We prepare to do all sorts of things. Getting ready for a night out on the town involves dressing up, making dinner reservations, and perhaps arranging for babysitting. Getting ready for golf season involves cleaning the clubs, paying your dues, and making a few trips to the driving range to straighten out your drive. If you’re doing maintenance on your house, you make a checklist of all the supplies you’ll need, you get out your tools, you prep the Shop-Vac and you put on you grubbiest clothes. Likewise, when we come to the Lord’s Supper, we are taught by our Lord to prepare ourselves to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Where does our Lord teach us about preparing? The Lord’s Supper is instituted in four places in the New Testament: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It’s in 1 Corinthians that discussion of preparation occurs. Here’s a portion that concerns the institution and practice of the Lord’s Supper:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1 Cor. 11:23-31)
Notice that Paul writes that he “received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” That is, these are not things which Paul has made up or decided are the best way to celebrate and receive the Supper, but in fact are the instructions of Jesus that are being handed on (literally, traditioned) by Paul to the Church. Here we learn from Paul about several teachings concerning the Lord’s Supper. We’ll actually come back to this passage next month when I write about closed communion. This month, though, in considering preparation, I want us to take note of Paul’s exhortation: “Let a person examine himself, then…”
What does it mean to “examine” yourself? It means that, having been instructed in the plain teachings of the Christian faith, you reflect on who you are before God, of your need, of how He helps you, and in particular how he helps you in the Lord’s Supper.
The Church has an incredible treasure and help in preparing ourselves: Luther’s Small Catechism. Luther included in it the plain texts and teachings of the Christian Faith. Luther also included a section entitled Christian Questions With Their Answers. Have you looked at this section? Did you know that it has a subtitle that reads, “Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament”? That’s right, this section is tailor-made to help us prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper!
I’m not going to reproduce it here. I encourage you to look it up. This section consists of 20 questions that lead us from recognizing that we are sinners, lost and condemned before God in and of ourselves, to the confession that we have hope and salvation in Jesus Christ, the benefits of whose death and resurrection are given to us in His true Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper.
Are you required to use the Christian Questions With Their Answers before coming to the Lord’s Supper? No. I do suggest that you seriously consider making use of them, if not before each service, then at least on a regular basis. But there are other ways to reflect on your sin, neediness, and the gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation that God provides to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.
One of those ways is to merely pull out your hymnal, turn to the Words of Institution in the midst of the Divine Service liturgy, and read them to yourself, reflecting on what Jesus says you are receiving. Luther actually gets at this when he asks the question, in the Sacrament of the Altar section of the catechism, “Who receives this sacrament worthily?” Do you remember his answer? Can you recite it still?
Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
I teach another step of preparation to both youth and adults being catechized in preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper: the act of praying before receiving the Sacrament. Did you know that there are prayers in the front portion of Lutheran Service Book to use both before and after receiving the Sacrament? Consider taking a moment to pray these prayers before and after receiving communion during the Divine Service.
Finally, you may have noticed in the communion statement in the bulletin that I highlight two hymns that are very useful in preparing to receive the Sacrament. These hymns are Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior (LSB 627) and The Death of Jesus Christ, Our Lord (LSB 634.) No, I’m not suggesting that you pull out the hymnal and sing these hymns during the service! (Although you could purchase a hymnal for your home and use them on Saturday evening in this way.) The text of these two hymns helps to walk you from your sin to the grace and forgiveness offered to you in the true Body and Blood of Jesus. They’re a sort of hymn version of Luther’s Christian Questions for you to read and reflect on.
There you have it. I pray these suggestions help you in preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper, and thus magnify the blessing and joy of receiving this gift from our Lord! Next month: Closed communion.
Peace in Christ,
P.S. – Apparently CPH has just published a small booklet titled Preparing to Receive Holy Communion. I’ve not reviewed it yet as to it’s helpfulness, but I plan to do so soon and will let you know!