A Heavenly Appetizer

Many Christians today hold to the misconception that the Lord's Supper is nothing other than a memorial meal, a time where we "look back" and reflect upon the death of Christ. This is generally the view of mainstream evangelicalism, though if we are not cautious it can easily become the default position in Reformed congregations as well.

I'm not denying that the Lord's Supper is a time of reflection and remembrance. After all, Jesus commanded His disciples to "do this in remembrance of me." But is that all it is? Our Reformed Confessions say otherwise. More than just remembering Christ, we are actually communing with Him by His Spirit. "Our memories of Christ are no substitute for his living presence," Marcus Johnson writes. "Our recollections of Christ's death, as meaningful and enriching as they are, cannot replace our very participation in the One who was crucified." [1]

So looking back on what Christ has done during our observance of the Supper is not enough. But what I would like to focus on in this brief article is how, in large measure, the sacrament is actually meant to be a time of looking forward in faith and hope about what Christ will do for His people. In fact, it is my firm belief that more than anything else, the Lord's Supper is the most powerful and effective means of exhibiting to us the hope of the new heavens and the new earth.

How so?

Being created in God's image, mankind is made to commune with God. We answer the great purpose for which we were made when we know God, glorify Him, and enjoy Him always. Thus in the Garden there was a call to obedience sent out to Adam (Genesis 2:17). He was expected to respond in faith and submission. As a reward for this obedience, Adam would have been privileged to feast with God at the Tree of Life (3:22). This was the goal: eternal feasting and fellowship with God Himself. In a word, communion. And by God's design, communion is most profoundly expressed and experienced through feasting.

But, of course, man sinned. Communion between man and God was ruptured, and it's full expression in the meal was never realized. But though God dealt punishment by withholding access to the Tree of Life, He does so only for a time. As Scripture unfolds, we see evidence that God was still extending that initial invitation to His image-bearers.

The establishment of Israel as a nation in the Book of Exodus is a grand example. God covenants with His people in a way very similar to that of Adam in the garden. He calls them to obedience (Exodus 20), they are meant to respond in faith (Exodus 24:3, "Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do"). As a reward, the people feast with God: "Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank" (24:9-11).

They weren't eating of the Tree of Life, but it was all a promise that one day they would. And so a practice was incorporated into Israel's rhythm of worship. This no doubt set the foundation for what was called the shelamin offering, or the peace or fellowship offering. Given only after the atonement or sin offering, we read of this in Leviticus 7. The blood would be offered to God, but the meat would be cooked and their would be a fellowship meal with both the priests and the worshipers. As scholar Tremper Longman writes, "Functionally speaking, the shelamin was a religious celebration with food, a banquet, so to speak, in the presence of God himself."[2]

The practice of covenantal worship found its climax in a meal with God. That drew Israel to the conclusion that our great desire as people of God should be the desire to feast with God face-to-face. Consider how in Luke 14, when Jesus makes a reference to the resurrection of the dead and the eschaton, a well-informed Jew next to him cannot but help make the connection between the end times and eating with God: "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" (v.15).  As this guest says, true blessedness is to be able to partake of this future meal. His interpretation of passages like Psalm 22:26, Zephaniah 1:7, and especially Isaiah 25:6-9 was spot on. And if there was any doubt, Revelation proves it. We are given a window into the end when this book shows us that the grand purpose of our eternal worship is to finally feast on the Tree of Life at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9, 22:2, 14).

As you prepare to come to the Lord's Table, think on this: We are given a literal taste of the meal that was extended to Adam at the very beginning, and the meal that we will one day have with Jesus at the very end. If we construe the Supper as only looking back in remembrance upon the death of Christ the sacrament will become more of a funeral than a feast. But if we see that God is pointing us forward in faith to what is to come in the next age, we will be unable to participate with anything but joy and gladness. "If God was faithful to bring his promised Son into the world the first time to live, die, and rise again for our salvation, we can surely trust his promise that Jesus will return at the end of the age to consummate the application of his saving work in our lives."

A staple in historic liturgies has helped worshipers keep this forward focus in the Supper. After partaking of the sacrament, the minister would exhort the congregation to "declare the mystery of faith." In response, they would reply: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." Indeed, it is Christ's return, when He ushers in the new heavens and the new earth, that will once and for all secure our face-to-face fellowship with God that we've been longing for since the Garden. When Christ comes again He will set the table before us and invite us to join Him in eternal fellowship.

When we feast at the Table we are brought into that intimate communion with God that we were made for but sin ruptured. Therefore the sacrament is a way of momentarily experiencing what was always meant to be the norm, and through the Gospel will be our future, everlasting reality. That's why, in many respects, the Lord's Supper is not only the climax of what we do in worship, but it is really anticipating the climax of an entire life of worship.

For those who come to God in faith, we can know this is a meal that has packed into it all the good things that God has been preparing for His people ever since He created us, and all of the good things that He will soon reveal to us.

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[1] Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 240.

[2] Tremper Longman III, Immanuel in our Place (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001), 91.

[3] Guy Prentiss Waters, The Lord's Supper (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 91

Jonathan Landry Cruse (MDiv, Westminster Seminary California) is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI. He is the author of The Christian's True Identity: What It Means to Be in Christ (RHB, 2019), and has written articles for numerous publications (including Modern Reformation, Core Christianity, New Horizons, and The Outlook). Several of his contributions to modern hymnody have also been published, some of which are included in the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal (GCP, 2018).

Related Links

What Is the Lord's Supper? by Richard Phillips

Feeding on Christ in the Lord's Supper, according to Calvin and the Westminster Confession by Wayne Spear [ Audio Disc | Download ]

Communing with Christ in His Supper by C.J. Williams [ Audio Disc | Download ]

The Puritans on the Lord's Supper by Joel Beeke

  1. Introduction
  2. Papal Errors in the Lord's Supper
  3. Christ's Presence in the Lord's Supper
  4. Biblical Simplicity in the Lord's Supper
  5. Qualifications for Admission to the Lord's Supper
  6. Right Reception of the Lord's Supper
  7. Hindrances and Benefits of the Lord's Supper