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A few Sundays ago, I was preparing to leave my wife and three youngest children to travel with my two oldest to a church in Kentucky, where I would be preaching. With a two-hour drive each way and two services of worship in between, our family would be apart for eight hours. I called out to my wife and small ones, “We’ll see you at the Lord’s Table.” There would be a time when my family would be reunited, when some of us no longer would be in Neon, Ky., and the rest in Bristol, Tenn., when all of us would be in the heavenlies, eating with our King. This was not merely a comforting thought but a substantive reality.

We miss this about the Lord’s Table. Too often we see this sacrament as merely quiet time plus a snack. We reflect on our sins, as we ought to do. We reflect on what Christ has accomplished for us, as we ought to do. If we’re well-taught, we remember to reflect on the glory of coming into Christ’s presence, knowing that we are at His table with Him. But it is a rare thing indeed for us to remember that it is we who are at His table. We usually come alone.

Communion speaks not only of our union with Christ but also of our union with each other. The two are inseparably bound together.You cannot have union with Christ and not have union with His people. You cannot have union with His people without having union with Him. Communion is neither just me and Jesus nor just me and my friends. It is Jesus and me and my friends.

Friends, of course, is not quite the right word for it. The communion of saints is not some sophisticated way of talking about fellowship. Rather, we come to the table with all those who, like us, are in covenant union with Jesus. We come together as the body of Christ. We are not merely a collection of like-minded people; we are a collection of body parts, feeding upon the body of Christ.

Apart from the Table of the Lord, however, we do not fly apart. We are still and always the body of Christ, knit together by the fact that we are knit together with Christ. And this ought to have a profound influence on how we see each other. Because we are in union with Christ, we ought to look at our brothers and sisters as Christ looks at them, namely, as those who are in union with Christ. When the Father looks at us, because of our union with Christ, He sees Christ. When we look at a brother, we ought to see the same thing.

You cannot have union with Christ and not have union with His people. You cannot have union with His people without having union with Him.

That’s not always so easy. How often have we heard or made the lament, “Loving Christ is easy; it is loving Christians that is hard.” What we see in the church is not often terribly lovable. Our siblings in the church, like our siblings in our homes, have the capacity to get under our skin. We irritate each other. Worse, we sin against each other. How can our communion be sweet when we have to contend with so much contention and bitterness in the church? The answer is not found in pop-psychology feel-good exercises to teach us to be nice. We don’t need sensitivity training. We don’t need a bootstrap effort to just try to get along. Instead, the answer, as is so often the case, lies in believing the Gospel.

When we believe the Gospel, we believe first that God Himself already has judged the sins our brothers have committed against us. There is no need to nurse a grudge when God Himself has been satisfied. And when we believe the Gospel, we believe that we ourselves are utterly unworthy. We realize that we are still sinners and that we get under the skin of others. We no longer take offense when we are not treated with the dignity and respect we deserve, because we know we deserve no dignity and respect. We know what we are, and we know that Jesus got what we deserve. And so we learn to forgive others as we would have them forgive us.

When we believe the Gospel, we look forward in hope to the end of our salvation. We long for the day when we will be what we were redeemed to be, blameless and upright, when we will be in ourselves what we are in Christ. We watch for signs that we are progressing, growing in grace. And we delight to see those signs manifest in our brothers and sisters. We remember that we will be with them for eternity, and that when we and they are fully sanctified, we will love them fully.

When we believe the Gospel, we believe that in union with Christ we can do all things, including loving the unlovable. We do not give in to carnal sloth and rest in a merely future hope. We believe that He is at work in us to give us faith, hope, and the greatest of these, love.

When we believe the Gospel, we believe, perhaps most importantly, that our brothers and sisters are in union with our heavenly Husband, Jesus. When we look at them, if we would believe the Gospel, we must see Him. He loves them as a husband loves his bride, and as our Husband, commands us to love them as well. And we can do it because He is there. He is one with them. When we believe the Gospel, we do not need Him to tell us when we gave Him food to ease His hunger or clothing to cover His nakedness. We already know that, because of our union with Him, when we do these things to the least of our brethren, we do them unto Him.

When we believe the Gospel, we know that the Lord’s Table is not required to come coram Deo, before the face of God. We know that we are before His face every instant we are in the presence of those who are in union with Him. We enjoy the mystic, sweet communion of the saints whenever and wherever the saints are gathered. Wherever we are, He is there among us, because we are in union with Him.

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From the September 2001 Issue
Sep 2001 Issue