Today’s “cross-examination” takes us to the upper room where Christ institutes Holy Communion – the Lord’s Supper – as a “visible gospel.”
We call these visible expressions of the gospel “sacraments.” A sacrament 1) is instituted by Christ, 2) has an earthly visible element used with God’s Word, and 3) conveys in a special way the forgiveness of sins which Christ won for us. The two sacraments are Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Baptism is intended for all those who, trusting in Christ as their Savior, desire it for themselves or for their children, including infants. It is the power of the gospel in Baptism which engenders faith which the gospel then sustains.
Communion, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11, is intended for those who are able to “examine” themselves. Paul speaks of properly partaking of Christ’s body and blood in 1 Corinthians 10 & 11.
Proper preparation for communion includes being instructed in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith and a proper understanding of Holy Communion itself. Jesus preached to anyone who would listen, as we also do. But he established Holy Communion within the inner circle of His disciples – those He had carefully instructed – who would be able to “recognize the body of the Lord.” Jesus did not irresponsibly distribute His very body and blood to the multitudes like Pepsi and potato chips.
Kneeling together at the communion rail implies a confession of faith, an expressed unity in doctrine with others who kneel there with us. “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body,” says Paul. Just as we do not judge the personal faith in Christ of persons who belong to some other denomination, so it is dishonest to kneel at the same altar with those whose doctrines we do not share (Romans 16:17-18; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10-11).
Paul also says that we are to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Humble hearts, distressed over their sin and intent on turning from it, will find comfort and strength in their struggles at the Lord’s Table. But hearts intent on stubbornly staying on a sinful course of action will find only judgment, says Paul. They receive the body and blood of God’s Son to their harm instead of to their help. They harden themselves in their sinful security.
“Do this in remembrance of Me,” says Jesus. To “remember” Jesus is to remember not just who He is, but what He has done for us. To “remember” is to see my sin for what it is, and to see Jesus for who and what He is. It is in the visible gospel of communion that Christ puts His arms around us with a special assurance of the pardon He won once for all on Calvary’s cross.