Even though much of Chinese society is returning to its pre-COVID rhythm, many churches are still unable to meet in person. Among other disruptions, this has meant that many Christians have been unable to partake of the Lord’s Supper together for quite some time.
In this pastoral letter, Elder Pan of Shining Light Baptist Church in Shanghai offers encouragement to his congregation. He reflects on the importance of the Lord’s Supper and expresses the shared desire to once again meet in person and partake of the means of grace.
Pastoral Letter: Desiring the Lord’s Supper
Dear brothers and sisters,
August has already begun; the time during which we have been unable to gather together has probably exceeded what most people imagined back at Chinese New Year. During almost half a year we have used video conferencing as a representation of the in-person meetings we have been unable to hold. We have attempted to reconstruct the form of real meetings to the highest degree possible in video—Bible readings, prayers, singing, sermons, and so on, all linked together. We have even preserved the same order of service, and the same wording.
But during this long period of time while we are meeting apart, there is one thing that we lack. It constantly reminds us of our situation, that we are still not all in the same place—that is the Lord’s Supper, and the fact that when our church is apart, we cannot celebrate it. Is this problem important? Will being unable to celebrate the Lord’s Supper actually have any real effect on our spiritual lives?
Thoughts on the Meaning of the Lord’s Supper
According to the truth as revealed to us by Scripture, God’s union with his people has always taken eating and drinking as its marker. Before Adam and Eve fell, they were together with God in the Garden of Eden, and God made every kind of fruit in the garden for them to eat. While they were together with God, their every meal was eaten before God as a banquet (Genesis 2).
In front of Mount Sinai, after the blood of the covenant had flowed, God took the initiative in calling Moses and the 70 Israelite leaders to represent the whole of God’s people. They came before God and saw him, and ate and drank (Exodus 24). When the Israelites were giving their tithes, the Mosaic law told them they should eat, drink and be glad before Yahweh (Deuteronomy 14).
And this continued in Christ’s establishment of the new covenant. Because Christ has already cleared our sin-debt, now we can, in the same way, joyfully come and be with the Lord, eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 11). Also, this kind of eating and drinking points us to the time when the heavenly kingdom will have fully arrived, and there will be an even greater banquet (Revelation 22).
So Jesus said to them:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. John 6:53-57
In John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus is teaching yet more personally that this kind of life-nourishment is very important for the life of the people of God. Of course, the Lord Jesus is not saying we really need to eat the actual flesh of his body or drink his actual blood. But if he is not saying that, then what he definitely is teaching is spiritual participation in the well-being he has provided.
When we think further on this passage of scripture, we see that the Lord’s Supper is precisely where this is revealed, and the Lord’s Supper is also where we experience it. Unless we believe that the Lord’s words in this matter are empty of meaning, we certainly cannot say that “The Lord’s Supper is only symbolic, so it seems not celebrating the Lord’s Supper for a long period of time cannot cause any harm; as long as I personally have enough faith on ordinary days, it is okay.”
When we partake of the bread and the cup, Christ is using a kind of special method to be “spiritually present” with us. It is symbolic, but it is not only symbolic, because the object it points to is actually using this method to proclaim himself. We should not treat it as only a symbol, but also as a comprehension of Christ’s presence.
Treasuring the Lord’s Supper Anew
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.1 Corinthians 10:17
We can see that the nature of the church is revealed in the Lord’s Supper: a group of people representing Christ’s body, steadfastly looking to God, the Lord who is faithful in covenant-keeping. Christ’s body has already been broken for us; the gospel has become the confirmation of the salvation we received. It is like Calvin said:
Godly people ought to hold this fast with all their strength: every time you set eyes on that symbol which the Lord has ordained, then think on and make certain that the truth which this expresses is right at that moment present with us. If He did not wish for you to make certain you are truly a part of His body, then why would that which symbolises His body be placed in your hand?
Of course, when we rely on grace and receive through faith, God will meet with us in that place and bless us: we are actually in the presence of Christ; he is actually giving us life through the Lord’s Supper; we are also joined together in Christ’s glorious body.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Luke 21, 25
While facing this season of difficulties, we should also anticipate with all our strength our re-starting the Lord’s Supper, this means of grace. This also represents our constant prayers to God that we would be able to return to physical meetings. While our pay packages are impacted by the pandemic, we will plead for God’s grace and provision to meet our daily needs; so, when the route to our souls’ nourishment and vitality is cut off, we ought to plead even more for God’s faithful provision. We should admit our spiritual weakness to God, and ask him that we might be brought back to renew our celebration of this sacrament, to receive our souls’ nourishment and vitality.
Has your spiritual situation become “not great,” “low,” or “very weak” during this unusual time? It is certainly not only you experiencing this spiritual tiredness or low ebb; it is also the real-life circumstance of many church members. We ought to plead more fervently with God for the re-establishment of this conduit of his grace. Every time you pray for the re-establishment of the Lord’s Supper, you are in fact pleading for your own spiritual life, and also pleading regarding the spiritual lack of many brothers and sisters.
—if you have ever seen God’s people trusting in him because of their satisfaction with him, or singing together loudly because of their faith in Jesus;
—if you have ever, during a sermon, experienced disappointment and regret over sin together with the person sitting next to you, and, from the hope brought by the gospel, together found liberation and new life;
—if you have ever, when gathered in the same space received the same teaching, and because of that foundation experienced fellowship with one another;
—if, in the final instance, we have ever, even more than this, during the Lord’s Supper, met together before the Lord’s table and experienced together that exceptional spiritual reality become sacrament, which completes the meeting on each Lord’s day
—then I think you will realize that the substitution for physical meetings we are using in the present case will be absolutely unable to satisfy us.
May we all cultivate a godly hunger for in the Lord’s Supper and the spiritual realities it points to.
Original Article: 牧函 ｜ 三十周：渴慕主餐 by 光耀浸信会 (WeChat ID: slbaptist)
Translated, edited, and reposted with permission.
Image credit: A friend of ChinaSource.
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