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J. I. Packer:

I don’t think we can ever say too much about the importance of an active exercise of mind and heart at the communion service. . . .

Holy Communion demands us of private preparation of heart before the Lord before we come to the table. We need to prepare ourselves for fellowship with Jesus Christ the Lord, who meets us in this ceremony. We should think of him both as the host of the communion table and as enthroned on the true Mount Zion referred to in Hebrews 12, the city of the living God where the glorified saints and the angels are.

The Lord from his throne catches us up by his Spirit and brings us into fellowship with himself there in glory. He certainly comes down to meet us here, but he then catches us up into fellowship with him and the great host of others who are eternally worshipping him there.

We are also to learn the divinely intended discipline of drawing assurance from the sacrament. We should be saying in our hearts, ‘as sure as I see and touch and taste this bread and this wine, so sure it is that Jesus Christ is not a fancy but a fact, that he is for real, and that he offers himself to be my Saviour, my Bread of Life, and my Guide to glory. He has left me this rite, this gesture, this token, this ritual action as a guarantee of this grace; He instituted it, and it is a sign of life-giving union with him, and I’m taking part in it, and thus I know that I am his and he is mine forever.’ That is the assurance that we should be drawing from our sharing in the Lord’s Supper every time we come to the table.

And then we must realize something of our togetherness in Christ with the rest of the congregation. . . . [We should reject the] strange perverse idea . . . that the Lord’s Supper is a flight of the alone to the Alone: it is my communion I come to make, not our communion in which I come to share. You can’t imagine a more radical denial of the Gospel than that.

The communion table must bring to us a deeper realization of our fellowship together. If I go into a church for a communion service where not too many folk are present, to me it is a matter of conscience to sit beside someone. This togetherness is part of what is involved in sharing in eucharistic worship in a way that edifies.

—J. I. Packer, “The Gospel and the Lord’s Supper,” in Serving the People of God, vol. 2 of Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 49-50.


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22 thoughts on “What Should You Be Thinking about During the Lord’s Supper”

  1. James says:

    Justin-Agreed!
    I myself set certain ideals on myself that my raise an eyebrow but it’s a me thing. On Communion day (especially) While in the sanctuary(well before communion)I have my wife(who’s Vietnamese) read Psalms 51 and then pray. Meanwhile I will go to the chapel (I usually have the place to myself)and I will do my psalms 51 prayer alone. My wife likes the early morning music… to electric for me so I use that time for my repentance and cleansing. I wouldn’t even let my wife participate in communion service until I was sure she understood what it meant to be born again…She never bucked once,I’m thankful for that. Yes I know some might think I’m weird but psalms 51 should be read aloud in unison knowing that the whole body of the church will be cleansed and forgiven before the partaking. But usually a moment of silent individual prayer is done before each partaking the customary routine…I would also make aware that anyone that is not a born again Christian do not! not should not but do not take of the communion elements (because of what the inspired writers say about this)and should be rightly mentioned at this time, But rarely is that very important message brought forth and that’s dangerous for them and inappropriate on the ministers part. But what do I know that’s just me. Your friend and mine in Jesus, James

  2. John Thomson says:

    I have some sympathy with James. I do think we should examine our hearts and not eat casually. Yet I fear we make to much of a ritual out of what our Lord meant to be a fellowship meal to be enjoyed less formally than most of us do.

    The meal is a meal of belonging and remembering. It is full of intimacy and warmth. And yes, anticipation. It is a feast of fellowship, of gospel (new covenant) fellowship. Our frozen ritualistic eating seems to me many miles removed from what was intended. Church sizes, clergy/laity distinctions, heavy structuring has all fed into an over-formality which has led to losing the warmth and mutuality of the fellowship meal.

  3. MarieP says:

    For a long time, I would keep my eyes closed in prayer the whole time, except when the bread and cup came to me (many times someone had to tap me on the shoulder). I would open them when the words of institution were read and we all partook together. I’ve since stopped doing this for the reasons Packer gives in this article. Yes, I do spend time with my head bowed in prayer, but then I look at the bread and cup in my hand and remember Christ’s realness, as Packer pointed out. I look at my brethren, and I remember that the New Covenant is more than just my own forgiveness and redemption. I wondered what others might think, but I realized that some others were doing the same thing, and it really is a warming thing when you catch the smile of your brother or sister- “Me too! He died for me too!”

    My pastor has well-said that there is a reason Jesus didn’t give the disciples a piece of bread and a cup of wine and tell them to go to their prayer closets and partake there alone.

  4. Jarod says:

    Read Calvin.

  5. In our house fellowship we celebrate the Lord’s supper as we see it in scripture: as a full meal. What we think about is whatever we are talking about while we’re eating. We partake of Christ as his community and enjoy a wonderful meal at the same time.

  6. Honest question for those who follow the “meal with friends” model – what do your children do while you’re eating it? What about unbelievers? Are they not invited?

    I know this model is becoming increasingly popular, but it doesn’t seem to be supported by 1 Cor. 11 at all.

    Go Team Calvin. :)

    1. Rachael,

      Thanks for an excellent question. I certainly cannot speak for everyone who eats the way you’ve described, but I’ll tell you what we do. After a time of participatory bible study, prayer, teaching, exhortation, etc., we all eat together. Our kids eat with us. Although we don’t often have too many unbelievers present, when we do they eat with us too.

      I Cor. 11 is primarily an exhortation to the Corinthian church to stop abusing the way they ate the meal together. It’s a letter to saved people, albeit sinful ones (like the rest of us). Paul warns them that some have died because of their abuse of the meal. He says nothing about unsaved folks. For the lost, its just a meal. In the end, we have a great time together feeding on Christ and being together. We believe this is the model we read about in scripture. Desiring to follow the Reformation motto of Sola Scriptura, this is what we do.

