When it comes how we receive the Lord’s Supper together, we must always rely on the words of our Lord. Christ’s word is truth, and it is the norming norm – that is, the Word of God is the thing which helps us understand everything else. We don’t ask ourselves, “How might Christ want us to receive the Lord’s Supper together,” come up with some ideas of our own, and then go searching the Scriptures for texts that help us firm up that opinion. No, we go to the Word and say, “What does it say?” Then we read it and pray to God for understanding. Then we know our answer.
So how do we receive the Lord’s Supper together? What does Jesus say?
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark is similar)
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)
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. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
I’ve italicized a few words throughout for emphasis. From Christ’s Words of Institution, we know that Christians ought to be receiving the Lord’s Supper together. The commands, all the “you”s – they are all addressed in plural: Jesus is speaking to all y’all when He institutes the Supper. And we, all together, as we heed Jesus’ command and eat and drink His Body and Blood, are all together doing something else: we’re all together proclaiming the Lord’s death.
So this quickly helps defeat the mistaken notion that the Lord’s Supper is a “me and Jesus” moment. Certainly Jesus is feeding you (individually) His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your (individual) sins. But that’s not the main thing in the meal. The main thing is that you along with your fellow Christians are all together being fed the Body and Blood of Jesus, to be forgiven, and to be united in this forgiveness by the means of His Body and His Blood. I’ve heard it said that Christ is “bodying and bloodying us together.” We are communing, being united, being formed into a community by Christ.
We are taught this by the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 10:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Then what harms this communion? Unbelief and unrepentant sin (which is unbelief) harms it. And, because we are proclaiming the Lord’s death (that is, preaching the Gospel), the other thing that harms the communion is false or error-filled proclamation of the Lord’s death.
Again, God’s Word teaches us this:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21)
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. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
It’s for these reasons that Closed Communion is practiced. We’re tempted to see this practice as a judgmental act, or as lacking hospitality. Some would say it’s not kind or nice. But we learn from the Lord that there are serious consequences to receiving the Lord’s Supper if you don’t discern the body; that is, without believing that it’s Christ’s true, actual Body and Blood being given to us sinners.
If one doesn’t believe Christ’s words that the Body and Blood are for the forgiveness of sins, then the Lord’s Supper is not helping that person but instead harming him. We know we are sinners and are prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper, believing that it’s forgiving our sins, when we have examined ourselves. How do we know how to do that? Because we’ve been instructed by the Pastor to do so from the Ten Commandments and the teaching of the Scriptures.
The point of Closed Communion isn’t to cast someone away, but rather to keep him from eating or drinking judgment on himself until he can be instructed. In my conversations with people before Divine Service or at the rail, I always say that I want to talk with them more about the Lord’s Supper and, if they’re willing, meet with them to instruct them so they can come and receive it. It’s good that they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper. But, heeding the Lord’s warning that some are sick or have died because they received the Supper unworthily or unexamined, I must love them enough to say “Not today, but let’s meet soon so you can receive along with us.”
We should have more conversation about this in Scripture Study sometime soon. I think we will take it up when we have completed our study of Revelation. Please come and learn from God’s Word! If you have any questions in the meantime, please come see me. I’d love to talk with you.
Peace in Christ,
P.S. – I had opportunity to review CPH’s new book Preparing to Receive Holy Communion. The book is fine and can be helpful, but it’s basically a set of short essays on preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper. I admit I had hoped for a more practical guide. So, it’s not that I don’t recommend it, but I also am not saying “be sure to go out and buy it!”