There is a lot of confusion over how one is supposed to prepare to come to the Lord’s Table. Some are so casual that they approach the covenant meal like they approach the counter at Bill’s Burger Barn—fast and loose. Others are so cautious that they hardly approach at all.
As we come to the Supper it would help us if we understood it. Or at least understood what we were coming to do. In order to do this we must pay special attention to the words of our Lord Jesus:
Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said unto them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Lk. 22:24-30)
No thinking Christian approaches the sacrament flippantly. The Corinthians did not discern the Lord’s body among themselves, and consequently, Paul says their meetings did more harm than good. We are therefore required to be in fellowship with one another as we partake. But what if we are not? Does this mean that one as the authority to suspend himself from the Supper, or excommunicate himself? Not at all.
If a man is coming to the Table with a bad attitude, then he should not hold back from partaking. Rather, he should come confessing the bad attitude. But what if he remembers that his brother has something against him (Mt. 5:23)? The passage is talking about presenting a gift, not about receiving this gift from the Lord. The common practice among evangelicals of routinely removing themselves from communion is simply unwarranted. Unless Christ has prohibited a man from coming through his ministers, that man should come.
However he should come with clean hands. The table is a place to eat, it is not a place to take a bath. This is one reason that a church should ordinarily have a time of corporate confession early on in the service. The earlier the confession the less dirt gets tracked through the rest of the house. The time of confession is the time where the saints “wash up” before coming to the Table. So if a brother is disorderly or has some unconfessed sin in his life he is not to compound the sin by refusing the blessing of God in the Supper. The proper course of action when we have sinned is to confess it, forsake it, and beat a quick path back to the family table.
All of this presupposes that the participant is actually a Christian. By that I mean that the communicant must be one who has been baptized into the Triune name of the Triune God. Whatever else a man may be (saved, converted, filled with the Spirit), he isn’t really a “Christian” until he has been come through the waters and identified with Christ. Although many disagreements exists among Christians over baptism, there is virtually no disagreement that baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the visible body, and the Supper is the sacrament of nourishment within that body. This means that no one should be taking the Supper who has not been baptized. Someone who has not come through the door should not be sitting down at the table.
It should also be mentioned that the Word should always accompany the sacrament. When baptism and the Lord’s Supper are observed apart from the instruction of the Word, superstition inevitably results. The Word grounds our observance and keeps it Christian.
Now for a final bit of etiquette. The authority of servanthood embodied by Jesus at the Last Supper was placed by Him on all His followers. He gave to them a kingdom, which was designed to be a kingdom of servants, but a kingdom nonetheless. A contrast is seen with worship among the Gentiles. A certain kind of authority is the most natural and carnal thing in the world. As the quarrels among Christ’s disciples made plain, that desire for that kind of authority can creep in among the people of God; it can come into the presence of Christ Himself.
Appearances can be deceiving. Who is greater? The one who sits or the one who serves? In the kingdom of heaven, the one who serves his brothers is the one who sits in authority. This lesson must be mastered in order to understand the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is where the Lord makes His servants into kings.
We are eating and drinking at His table, and so we should notice that Jesus gave the Twelve their authority in the kingdom in the context of the first communion meal. What did He say to them? He gave these servants a kingdom, so that they could eat and drink at His table, in order that they might rule the twelve tribes of Israel. We are seated at the same table today, in order to eat and drink. So we must come as servants as well.
This celebratory meal is the place where we as Christians proclaim the Lord’s death. But it is not a funeral. What is the meaning of His death? His death means dominion. His death was how the conquering servant came into His inheritance. We proclaim His death, not with somber funereal looks, but while seated on a royal dais, in the presence of the One who conquered everything. We begin with confession, but we quickly move on to solemn thanksgiving.
When we eat and drink at His table, with a servant’s heart, we are not attending a gloomy memorial, sitting in the dark, feeding on a dry cracker. We are engaged, by the mercy and grace of God, in the extension of Christ’s kingdom. We are conquering the world through sitting down in the peace of God. No more will a man learn war; we are seated in spiritual peace. He has brought us into His banqueting house; His banner over us is love. He has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies, and they will be be brought to lick the dust at His feet as we feast on our ascended Lord.