      1. Jarod says:

        Eric,

        Inviting an unbeliever to partake in the sacrament misses the point of the sacrament itself. To be consistent you should baptize them before the meal.

        And what part does the rest of Scripture word play in your exegesis of Corinthians?

        “For what is a sacrament received without faith, but most certain destruction to the Church? For, seeing that nothing is to be expected beyond the promise, and the promise no less denounces wrath to the unbeliever than offers grace to the believer, it is an error to suppose that anything more is conferred by the sacraments than is offered by the word of God, and obtained by true faith.” – Calvin IV.XIV.XIV

        1. Jarod,

          I think we are dealing with fundamentally different understandings of the supper. We celebrate it as a meal because that’s what we read in the bible. Would it be loving of me to exclude unbelievers from eating with us? I don’t think so.

          1. Jarod says:

            If your hermeneutic is consistent you may consider it unloving to exclude them from baptism too. You just may have prooved yourself a more hospitable host (by your definition) than our Lord Himself (Matthew 22:1-14).

            What use is a sacrament to those who don’t believe what it signifies? And could it be possible that a fair warning is, indeed, the loving thing to do? (1 Cor. 11:27-30) It may benefit your unbelieving guests to obstain from your unceremonial ceremony and treat them to a shake and fries (your treat) at the end of your service, if I read the apostle correctly and I think I do (11:34).

            1. Jarod,

              As I said before, part of the difficulty we are having is that we view the Lord’s Supper in very different ways. I don’t see it as a sacrament. Rather, Christ tells us to remember him as we partake. We are also to proclaim his death until he comes – something that is easy to do if unbelievers are present. The passage as a whole (I Cor. 11) really makes no sense if it is not partaken of as a full meal since Paul admonishes some for eating so much that others remain hungry. That’s what vs. 34 is addressing; if some are so hungry that they might eat too much then they need to eat some at home so that there will be enough for the others present.

              As for my hermeneutic, baptism is for saved people. That’s what we see in the bible. As for the Lord’s Supper, I’m not convinced.

              As for our church, we don’t have a “service.” Are you seriously suggesting that we prohibit unbelievers who might be with us from eating at the table with us? Do they have to go hungry while we eat, and then go out for something to eat? That seems extremely inhospitable.

              Do you partake of the Lord’s Supper as a meal? If not, why?

              1. Jarod says:

                But in praxis you see the meal, at the very least, as set apart from other meals, or perhaps even sacred (wait a minute–this is starting to sound strangely familiar to that sacra-word-thinga-ma-jigger-thing). Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 11 is not the mode of that set-apart-maybe-kind-of-different-meal (waiver or steak and potatoes?). He’s concerned that the meal they are eating “is not the Lord’s supper” (11:20). They are eating the meal for reasons other than what our Lord prescribes/commands.

    2. Rachael,

      One more thing (I forgot to ask it before). How does the I Cor. 11 passage make any sense contextually if it is not treated today as a full meal?

      Thanks. Eric

    3. Arthur Sido says:

      Rachel, what really seems to be unsupported by 1 Cor 11 is a ritual where we eat a tiny piece of bread and a sip of wine that is passed around the room after a minister intones the ‘words of invocation’. 1 Corinthians 11 is clearly a meal shared by the church and yet we have reduced it to a mere ritual.

  7. I think J. I. Packer has the right idea. I’ve often wondered the meaning of “discerning the body” in 1 Cor 11:29. It’s in the immediate context of self-examination. But this self-examination is nested in the context of unity in the Body of Christ in the practice of the Lord’s Supper. The relationship between the Lord’s Supper and the Body of Christ is given by Paul earlier in Chapter 10, particularly in verses 16 and 17.

    “Discerning the body” can be reworded as a question: “What is the Body?” The typical disagreement between transubstantiation among Catholics, consubstantiation among Lutherans, and those of us who have a figurative understanding has fallen along the lines of whether the bread and wine are in some way actually Jesus’ body and blood or not. But if the answer is asked of 1 Cor 10:17, the answer is that the Body of Christ is the church. In other words, the debate seems to yield unhelpful categories for answering the question and ultimately produces the disunity that Paul was specifically addressing in 1 Corinthians.

    My suggestion is that the unity and identity of the Church is corporately found in our co-participation in Christ’s sacrifice as the atonement for our sin and borne out practically in our local assemblies. Therefore, the discernment of the body is the presence of Christ in the unity of His believers manifestly expressed in the practice of the ordinances. So I think about the place Christ has given me among His people. I’m part of something much larger than myself in the name of Christ and I need to submit to His purposes among the Body.

  8. Marsisme says:

    Arthur … excellent point! I like it and believe a true meal model would serve to build community.

    However, as with most practices and institutions, spirit counts more than structure.

    1. Marsisme,

      I agree that spirit counts more than structure, but the reality is that structure still matters. The modern communion ceremony is very different from the shared meal described in scripture. This discrepancy ought to cause us to ask, “Why?”

  9. phil gilles says:

    I receive the communion bread and grape juice to please my wife.
    I don’t see any fellowship going on, except that everybody eats and drinks from the distributors. I have no idea what fellowship means. I don’t see this communion, J. I. Packer is talking about, has anything to do with God. When this activity is happening, I am thinking I wish I was someplace else.

    1. Phil,

      I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I wish you could eat the Lord’s Supper as we see it in the bible – as a full meal without ceremony. That’s when true fellowship occurs.

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Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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