The Lord’s Supper is an occasion that is both solemn and celebratory. In the Lord’s Supper we remember the suffering and death of the innocent Son of God and we confess that it was our sin that made it necessary. In the Lord’s Supper we rejoice that God made a way for us to be saved and we proclaim with confidence that Christ is alive and will come again. In these ways we express, in turn, both sorrow and joy, both grief and triumph. There’s a sense in which in this one little meal we rehearse the whole gospel, with all its shame and all its glory.
But there is another element to the Lord’s Supper that makes it both solemn and celebratory. I wonder if you have considered that the Lord’s Supper is unique among the elements of corporate worship in that it involves a visible separation between those who are Christians and those who are not. When we rise to sing, we are unconcerned if unbelievers sing alongside believers; when we preach, we preach the gospel to the hearts of both Christians and non-Christians; when we pray, we pray for the concerns of members and non-members alike. But when it comes to Lord’s Supper, we welcome some and exclude others. We distinguish between those who ought to participate and those who ought to refrain.
Christians have long spoken of ‘fencing the table’. In fencing the table, we relay the Bible’s warning that to eat and drink as an unbeliever is to eat and drink judgment upon yourself. Thus we call upon each person to ‘examine himself … and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup’ (1 Corinthians 11:28). This is rightly a pensive moment in which each of us needs to reflect on the state of our own souls. We need to consider whether our hearts and lives show evidence that we are followers of Christ. Only then do we take and eat. But even as we do so, we acknowledge that some will not because some must not. That visible separation grieves us, for it shows that there are some who have not yet come to Christ, some who still refuse to hear and heed the good news. Our hearts rejoice at our salvation but grieve at their rebellion.
But with the fencing comes an invitation, for a fence that keeps away those who are outside also protects those who are inside. With the warning for some to stay beyond the fence is the invitation for others to enjoy the rewards of abiding within it. Thus fencing the table is accompanied with the invitation to take part and to enjoy the benefits of participation. That visible inclusion encourages us, for it shows that so many have come to Christ, that so many have heard the gospel, that though we are called as individuals, we are called into a community. Our hearts rejoice that we are part of something so wondrous as the family of God.
For a number of reasons, then, the Lord’s Supper is an occasion that is both grave and joyful. Part of the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper is related to its exclusivity – some are told to stay away. Part of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is related to its inclusivity – so many have been invited to join in. Thus as you participate in the Lord’s Supper, perhaps even this Sunday, it is appropriate for you to experience grief and gratitude, sorrow and celebration, all in this one miniature little meal. Take and eat.
Tim Challies is a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Canada. He is also a blogger, author, and book reviewer.