifts?” Here’s the answer:
In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat this broken break and to drink this cup. With this command he gave this promise: First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross. Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood.
I am not a prolific crier. I can only think of three or four times I’ve gotten visibly choked up in front of my congregation. But one of those times came while reading this Lord’s Day in preparation for communion. After the service, I had others tell me they had teared up too. The truth here is that precious. It should stir our affections. I love good music in church and rejoice to see God’s people emotionally engaged in worship. But if our emotion is to be truth driven and not just melody driven, we ought to have profound experiences with responsive readings, creeds, and confessions too. Every time we read the Nicene Creed I want to raise my hands in the air (and sometime do). And whenever I read through this Lord’s Day before communion it makes me want to cry with joy.
What good news God proclaims to us at the Table! I fear that in most churches the Lord’s Supper is either celebrated so infrequently as to be forgotten or celebrated with such thoughtless monotony that churchgoers endure it rather than enjoy it. But the Lord’s Supper is meant to nourish and strengthen our weak faith. Have you ever come to church feeling dirty and rotten? Have you ever sat through an entire sermon thinking about how you blew it with your wife that morning or how prayerless you’ve been for the past month? Have you ever got to the end of a church service only to think, “I’m so distracted. I was worried about how I look. I can’t even sit through church right”? Have you ever wondered if God can really love you? If so, you need this gospel table.
The Lord knows our faith is weak. That’s why he’s given us sacraments to see, taste, and touch. As surely as you can see the bread and cup, so surely does God love you through Christ. As surely as chew the food and drain the drink, so surely has Christ died for you. Here at the Table the faith becomes sight. The simple bread and cup give assurance that Christ came for you, Christ died for you, Christ is coming again for you.
Of course, this eating and drinking must be undertaken in faith. The elements themselves do not save us. But when we eat and drink them in faith we can be assured that we receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. More than that, we get a picture of our union with Christ. As we eat his flesh and drink he blood, we literally have communion with him, not by dragging Christ down from heaven, but by experiencing his presence through his Spirit.
So shame on parishioners for coming to the Lord’s Supper with nothing but drudgery and low expectations. And shame on pastors for not instructing their people in the gospel joy available to us in communion. If you shed a tear at the Table, let it not be out of boredom but out of gratitude and sheer delight.