(I recently taught the church about the Lord's supper, and will be sharing what I taught over the next few weeks)
I took the above picture recently when, as a church, we met together in a local hall on a Sunday afternoon. We were about halfway through sharing the Lord's supper together. Mae (on the left) looks very sober as she examines the bread that we shared (and probably is trying to tear off a chunk!) Malachi (on the right) is just excited and happy as he interacts with his mum. I love the picture, because it captures something important about the Lord's supper.
Before I explain what I mean, you might be thinking: "This doesn't look like the kind of Lord's supper I'm used to! Maybe this is what they call 'messy church'! It's that kind of service where all the kids get involved - it's fun for the little ones, relaxing for their parents, and entertaining (but probably a little shallow) for everyone else."
Nope - this is not what they call messy church (although it does get a little messy - about as messy as you'd expect the average family get-together to be). This is just the church doing what will be our regular practice when we meet on a Sunday afternoon. We'll sit together around a few tables, break bread, eat a meal, and then share red grape juice.
I thought it would be appropriate to provide some of the reasons why we're practicing the Lord's supper in this way. I'm anticipating I'll do this over three posts, which is why I'm calling this one the first course. I've got six points to make, and here are the first two.
1. The Lord's supper is a meal - so we'll eat a meal and sometimes refer to it as "The Lord's meal"
In Luke 22v19-20, we're told that after sharing the bread and before sharing the wine, Jesus and the disciples had supper. This would have been a meal. Similar to many of us today, the evening meal was usually the main meal of the day.
When the apostle Paul writes about the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians 11, he rebukes those who are eating their meal before everyone has arrived (verse 21-22). By having a meal, in one sense they are continuing to adhere to the practice of Jesus (1 Cor.11v25). But because they are not eating together, as one body, they are being disobedient to the Lord (1 Cor.11v20-22, 29).
Paul's instruction to remedy this is simple - "When you come together to eat, wait for one another." (1 Cor.11v33).
We will therefore eat a meal together as part of remembering the Lord's death for us, and sometimes refer to it as "the Lord's meal".
2. The Lord's meal reminds us of the death of Jesus Christ who now lives - so we will be both sober and joyful
Here's a simple question: What are you doing when you eat birthday cake?
You're remembering and you're celebrating. You're remembering that a particular person was born on that day, and celebrating that they're still alive and kicking.
When does this change? Usually when someone dies. You may still remember their birthday, but you won't celebrate to anywhere near the same degree that you used to.
So why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus, given that he died on the cross? Because he lives! He overcame death and rose again! We celebrate his birth because he lives!
If that's true of the birth of Jesus, then it's also true of his death! We must never remember the Lord's death as if he were still dead - there must be an element of celebration because he lives!
When we consider that final meal in the upper room, we probably imagine the atmosphere to be sober and sad. But now consider the meals Jesus shared after his resurrection. When he appears to his disciples (Luke 24 v36+), and eats fish and honeycomb with them, we're told "they marveled and did not believe for joy".
In John 21, Jesus appears to his followers while they're fishing, and Peter is so happy he jumps for joy - out of the boat! Imagine the meal that followed, shared around a warming fire on a beach. What would the atmosphere have been as they had fellowship with the risen Christ? Surely it isn't sadness or morbid gloom we imagine, but joy and hope and relief.
When we have the Lord's meal, our aim is not to recreate the atmosphere of that final meal before the cross, but of the meals after the resurrection.
So we should be sober, because we're remembering the Lord's death. But we should be joyful, because the Lord is alive!
We should be sober, because he isn't physically present with us at the table. But we should be joyful, because one day he is going to return!
We should be sober, because on the cross he was the victim of agony and humiliation. But we should be joyful, because on the cross he became the victor over sin and death.
We must strive for a balance between being sober and being joyful. That's why I love that picture at the top. Sober and joyful.
Or perhaps Paul phrases it better: "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." (2 Cor. 6v10)