There was a time in church history when believers thoroughly prepared for the Lord’s Supper. Because many of them did not have the Lord’s Supper more than a few times a year, they were considered to be very special occasions. As a result, there were preparatory services or Saturday services in preparation for the Lord’s Supper the following Lord’s Day. They prepared for the Supper. Some had a day of fasting a day or two before the preparatory service.
We do not do that since we celebrate the Supper more often. But that does not mean we should not prepare. In fact, we should prepare more than we do. Since preparing is not a very common practice, we should seek to understand what it is we should do.
The Bible is not completely silent on this matter. The 1 Cor. 11 passage of course is very helpful. Two important verses stand out in the section on the Lord’s Supper. One, we are called to examine ourselves: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (v. 28) Then it says, “But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” (v. 31)
The two verses teach the following truths. First of all, we must examine or judge ourselves before we come to the Supper. Second, the individual must examine himself. The Bible requires self-reflection which means each person must ask serious questions about Christ, the elements, the body of Christ, himself, etc. Third, one of the reasons for this is spelled out in vv. 27 & 29. We must examine ourselves to avoid judgment (v. 29) and to not become guilty of profaning the body.
We prepare by examining and judging ourselves before the Lord. What this means is that we must spend some serious private time pondering what we have done and what we have become.
There is good reason for all of this. Surely, we all prepare for exams, important meetings, etc. If we really think through things before a certain event, we are less likely to make mistakes. We respect other people when they are prepared. Should we not prepare for one of the best privileges of our spiritual lives?
Understanding the Supper
We must labor to understand what the Lord’s Supper is and what it means. We do not come to the Supper with an empty mind. An empty mind will leave a person with an empty soul. Our heads and hearts must be filled with the knowledge of what we are about to do and what the whole Supper means.
We have studied what happens during the Supper. As we prepare, we must reflect upon what will happen and examine to see if we are ready. Knowing what will happen should arrest our attention and affections.
You have all heard stories of young couples who were about to get married. Each one carefully prepared each step of the wedding. They figured who they were going to invite, selected which pastor would lead them, chose what events were going to happen, purchased what ornaments they wished to use, etc. The preparation took longer than the event itself. If they did not prepare, the wedding ceremony would have been less meaningful and could have been viewed as being unimportant. In a similar way, our preparation helps us to create hunger and expectation for the Supper. The Supper becomes more meaningful and our preparations indicated how important and seriously we took the Supper.
Since we are about to fellowship with Christ in a sure and beneficial way at the Supper, we should spend time in preparation for that great meeting. If we come in a thoughtless and faithless manner, then we will cheapen the fellowship and possibly bring harm to ourselves.
The Corinthians came together to the Supper “not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17). They were so unprepared and unfocused that Paul says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” (v. 20) Paul would not commend them for what they did at the Supper (v. 22). So, believers can come to the Supper and actually not benefit from the Supper because they came not for the better but for the worse. Our preparation before the Supper helps us to come to the Supper for the better and not for the worse.
In relationship to Christ
Now we will become even more specific about our preparation. Not only should we be fully aware of the fellowship that will be brought about during the Lord’s Supper, we should also (and more importantly) understand who Christ is and what He has done for us.
We are commanded to partake of the Supper “in remembrance” of Christ (1 Cor. 11:24, 25). Christ’s death is proclaimed until He returns (v. 26). We remember what the Supper means and exercise faith in everything that the Supper represents — namely, that Christ has died for the forgiveness of our sins of which the blood represents (Mt. 26:28). His blood at the same time started a “new covenant” (“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Lk. 22:20). That means our relationship with God was all achieved on account of Christ’s shed blood. When we prepare, we are thinking of the grace and depth of Christ’s love for us and of the sacrifice He was willing to offer up on our behalf. Knowledge of those things should stir our hearts.
