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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Text:LD 28 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs: Hy. 20:1,2,3,4; Hy. 20:5,6; Ps. 81:1,9,14; Hy. 46; Ps. 133

Readings: John 6:32-59; 1 Cor 10:14-17, 11:17-26

Text: QA 77 of the HC & BC 35

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Six times per year we, as a congregation, celebrate the Lord's Supper. Every other month. It's a pretty important part of our worship.

Is it optional? We can do this, but we don't have to? Or must we celebrate the Lord's Supper?

Who must? If it is a command, who is to attend the Lord's Supper? What about the young people? The children? Where do they fit in? If attending the table is a command, how does the command apply to them?

Sometimes the Lord's Supper is called "communion." We don't often use that name for the Lord's Supper, but it is an entirely correct name. You find it back in our word "communicants." We talk about communicant members: that means, members who have been admitted to communion (at the table).

At the table we have communion: with Christ and with the other communicants. What does it mean to have communion with Christ? How do we have communion? Is it physical? Spiritual? What is it like?

At the table we have communion with the others celebrating the Lord's Supper. What does that mean? That we also have communion with our brothers and sisters at the table? What does it mean for admission to the table? Open table? Closed table? What does that mean?

Let us address these questions (and perhaps a few others) this afternoon.

1. The Call of our Lord Jesus Christ;
2. Communion with Jesus Christ;
3. Communion with the Congregation

1. On the night He was betrayed, at his last Passover, our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the sacrament of the holy supper. He took bread, gave thanks for it and broke it, gave it to his disciples and said: Take and eat; this is my body. He took a cup of wine, gave thanks for it, gave it to his disciples telling them to drink from it. He said: This is my blood which is poured out for you. He told them, and in them commanded the church of all ages: Do this in remembrance of me.

Our Saviour Jesus Christ gave the church this sacrament of his supper to nourish and sustain those whom He has already regenerated and incorporated into His family, nl., His church. Just like families sit down together for a meal, so the church family of Christ sits down for a meal, the holy supper.

Who are these regenerated people who have been incorporated into the church? Is that a special select few members of the church? Only those who can give some kind of a testimony of how they were born again? Who have had some radical experience?

No, we ought not to think that. All who have been baptized have been incorporated into the church of Christ. Remember some of the expressions we heard in the last couple of weeks. BC 34: By baptism we are received into the church of God. LD 27: Infants as well as adults belong to God's covenant and congregation.... Therefore, by baptism ... they must be grafted into the Christian church.

Incorporation, being received, belonging, grafted in-these expressions all mean the same thing. You become a member of the church through baptism.

So the Lord's Supper is for those who have been incorporated, by baptism, into the church.

But we need to say more in connection with the question of for whom the Lord established the Lord's Supper. It is for those whom He has already regenerated. Who are the regenerated? Baptized believers. People incorporated into the church of God who embrace the promises of their baptism. Those who have had their sins cleansed by what the water of baptism signifies: nl., the blood and Spirit of Christ.

And so we need to say that Christ gives the Lord's Supper to you. To all of you. All you who are baptized members of this church. For each of you, because you are baptized, have the promise of the forgiveness of your sins and the renewal by the Holy Spirit.

This is not a call for child-communion. For children at the Lord's supper table. There is the whole element of self-examination the Apostle Paul commands and the spiritual maturity needed for that (next week). But it is a call for all the children and young people of this congregation to work towards the moment when they will make a public profession of faith and so take upon themselves the responsibility of self-examination, to be admitted to the table. Yes, you need to be ready to make a public profession of faith honestly, with integrity. The consistory had the pleasant task this past Wednesday of examining several young people of this congregation who are ready to take upon themselves the responsibilities of a communicant member. You need to be ready. But to be ready you need to make yourself ready. You can't just sit back and wait for "readiness" to happen like a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky. You need to work at it by being busy with Bible reading, prayer, catechism instruction, paying attention to the sermons, being intentional and focused about worship, speaking with your parents about the Lord and his word, and leading and living a godly life. A life where you forsake the world and follow Jesus Christ.

In Lord's Day 28, QA 75, the young person memorizing his catechism says: "Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup in remembrance of Him." When you young people faithfully memorize this Q&A, then you are saying that Christ has commanded you to remember Him at the table. And commands are there to be obeyed.

As I said, it's something you need to be ready for. You need the spiritual maturity and stability necessary for proper self-examination. But it's a readiness you must consciously, intentionally, work towards.

Our children and young people live in the church, incorporated by baptism into the church, received as members of the church, grafted into the congregation, heirs of the promises of the forgiveness of sins and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit - they live beyond the baptismal font. They have passed through the water of baptism. They live between the font and the table. That's a good place, a safe place, but a place they need to move beyond. From the font to the table. From your baptism to your public profession of faith. To every child who has been baptized the call of Christ goes out: Make sure you are making your way to the table. Come to the table to have communion with Christ at His table.

