By J.R. Miller
1 Corinthians 11:20-34
We ought to have true and right views of the Lord's Supper. It is a sacred ordinance. It leads us to think of the death of our dearest Friend, and we are always reverent in the presence of death, or when thinking of death. It is the death of the Son of God of which this memorial leads us to think, and that was the most wonderful death that ever took place on this earth. When a king dies, the whole land stands mourning; what should be our emotion when God's Son bows His head and dies! The object of His death, ought to add to its sacredness in our sight. He died for us--to save us.
To the Christians Paul wrote, "When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat." Why? Because of the spirit in which they met together. There were dissensions and strifes among them. Besides, there was no reverence in their meeting. They did not understand the true meaning of the Lord's Supper. They had no thought of its sacredness. They met for eating and drinking, as if it were a revel they were keeping--rather than a solemn act of worship. It was impossible to eat the Lord's Supper in such a way as that. We have no such temptation in these days. Everywhere this sacrament is invested with sacredness and is observed reverently--at least as to form. Still, even this wild abuse is not without its lessons for us.
We can truly receive the Lord's Supper--only when we take it with hearts in full accord with its holy meaning. Strife and bitterness unfit us for it. We ought to have the love the one for the other, without resentment, without anger, without jealousy or envy. The rich and the poor meet together at the Lord's table, and it ought to be indeed as brethren. The highest and the lowest in earthly position sit here side by side--and there should be the sweetest accord of spirit. Before God, they are one. Without any of the wild orgies that dishonored the Lord's Supper at Corinth, it is yet possible, even with all our decorousness, to make it a mockery. If we make it only an empty form, without love, without faith, without a discerning of the Lord's body, without any true dependence upon the atonement of Christ, without any spiritual receiving of the things represented in the sacred emblems, is our receiving of it anything that pleases God? Is it possible for us, when we come together thus, to eat the Lord's Supper?
The apostle went into particulars as to the sins that kept them from receiving the blessing Jesus planned for those who eat at His table: "for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk!" Those who stumble so at the word "unworthily" in verse twenty-seven, should study this verse carefully as it gives the sense of "unworthily" as it is there used. The Lord's Supper was most sadly profaned by these early Christians. When the time came for it, while the poor people present were hungry, not having had any share in the "love feast" that preceded, another 'set' were really drunken from overindulgence. It is easy to understand what Paul meant by eating and drinking unworthily, as he had these Corinthian scenes in his mind.
Another suggestion is that the permeation of the Church with the spirit of Christ was not a sudden attainment--but was gradual. Our present high conception of what Christians should be, how they should live, is the growth of centuries. Not all the "good days" are behind us, as some croakers tell us.
Paul emphasizes the sacred character of the Lord's Supper by telling its history. Paul was not present at the institution of the Lord's Supper. He was not a Christian for some time after Christ's death. Yet he did not get his knowledge of that wonderful night from the apostles who were at the table. He received it directly from the Master Himself. This gives us a hint of Paul's relation to Christ, his intimacy with Him, and the reality of his communion with Him. Unless we make Paul an impostor, it is one of the strongest evidences of Christ's resurrection and life in glory, that He made Himself known to him and made important revelations to him. He seems to have talked with this apostle familiarly as one talks with a friend. Then Paul became a witness to us of the resurrection, ascension and glory of the Savior.
The time of the institution of the Lord's Supper ought to be noted. It was not on a pleasant day on the seashore, when the sun was shining brightly and the birds were singing sweetly and the heart of the Master was made glad by the kindness of the people. The words, "the night in which he was betrayed," tell the whole story of the time. It was just before He went out to the Garden. He knew all that lay before Him--that the traitor had now gone out, during the passion supper, to arrange to betray Him; that before the morning He would be dragged as a criminal before the Sanhedrin, and that tomorrow before the nine o'clock He would be hanging on a cross in shame. Yet, knowing all the terrible events that were to be crowded into that night and the next day--He took all the first part of the night for sweet and loving fellowship with His friends. He sat down with them at the Passover meal. Then, at the close of this, He instituted the memorial supper, after which He sat and talked with them in tender, loving way, and then prayed with them and for them.
All this shows the utter self-forgetfulness of our Lord. He did not let His own approaching sorrow and death cast any shadow upon the hearts of His disciple. Instead, His love made those last hours the most sacred they had ever enjoyed with Him. There is a lesson here for us. We ought to do as Jesus did, and should never permit our grief to make us selfish. In all our own sufferings, we should hide away our pain and pour only the chastened love of our hearts upon others. It comes to us from the very night of Christ's anguish. It is a memorial of His bitter sorrows.
In the midst of His sorrow, Jesus gave thanks. Then He broke the bread and said, "This is my body, which is for you." The thanksgiving that night, amid all the gathering woe, is very remarkable. Surely we should always give thanks for our mercies--even in the darkest hours of our life. No gift should be taken from the hand of God at any time without gratitude. Suppose there is a great grief in your home, or the shadow of an overwhelming sorrow is hanging over your home; when you gather at the table for the family meal, lift up your hearts and thank God for what he has given you. The Lord's Supper should be eaten always with thanksgiving, even in the darkest hour.
The breaking of the bread was also suggestive. Thus, too, was His body about to be broken. We feed on broken bread. Many of our sweetest blessings come to us from or in broken things. "Bread grain is bruised." We do not eat the wheat whole--but crushed. The alabaster box was broken that the ointment in it might flow out to anoint Christ and to fill the house and the world with the odor. We get the blessings for forgiveness and the divine grace only when our hearts are broken. "My body, which is for you." This tells us all. It lays bare the very heart of the Savior.
Jesus asked His disciples to eat in remembrance of Him. We are very forgetful creatures. One of the exhortations of the Psalmist is to his own soul, in the One Hundred and Third Psalm, that he should not forget God's benefits. But that is the very thing we are quickest to do! We do not appreciate the true value of the monuments or memorials in keeping alive the memory of past deeds or great events. We do not know how much of our vivid thought of Christ's death we owe to the Lord's Supper, which is observed so often. The chief reason Christ gave it to His Church--was that we might never forget His love, His sufferings, His death for us.
One morning a young man, an Englishman, at that time living in Philadelphia and attending the same church of which I was pastor, came into my study, and drawing from his pocket a letter, opened it, showing me, in among the folds, some pressed flowers. "These are from my mother's grave in England," he said. Then, with exceeding tenderness, he spoke of his mother, her sweet life, her love, her thoughtfulness, her trust in Christ, her beautiful death. The letter he held was from his sister at home, and she had plucked these flowers from the grave of the precious mother and sent them across the sea to him. No wonder they recalled afresh all her sweet life. In the communion service we have flowers from the grave of Christ, and they bring back to us all the tender recollections, helping us to think anew of His love and its great sacrifice for us.
After breaking the bread, Jesus gave the cup, with the explanation, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." The Lord's Supper is a silent sermon, telling to the world that Christ died--and that we are His followers. It is not a proclaiming of our own goodness, that we are better that others. In taking our place at Christ's table, we say to all men that we are sinners, that Christ died for us, and that our sole dependence is upon the merits of His blood. Some people shrink from a public confession, as if it were a setting of themselves before the world as better than others, as if it were a heralding of their personal piety. But it is not a "profession of religion" that we make when we unite with the Church and come to the Lord's table--but a "confession of Christ." There is a great difference in these two phrases. Here it is a proclaiming, not of our own goodness, that we make at the communion--but of the death of Christ. We honor Christ, we humble ourselves, for we put ourselves behind the death and the cross of Christ--and hide there. We are not seen at all--it is Christ's death for sinners that is seen.