We should ask ourselves, “How is my relationship with Christ?” “Have I grown at all spiritually?” “How much thought have I given to Him?” “Is Christ my all in all or is He second to other things in my life?” “Do I value what He has done for me?” “How have I shown that I am thankful for His death on the cross in my behalf?” “Do I want to fellowship with Him more closely at the Supper or am I reluctant?”
Since the Supper both represents what Christ did and how we are united or related to Him, we should set aside some time in preparation through the week, especially on Saturdays before the Lord’s Day to warm our hearts to prize that meeting with Christ.
I remember that our soccer coach in college always took us out to eat to an all you can eat place once the season ended. That was something to which we all looked forward. On that day, many of my teammates refused to eat breakfast and lunch so that they could have empty stomachs for the big and delicious supper that evening. They specially prepared to be hungry that evening so they could enjoy everything in great quantity.
In a very similar way, we should become hungry for Christ by yearning for Him as we read His Word and pray to Him throughout the week. Our hunger to know Him, to fellowship with Him should deepen so that we may truly have our fill of Him at the Supper (spiritually speaking). One writer said that the only requirement for the Lord’s Supper is that you come to the table hungry. What he meant by that was that the poor simple believer should come to the table hungry to meet and have Christ. If our preparations have helped us (by the assistance of the Spirit) to hunger for Him, then we will not leave disappointed from the Supper.
In relationship to my brothers and sisters in Christ
What is easily overlooked in the Lord’s Supper is that the “event” also shows how we are related to one another. We have seen throughout the study that the Corinthians came together divided and selfish. Some were getting drunk (1 Cor. 11:21) while others were deprived of food and thus leaving the Supper hungry (vv. 21-22). Paul says that the bread represents the oneness we have with each other in Christ: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17) The many become one body.
In other words, the Supper also hints at the unity we have. All of us eat from the one bread and our eating together means we are one in Christ. As we eat, it must mean that we are “all right” with each other. The Corinthians came together to show disunity (1 Cor. 11:18 says, “…when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you”). Their disunity was further manifested in the way they neglected each other.
It would be like a couple exchanging rings during a marriage ceremony while bickering and making rude comments. The whole ceremony was to show their love for each other but their responses to each other revealed their disharmony. So the Supper should neither illustrate nor further disunity but rather, it should indicate that all is well between each believer.
What this means is that when you come to the Lord’s Supper, you should make sure we are not harboring any bitter feelings against someone in the church. You must ensure that your relationship with other members of the church is one of peace. Perhaps you need to make a phone call to your brother or sister in Christ sometime that week before the Supper?
If a brother and sister at home spoke wickedly and harshly to each other and then they get into the car to go to the church with their family, then should they upon arriving at the church partake of the Lord’s Supper? It all depends on if they have worked through the issue with each other. They must quickly and sincerely repent before God and seek to be reconciled before they come together to eat the Supper of the Lord. There is an important principle our Lord taught in His Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:23-24): “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
We are first told to be reconciled with our brother before we present our offering. How much more in this matter? Shall we fellowship with our Lord while harboring bitterness against one of our Lord’s own servants? Such things ought not to be.
So, when we prepare, we want to understand all that the Supper represents and all that Christ has done for us. In addition, we want to make sure we are in good fellowship with our brothers with whom we will be eating at the Supper of the Lord.
I remember when I was young how unpleasant it was to eat dinner together with my brother just after we had fought. It made the supper less pleasant and the whole atmosphere was uncomfortable. We pretended everything was all right at the dinner table while knowing that we had sinned against each other minutes before. We should have reconciled before we came together for our family dinner (though I did not live in a Christian family).
This should be the case with each member of the body of Christ. May our coming together be for good and not for harm. If we prepare our hearts and ensure that all is well with each other then when we “come together it will not be for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:34).
1. What do we mean by preparing for the Lord’s Supper?
2. Isn’t just coming to the Supper enough if one has been admitted to the table?
3. What are some of the things one should think about regarding the Supper itself?
4. How should we prepare in relation to Christ?
5. Does our preparation mean that we have to do anything with our brothers and sisters in Christ before we come to the table? Explain.