2. Communion with Jesus Christ.

What sort of communion do we have with Christ at the table? It's a real communion. It's as real as the food you eat. And just like food and drink nourish and strengthen your physical life, so the communion you have with Christ at the table nourishes and strengthens your spiritual life.

God created physical food to sustain our bodies. To strengthen, sustain and nourish our souls, God sent the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven -- Christ, the bread of life. We eat his flesh and drink his blood. That's what the Lord Jesus said in John 6. This is, of course, not a literal eating and drinking. This is not a cannibalism of some sort. Rather, to eat the flesh of Christ and to drink the blood of Christ means to receive him and make him your own by faith. It means to accept by faith the crucified body and shed blood of Christ for the washing away of your sins.

There is a very close relationship between the bread of the Lord's Supper and the body of Christ; between the wine of the Lord's Supper and his blood. Not that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ (as the RCC believes); not that the physical body and blood of Christ are, somehow, in the bread and wine (as the Lutheran churches believe). -- cf. LD 29. And yet there is a very close relationship between the bread and wine we eat at the Lord's table here on earth and the body and blood of Christ in heaven. When we, in faith, eat the bread and wine, we are really eating and drinking the true, natural body and blood of Christ -however, not by the mouth, but by faith. By faith, the hand and mouth of the soul.

When we, by faith, eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, then we have communion with him. We are partakers of him. He communicates himself to us and we receive him by faith. He blesses us with his grace and merits and we enjoy all the benefits of his death and resurrection.

I've been emphasizing that one only receives Christ and the benefits he gives at the Lord's Supper by faith. Even though the true, natural body and blood of Christ are joined to the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, the benefits that flow from heaven to earth (from Christ to us) are not received by everyone. The benefits of Christ's death and resurrection are not received by everyone who eats the bread and the wine. If an unbeliever eats the bread and wine, he takes it unto his condemnation. If someone living unrepentantly in sin partakes of the bread and wine, he takes it unto his condemnation. He does not receive the truth of the sacrament. He does not receive the benefits of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

BC 35 mentions two examples from Scripture: Judas and Simon the sorcerer. Two men who received the sacrament, but did not receive Christ. According to our confession, Judas was there when Christ instituted the Lord's Supper. Jesus had given Judas a piece of bread, but Satan had filled the heart of Judas. Filled with hatred he betrayed the master. He received the bread but he did not receive Christ. He ate the bread but he had no communion with Christ.

The other example mentioned is Simon the sorcerer about whom we read in Acts 8:9ff. It is a rather odd reference for there is no indication that Simon partook of the Lord's Supper. Rather, Acts 8 tells of Simon the sorcerer being baptized. But the point is the same -- he received the sacrament, but not the truth of the sacrament because it did not meet with faith in him. He was baptized but then quickly showed that his faith was not genuine. When he saw the power that the apostles had, he offered them money for the gift. Peter said to Simon: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

He received the sacrament of baptism, but he did not receive Christ. Similarly, one can receive the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, but if his heart is not right before God, if he is captive to sin, then he will not receive Christ. He will not have communion with Christ. For Christ is communicated exclusively to believers. Also at the Lord's Supper table, the truth of John 3:36 applies: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

The believer has communion with Christ. Blessed communion. A communion by which he is nourished and strengthened by Christ unto eternal life. But not only does he have communion with Christ. He also has communion with the others at that table. Not only is the communion vertical; it is also horizontal.

3. Communion with the congregation.

The first sentence of the last paragraph of BC 35 says:

Finally, we receive this holy sacrament in the congregation of the people of God with humility and reverence as we together commemorate the death of Christ our Saviour with thanksgiving and we confess our faith and Christian religion.

Christ gave the sacrament to the congregation. The bread and wine as symbols of the body and blood of Christ is to be received in the midst of the congregation. As the congregation meets together in worship. Our confession says this because the word of God indicates that. In Acts 2:42 we read that the members of the early church devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. The expression: "the breaking of bread" refers to the Lord's Supper. They celebrated the Lord's Supper together under the authoritative teaching of the apostles.

Also the passages we read out of 1 Cor indicates that the early church celebrated the Lord's Supper when they came together. When they gathered together for worship.

Because of this teaching of scripture taken up in our confession, it is not right to celebrate the Lord's Supper at, say, a conference. Sometimes you read that -- that communion will be celebrated during a Bible conference. Or just among some friends. That is sacrilege. That is taking what is holy and profaning it.

