This is the second in a series of articles looking at preparing our hearts for the Lord’s Supper. Last week we saw that there is a cultural aspect with how Jesus offered the cup that tied in with the covenant of marriage. This week we will examine some of the cleansing required before we present ourselves to the table.

When we spoke about the marriage covenant, we left it at the point where the bridegroom went away to “prepare a place,” while the bride was to prepare herself. There were rituals of purification as well as the preparation of special wedding garments. She was to wear a veil during this betrothal period to show that she was spoken for, and so she wouldn’t attract (or entertain) rivals. As the “bride of Christ,” we too are awaiting His return after He has prepared a place for us, and while we wait, we are to prepare ourselves, purify ourselves as He is pure, and remain faithful to our Beloved.

In the John 13-17 passages we mentioned last time, we see Jesus’ teaching on cleansing. He put aside His robe, put on a towel, and washed His disciple’s feet. Through this act He taught many things:

• He demonstrated humility and told them they were to follow in humility with one another.
• He showed that He was the One who cleanses us.
• He pointed out that even though we have thoroughly bathed, we still need to wash away the filth we gather along the daily walk, for it leaves its stain upon us.

The later writings in the New Testament Epistles drive home this point quite plainly. In Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34) he says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the wine in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (vs 27). This means we need to take this event seriously. It is not mere ritual. It is not meant for those who have not received the cup as a bride, pledging themselves to the Lord. It is not meant for those unwilling to be preparing themselves for His return. It is never intended to be merely thoughtless habit. We need to observe it worthily.

Paul goes on to say, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” (vs 28). We aren’t to come to the table unprepared, but carefully, thoughtfully, with our hearts open before the searching of the Holy Spirit before we come. We need to ask Him to show us where we have a “spot or blemish” which needs our confession and repentance, and requires His cleansing—just as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. We need to do business with Him on anything the Holy Spirit exposes to us before we come to the table.

In verse 29 Paul continues, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” There are two main interpretations of this verse, and both have their merits for application here. The first interpretation is that we are not to come to this event lightly. We are to recognize it for what it is—a solemn commemoration of the sacrifice of our Savior and Beloved Bridegroom to redeem us for Himself. When we take the bread, we are acknowledging that His body was beaten, bruised, and broken for us. And we take the cup we are remembering His covenant (and ours), recalling that He took the cup of God’s wrath in our place, and realizing that His blood spilt for us was the “bride price” that He paid. The symbolism in this observance is deep and rich, and we need to “recognize” it.

The second interpretation of this verse is that the “body” referred to here was not the “bread” from the sacrament, but the body of Christ, the Church. This interpretation comes from the context of the entire passage in which Paul is correcting the Corinthian church for the way their fellowship was mishandling the Lord’s Supper, in particular how they were disrespecting one another in their observance. They were being self-serving rather than practicing the humility Jesus modeled the night He inaugurated the practice. They would get drunk, and “humiliate those who have nothing.” From the teaching of Jesus and throughout the Epistles of the Apostles, there is a very strong message that how we treat one another, our attitudes, our genuine love, and our forgiveness, are all elements that factor in to how (and whether) our worship is received by the Lord.

We cannot come to the table that represents the cost of His forgiveness of our offences and still be carrying the offences of/for others. We cannot come to the table which demonstrates His sacrificial love and be hard-hearted, indifferent, and unloving in our daily interactions. We cannot “eat and drink without recognizing the body” and not risk the judgment of the Lord. These things need to be examined in our heart and made right—with the Lord and in some cases with others.

There is a Church document from the end of the 1st Century called the Didache, where we read of the teachings of the early Church on this subject. It states, “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, break bread, and give thanks after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that our sacrifices may not be profaned.”

Paul proposes that coming unworthily to the table is why many among them are “weak and sick” and that it might even have contributed to the deaths of some of them. It is certainly something he took seriously, and we should, as well. Therefore, let us come to the table prepared. For most of us that should probably begin long before we enter the doors of the church. Many churches announce their schedules for the Lord’s Supper, so we can give special attention to examination, confession, and refreshing ourselves on the deep meaning of the observance we are about to celebrate. On the other hand, we would all do well to prepare our hearts ahead of any worship service so we can come with pure hearts, ready to pour out our praise, thanksgiving, and adoration in His presence week after week, prepared to meet with Him.