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Reformed people can be odd ducks. Too often, we are a contentious bunch, given to arguing esoterica for the sheer fun of it. We give answers to questions that few are asking and ask questions where others are certain. When I planted a Reformed church twenty years ago in rural western Virginia, we were the only such church for hundreds of miles that celebrated the Lord’s Table each and every Lord’s Day. This not only raised eyebrows but raised the kinds of questions that only Reformed people can ask. “Where in the Bible,” I was asked regularly, “are we told that weekly celebration of the table is a requirement?” I suspect my answer also raised eyebrows—“I’m not sure the Bible anywhere requires us to do this weekly. I’ve never bothered to consider whether such is a requirement. We don’t celebrate the table every week because we believe we have to. We do it every week because we believe we are allowed to.”
Last night in my house, we celebrated my daughter Erin Claire’s sixteenth birthday. Today in my apologetics class at Reformation Bible College, we considered the doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One odd doctrine is that they believe it is wrong to celebrate birthdays. Were they to challenge the practice in my family of celebrating birthdays, I would have the same response—“The Bible doesn’t require this. But it does leave room for it. We don’t need to look for an excuse to celebrate the blessing that is Erin Claire.”
How, then, did we get this idea that the best way to answer the question of the frequency of celebrating the table is to discern if such is required? Wouldn’t it be best to first seek to understand what the Lord’s Table is? Might that not answer the question? It may well be that one reason we are sometimes squeamish about weekly communion is grounded in our missing all that it is.
Our discomfort begins in acknowledging that this is a deeply emotional event. We Reformed people are, perhaps rightly, suspicious of emotional experiences. We want to be grounded in the truth rather than our emotions. We should, however, want our emotions to match the truth. Second, the emotions we bring to the table are unpleasant ones. We are reminded at the table that we are the ones who broke the body of our Lord. We are the ones who shed His blood. It is because of our sin that the cup of God’s wrath could not be passed by Him. The Lord’s Table is the perfect place to look deeply into the darkness of our hearts, to acknowledge the depth and scope of our sin.
Who wants to do that every week? I wouldn’t, if that’s where our remembrance ended. But it’s not. The celebration of the Lord’s Table is so much more than simply looking deeply into our sin. We lament, we mourn, we confess, we repent. But we also remember that we are not just forgiven, but accepted; not just covered, but adopted. We come to the table confessing our sins. But there we are welcomed by our heavenly Father, welcomed as His own children. We are the olive plants around His table in which He delights (Ps. 128).
The mourning over our sin as we partake is real. It should be genuine. But it is there to serve as the backdrop for the joy of our forgiveness. Our sorrow is the black velvet upon which is placed the diamond of our rescue; our despair is the black velvet upon which is placed, in the bread and the wine, the Pearl of Great Price. The glory of the gospel is that no matter how close the darkness of our sin is, His grace shines brighter still.
When we come to the table, we come confessing that we do not indeed seek first the kingdom of God. We build our own kingdoms. We go to war with our brothers for the sake of our kingdoms—as they go to war with us for the sake of their kingdoms. We sin not only against the living God but against each other. But we come to the table together, as family. We have, in coming, shared that confession. Our elder Brother, however, confesses not His sin but His righteousness for us. He gives us His righteousness, and we are brought into the family.
When we miss out on the mourning, we miss out on the joy. When we see our sins as small, we see His rescue as small. At the table, we are to draw near to our sin, because in doing so, we draw near to Him. He is there where our sin is, covering it. He is there, giving us His garments of sparkling white, the robes of His righteousness.
Of course, it is true that we are always the children of God. We are always forgiven, always adopted. At the table, however, we go to remember, to taste, to feast upon these truths. There we find, not just in the midst of our mourning but precisely because of our mourning, the joy that we have sought in all the wrong places.
Of course, it is true that we are always the bride of Christ. We are always with Him, always beloved of Him. At the table, however, we go to remember, to taste, to feast upon these truths. There, because we remember that we broke His body and spilled His blood, we move forward with hope to the marriage feast of the Lamb. There we dance with Him.
We do not observe or keep the sacrament. Instead, we draw near to our King, brother, husband. Instead, we celebrate. Instead, we embrace joy in the mourning. And we remember that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.