Q: I know that I must prepare for the Lord’s Supper by self-examination (1 Cor 11:27-31), but is there something I need to do after I partake of the Supper to ensure that I truly benefit from it? It seems to me to be unconscionable to leave the Table without any lingering reflection on the significance of it. I mean, how can I partake of the body and blood of my Lord crucified for me, and then act as if nothing happened?
You are right, I believe, that it is inappropriate to simply walk away from the Table since it is such a significant ordinance that the apostle Paul enjoins us to examine ourselves before coming to it. Indeed, I have always felt uncomfortable in any congregation which starts to chit chat or to stands up to leave immediately after the benediction is pronounced—as if they could wait for the service to be over. Should we not rather spend sometime in silent prayer to reflect on what the Lord has taught us through the Word preached? If this may be said for the regular worship, how much more should we spend some time to reflect when we have enjoyed the privilege of partaking Christ crucified!
But how and what shall we reflect on? Well, thankfully, our Larger Catechism, Q. 175 anticipates this question by asking: “What is the duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper?” The answer is:
A. The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, is seriously to consider how they have behaved themselves therein, and with what success; 1 if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it,2 beg the continuance of it,3 watch against relapses,4 fulfil their vows,5 and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance:6 but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament;7 in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time:8 but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled,9 and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.101Ps 28:7; 85:8; 1 Cor 11:17, 30–31; 22 Chr 30:21–23, 25–26; Acts 2:42, 46–47; 3Ps 36:10; Song 3:4; 1 Chr 29:18; 41 Cor 10:3–5, 12; 5Ps 50:14; 61 Cor 11:25–26; Acts 2:42, 46; 7Song 5:1–6; 8Ps 123:1–2; 42:5, 8; 43:3–5; 92 Chr 30:18–19; Isa 1:16, 18; 102 Cor 7:11; 1 Chr 15:12–14.
Let me elaborate.
In the first place, you must seriously consider what spiritual benefits you had received from partaking the Lord’s Supper. Take some time after worship to be quiet by yourself. Think about your experience at the Supper. Yes; the benefits of the Supper may be imperceptible and or they not be felt immediately. We cannot do anything about that. We had prayed that the Lord would bless the sacrament to our soul. We must believe that He has heard and will answer our prayer. But experience and Scripture teaches us that there is an experimental side to attendance at the means (e.g. Ps 28:7). Thus, it is possible for us to perceive,—to a degree,—whether we have been helped by our participation at the Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:17). This is what our catechism is alluding to when it speaks of considering whether we have behaved ourselves in the Supper and with what success.
Think for a moment. Did you find yourself going through the motion? Or were you quickened and comforted as you partook of the bread and wine?
If you find yourself strengthened, encouraged and comforted through the sacrament, then firstly, remember to bless God for it. Acknowledge that you do not deserve the least of His benefits, and yet He has bestowed them upon you. But remember to thank Him not only for the Supper of the Lord, but for the Lord of the Supper. Thank Him that our Lord rose from the dead and was present with us at the Supper, though we saw Him not with our bodily eyes. Thank Him for all the spiritual benefits that the Supper carries and represent.
Secondly, you should “beg the continuance of it.” That is to say, you should pray that God would cause that the benefits experienced will continue to be enjoyed or felt. Did you find your heart burn within you (Lk 24:32) and your eyes opened so that you felt the presence of Christ in a way that you do not normally experience (Lk 24:25)? Thank God for it and ask that this experience might be etched in your memory and be used to deepen your love for Christ. Pray that you will be able to walk with a renewed sense of nearness to Christ. Did you find your heart grieved at your own sin and filled with gratitude for the Lord’s love? Pray that the Lord will keep your heart beating with this heavenly heartbeat. Pray that He will cause you to do that which you were reminded to do at the Table.
Thirdly, you must “watch against relapses.” That is you must watch against falling into sin that will rob your joy of fellowship with Christ. When you have experienced spiritual blessing at the Table, it is easy to become overconfident and trust in your own self rather than in Christ. Thus, the very experience of spiritual blessing can become a source of spiritual pride. You must guard against it, and remind yourself that it is neither your faith nor your doing, but Christ’s blessing that brought about the refreshment you experienced.
Fourthly, you must seek to fulfil your vows. Thanksgiving should always be accompanied by the payment of our vows (Ps 1:14). Did you make a vow prior to coming to the Table? Do not neglect to fulfil it. Are you reminded of the vows you made when you joined yourself as a member of the communion? Do not allow your failure to keep your vows to destroy your enjoyment of communion with Christ and His church, whether in the life of the church, or at the Supper when it is commemorated again.
Finally, as you have enjoyed the benefit of the supper, “encourage [yourself] to a frequent attendance on that ordinance.” Resolve not to allow sin to bar you from the Table. Pray that the Lord will preserve His Church that the Supper will be enjoyed again.
But what if you find yourself receiving “no present benefit”? In that case, repentance rather than finger-pointing is in order. Do not blame the ambience in the worship hall. Do not blame the sermon, the prayer or the way that the elements were distributed. It is true that these things will affect your enjoyment of the Lord’s Supper, but this is not the time to shift blame. Consider rather whether you were diligent in your preparation before you came to the Table (see WLC 171). Were you prayerful? Did you seek reconciliation with brethren you have aught against? Did you repent of known sins? Did you spend time meditating on the love of Christ for you? etc. Consider also how you conducted yourself during the Supper (WLC 174). Did you have a reverential and attentive frame of mind? Did you keep your mind from wandering? Did you ponder on the wrath of God against sin which was heaped upon Christ? Did you consider how much the Lord loved you in His dying for you? etc.
Now, if you are convinced (or as our catechism puts it, if you “can approve [yourself] to God and [your] own conscience”) that you had done what you could, then there is nothing else which you need to do but to wait patiently for the Lord to bring fruit out of your participation. Remember that as in the case of baptism, the benefits of the Lord’s Supper are not tied or limited to the time of its administration. But if you find yourself lacking, then humble yourself, repent of your faults and ask the Lord for strength to exercise more care and diligence when you come to the Table again.
Let me end here. I suspect that very few believers will have the patience to read such an article to this point just because it seems so irrelevant, for the Lord’s Supper has become a routine for many. But God forbid that we should be we engaged in hypocritical formalism in this ordinance which was especially instituted by our Lord as a reflection of our communion with Him. Let us repent therefore of our hypocrisy. And let us pray that the Lord will grant us the special blessings that come with participation at His Table. These are blessings enjoyed not only by the framers of our catechism, but by every true believer through the ages. Let us therefore not be too quick to sweep aside what is discussed here. Let us consider what we are missing, and let us pray and resolve to do alright that we may not miss out the blessings that Christ has ordained for us to enjoy through His Supper!
But O what a blessing awaits us individually and as a church when we are able to come to the Table with grateful and joyful anticipation! Amen. Ω