As in the NT, the proper celebration of the Lord's Supper is to be administered under the authoritative ministry of the apostolic Word of God. It is within that context that we are, together, to commemorate Christ's death.

The last words of the sentence of BC 35 I just referred to are important as well in this connection. "...and we confess our faith and Christian religion." In context: "... we receive this holy sacrament in the congregation of the people of God ... as we together commemorate the death of Christ ... and we confess our faith and Christian religion."

Celebrating the Lord's Supper is an act of confession of faith and of the Christian religion. The congregation together confesses its faith and the Christian religion. In order for the congregation to do that, there needs to be a unity of faith and of understanding as to what the Christian religion is. There needs to be a unity in teaching, in doctrine. And on practice based on the doctrine.

Paul said in 1 Cor 10:17, Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. One loaf of bread. The congregation, as one body, partaking of the one loaf. Partaking of the bread of life which is Christ.

In 1 Cor. 11:26 Paul says that when we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we proclaim Christ. We proclaim what we believe about Christ our only Saviour.

You confess a unity of faith and religion with whomever you celebrate the Lord's Supper. Every time you celebrate the Lord's Supper you are making a public profession of faith. You are declaring that you share a common faith with the others around the table and that you hold to the Christian religion as taught by the church.

In practical terms, what does this mean? First, it is why we believe scripture forbids an open Lord's Supper table. What is an open table? An open table is a table where anyone can attend and partake no matter what their faith, beliefs or doctrine is. We believe scripture calls for a closed table. Only those who profess the Reformed faith and who agree with the teaching of the Christian religion as it is taught here can be, honestly, admitted. The elders, as stewards of the household of God, have the duty to admit and to bar. To have an open table is dishonest. To have an open table where there is no unity of doctrine is dishonest. It would be to pretend there is unity of faith and doctrine where, in fact, there isn't. And that is not honest.

The fact that you confess a unity of faith and religion with whomever you celebrate the Lord's Supper has another implication as well. That every time you celebrate the Lord's Supper you are making a public profession of faith has a second fundamental implication. It means, secondly, that you cannot partake communion anywhere you please. When you partake communion, you are declaring that you share a common faith with the others around the table and that you hold to the Christian religion as taught by the church. You will understand, of course, that it would be entirely dishonest to celebrate Lord's Supper in a church that denies parts of the Christian religion that we hold to be true. If a church denies the divinity of Christ; if a church denies baptism to infant children; if a church has a view of scripture that allows sisters to serve as office-bearers, or a view of scripture that does not call homosexuality and lesbianism an abomination -- as scripture itself calls it-there is no unity in the Christian religion. And it would be dishonest to take communion there. You would be saying two things: By your own understanding of the Christian religion you would have to say, there are fundamental differences. But by partaking communion there you would say: Actually, there is no difference. Actually I am in total agreement with those with whom I am communing.

Some people think that attending the Lord's table anywhere in the world is a personal right. They only consider the vertical relationship between them and the Lord Jesus. And in our culture which is rampantly individualistic, this thinking is gaining ground. But although that vertical relationship is, of course, there (no one will deny that), the horizontal is just as much there. At the table it's not just: the Lord Jesus and me. It is, rather, the Lord Jesus and we.

This matter can be difficult. It can be difficult when parents or siblings are visiting. It can be difficult when we are visiting family or friends. We do not underestimate how difficult this can me. The discussion obviously has its emotional sides to it. And ministers and elders must deal sensitively with those who struggle with this. The Ninth commandment call us to speak the truth in love.

A closed Lord's Supper table is not a matter of arrogance. It's not thumbing one's ecclesiastical nose at the world. It is, rather, holding out hope to the world. It is holding the Lord Jesus Christ out to the world. A closed Lord's Supper table is holding forth the Christian religion, offering the saving doctrines of scripture and of the true faith to a world without Christ. It is extending the truths of the Reformed faith to other believers who are straying from the ancient paths; who are members of churches where the church leaders have moved the ancient boundary stones set up by our forefathers.

Let us continue to celebrate the Lord's Supper. The blessed communion we have with another as we are united in the faith and our Christian religion; as together we proclaim our Lord Jesus Christ to be the only Saviour of the world.

Let us continue to celebrate the Supper in remembrance of Him. And enjoy the blessed communion we have with him whereby he strengthens us and nourishes us with his body and blood unto life eternal.

Let us continue to heed the command to commemorate his saving death -- the death that gives us life.

In Christ God gave us bread eternal. In Christ, we too are like a loaf of bread. And our unity is in Christ alone. In Christ, the broken bread, we are made one. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, one Saviour, one table in heaven waiting for us where the bride will sit with the bridegroom forever.

Alleluia, Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. George van Popta

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