Yellow warning signs become so familiar that you begin to tune them out. Perhaps you’ve become too familiar with the warnings associated with the Lord’s Supper such as those found in 1 Corinthians 11:27–28. But the warnings are important, because there are dangers involved, as well as great blessings.
Beware of failing to prepare. Do not sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Paul, who had not been present at the first Lord’s Supper, quotes what the Lord had revealed to him. About the bread, Jesus said, “This is my body.” As he gave the cup he said, “This is my blood.” There is something solemn and mysterious about that. But the Corinthian love feast had degenerated into chaos. The feast started out as a fellowship meal, but slipped into a combination of hunger and drunkenness. This church (which receives no praise from Paul on this account, verse 17) treated the Lord’s Supper as an ordinary meal. The problems here grew out of the party spirit evident earlier in the book. Don’t treat the Lord’s Supper as something superstitious or magical. The doctrine of transubstantiation led to veneration of the elements, which became a form of idolatry. Do not treat the sacrament casually, as Corinthian church did. This is not just an ordinary meal. Do not come merely out of habit or custom. Do not come if you are not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. This meal is a proclamation of the Lord’s death. In coming you express your trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ. If you do not yet trust, wait until you do before you come. If your life contradicts your profession, make getting that straightened out your priority.
Don’t eat and drink judgment! Just as baptism has both a blessing and a judgment aspect, so does the Lord’s Supper. The Old Testament Passover involved the death of a lamb or young goat. The body of which Jesus spoke was broken. His blood was shed as he hung on the cursed tree. God does not take lightly the misuse or profaning of his ordinances. The elements, which were intended as a blessing, become symbols of judgment, and involve God’s actual judgment. The church at Corinth had experienced illness, and even the death of some of its members, because of its abuse of the Lord’s Table, verse 30. God intends for you take his warning very seriously. You make solemn promises when you profess your faith before God’s people. He expects you to keep them.
Examine yourself. Understand what the Lord’s Supper means. The Exodus from Egypt is the great picture of redemption in the Old Testament. It was both remembered and celebrated in the annual Passover meal. Jesus picked his last Passover as the occasion to institute the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper does fulfill and replace the Passover. But the Lord’s death, pictured in the Lord’s Supper, fulfills every sacrifice of the Old Testament. Just after the fall, God graciously replaced Adam and Eve’s pathetic fig leaves with animal skins. While the word “sacrifice” is not mentioned, the clothing that covered their shame involved the death of animals. Abel understood as he offered lambs to the Lord. Abraham told Isaac that the Lord would provide a lamb, and the ram caught in the thicket became a substitute for Isaac. Not only the Passover lamb, but many of the sacrifices offered at the tabernacle and temple became a fellowship meal. God was declaring that he was at peace with his people. He was their friend. Their sins had been covered. Now all of those pictures and types are fulfilled as Jesus offers himself on the cross. Just as the Passover was a renewal of being God’s people, so is the Lord’s Supper.
Prepare as you come. Preparing does not mean that you look to see if you’ve been good enough to come the Table. If you think you deserve to be there because your life this week has earned you a place, beware! The meal is for sinners. It is for sinners who hate their sin and are grieved by it. It is for sinners who know their need of Christ. Look at the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 97. Spend time looking at your life and at your relationship with your Lord. Be sure that your trust is really in him. If so, there will be fruit in your life. Have you turned, and do you continually turn, away from your sin and to the Savior? Do you have a genuine love for your Lord? Is that love reflected in a life of obedient service? Do not come if you are not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. This meal is a proclamation of the Lord’s death. In coming you express your trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ. If you do not yet trust, wait until you do before you come. If your life contradicts your profession, make getting that straightened out your priority.
Come to the Lord’s table! Recognize the body of the Lord as you come. Those who abused the sacrament in Corinth failed to discern the Lord’s body, verse 29. “Discern” or “recognize” means to distinguish, to identify something as what it really is. They failed to appreciate the significance of the meal and its elements, which represent the crucified Savior. They missed what Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10, that the one loaf means that we are all part of the same body. You need to recognize yourself as part of Christ’s body. That still involves an understanding of his saving work and its significance for his people—that you, and all other believers, are part of the church because he died and rose for you. Appreciate what Christ did in dying and rising for you. Discerning the body includes some understanding of the body of the Lord, broken for you as he died. The Lord’s Supper calls you to keep short accounts, to deal with sin promptly by repenting and seeking forgiveness, both from the Lord and from others.
Look in three directions. Look back at the completed work of Christ, entrusting yourself to him, feeding upon him. Right now recognize that you are in fellowship with other believers precisely because of your union with your Lord who gave his body and blood to redeem you. And look forward in time. You proclaim the Lord’s death, but you do so until he comes. This is not just a memorial feast. It is an anticipation of the great heavenly banquet in the new heavens and earth. Every true Passover feast, every true celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of that magnificent banquet!
Come to Christ’s meal. The warnings are important, but Jesus does not intend them to keep humble, repentant belivers from his table. It is sinners he came to call to hmself. Murray puts it well: “The Lord’s supper is for the support and edification of those who are the disciples of Christ. Baptism is the sign and seal of of union with Christ, the Lord’s supper the provision for cultivating and confirming communion with him.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 3, p. 277) “The people of God are those who have died with Christ and therefore have died to sin. They are not perfect in holiness. But they have been translated from the realm of sin and death to that of righteousness and life. Sin is their burden and plague. Why? Because it is not their realm, they are not at home with it. . . . I daresay those who are eligible to be the guests at Christ’s banquet upbraid themselves and tremble within. This is a mark of your welcome at the feast Christ has prepared, at the table he has prepared in the presence of your enemies. The blood-sprinkled mercy-seat is more and more indispensable and precious and you need anew the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. Why? It is because you are not at home with the sin that resides in you and the sins you commit. It is not your realm and you wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” (Murray, pages 278–279)
So, do examine yourself. Do recognize that you are part of Christ’s body—and come to the Table where he is both the host and the meal. Feed on Christ and live as his people.