Preparing Our Hearts for the Lord’s Supper: Week One

Preparing Our Hearts for the Lord’s Supper: Week One

Because of Jesus’s command to commemorate His death until He returned, most Christian churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper (or Communion, the Eucharist, depending on one’s tradition). Some do it weekly, others monthly, and some more liturgical churches offer the ordinance at daily services. Putting aside the differences in doctrine, such as transubstantiation and how many ordinances or sacraments there are, there is still an understanding that because the Lord’s Supper and baptism are direct commands of Jesus, they are essential practices of our faith. However, how well do we understand the meaning and intention of Jesus’s call to continue this practice until He returns? How prepared are we when we approach the table so that we do not “take it unworthily”? What cultural nuances might we be missing as we approach this ordinance with our western mindset? How intentional are we when we come to the table to have our ourselves prepared, or has it become merely a ritual instead of a heart-encounter and renewed acknowledgement of what the body and blood of Jesus mean to us?

Over the next few weeks we will take a look at some of the rich imagery and meaning behind the symbolism found in the Lord’s Supper. The goal is to give new insights to some, and a deeper intentionality for all as we come to the table. Our hope is that we will be better prepared to acknowledge afresh and worship the One who gave His body and blood for us. We will explore the cultural subtleties, look more deeply at the elements, and gain some insights into practical ways we can come to the table in a more worthy and worshipping way.

This week our focus will be on a cultural aspect of communion that our Western and modern eyes might not have picked up. In John 13-17 we are given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Jesus’s final conversations with His disciples. And in John 14 Jesus comforts His disciples with these words: “In My Father’s house there are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” These words come at the point in their conversation where Jesus has offered a cup to His disciples, and the language is that of a Jewish would-be bridegroom to His intended bride.

In the Jewish tradition, a suitor and his father would go to the home of the woman that the suitor desired to marry. This suitor, his father, and the father of the young woman would determine a “bride price” that the suitor would pay to obtain his beloved. Once that was agreed upon, the father of the groom would give his son a cup of wine which the suitor would then offer to the young woman saying, “This cup I offer you.” If she chose to take the cup and drink from it they were considered betrothed. It should be noted that betrothal in the Jewish tradition was a stronger bond than engagement is in ours. It could only be broken by something akin to divorce, so this giving and accepting of the cup was a very solemn and covenantal commitment.

After the young woman accepted and drank from the cup, the bridegroom would return to his father’s house and begin to build onto that existing structure a place (room or wing) where he could bring his bride. He would work until the father said it was ready, and then go to collect his bride and have the wedding feast. Because they did not know how long that would take, the period of time was undetermined. Now, let us go back to the above words from John 14 and note what Jesus said to His disciples around the time He offered them the cup and instituted the ongoing ordinance of the Lord’s Supper—keep in mind what we have just learned about the process of betrothal. By offering them the cup in this context, Jesus is making the “proposal” of love to them. He will be paying the “bride price” with His own blood, giving His very life for them. Jesus tells His beloved disciples that although He will be going away, like a faithful bridegroom He will be preparing a place for them, and He will return for them to take them to Himself forever. When they accept the cup, they are covenanting with Him to be His, and to faithfully await His return, preparing themselves for that day as the bride would prepare herself.

When Jesus commanded them to continue the practice of sharing the cup and bread it was to help them remember His sacrifice, as well as His promise to return for them, and to keep that assurance strongly in their focus while they awaited that day. It was also to remind them that each time they took the cup they were pledging themselves anew to their role as the bride to be, preparing and pure. And it was to initiate the believers who would follow, those like us, so that we would realize that the “bride price” had been paid for us, as well; Jesus has offered the cup to each of us also. He is preparing a place for us and will return to take us to Himself, so we, too, need to be a bride in preparation—faithful and pure.

The next time we receive the cup during the Lord’s Supper and take it to our lips, let us receive it as from the hand of our Bridegroom. Let us receive it with the knowledge of the precious “bride price” He paid for us. Let us receive it with the assurance that He is preparing a place for us, and He will return to take us to Himself. And let us receive it with the reality that by taking it we are renewing our pledge to be His faithful bride, seeking to prepare and purify ourselves for Him, and waiting in joyful anticipation of His return.