The Lord's Supper - An Act of Worship
29 Aug 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE LORD'S SUPPER - AN ACT OF WORSHIP
The special acts carried out in the Christian Church of baptism, foot washing and the Lord's Supper are to be seen as more than mere church functions. They are to be seen as holy ordinances. They are holy because God himself established them and confirmed them by His command and by His promise.
Because of this, these three God given ordinances constitute acts of worship that characterise our relationship with God. As such, we need to be reminded that all three commemorate special events that took place in the life of Christ and it is through our participation in them that we show our desire to be in a close relationship with Him. The ordinances of baptism, foot washing and the Lord's Supper are symbolic in the sense that they for ever reassure us of God's love and continual help.
Like many other Christian churches, the Seventh-day Adventist Church prefers to use the term 'ordinance' rather than the word 'sacrament' so it is important today to understand the difference between these two expressions.
An ordinance is usually referred to as a service that was originally established through the direct command of Jesus and expresses, through a symbolic act, our relationship with Him.
On the other hand and, in its true sense, the word 'sacrament' is usually defined as a ritual that imparts saving grace to the participant, thereby granting them immediate salvation. Therefore, it is important for us to recognise that while some Adventist authors may use this term for these services they would not be viewing them as being sacramental in this sense. They would only see in these events an opportunity to assure the believer of the Lord's faithfulness to His covenant promises and a way to build their faith in Him. These services have no redemptive meaning or effect in themselves. They only function redemptively when the believer exercises faith in the Word of God. Anything else would be contrary to biblical teachings. It is only through a proper administration of these ordinances, as given by Jesus himself, that the genuine mark of the true church can be seen.
In what way do we receive our assurance through these holy ordinances?
Our understanding of baptism as given by Paul in Romans 6: 3-6 highlights the deep spiritual meaning of this service. While he describes baptism as being baptised into Christ, we need to understand that it does not affect an instantaneous union with Him. Rather, it is seen as a public proclamation that the believer has entered into a special spiritual covenant and relationship. Symbolically, the believer participates in Christ's death, His burial and His resurrection. This takes place when a candidate is immersed under water representing the fact that they have died with Jesus and are buried with Him. Coming up out of the water symbolises their 'rising' with Christ at His resurrection.
Thus when we accept Christ by faith as our Saviour, we are united with Him, and His life becomes our life. Therefore, our baptism becomes a symbol of our salvation and ultimately brings assurance and peace to the soul.
The ordinance of foot washing is described in the Scriptures as an ordinance of service. This is a lesson that Jesus would have us learn and practice. When we follow His example, we are brought into a holy relationship with those around us, not only to help, but also to bless each other. It reveals a great truth that Jesus is an example of what we, through His grace, should be. Our lives should be ones that show a humble, faithful ministry. As noted by author Ellen White 'The ordinance of feet washing most forcibly illustrates the necessity of true humility (Nichol, Vol 5, 1956: 1138, 1139).
This ordinance of humility allows us to come to Jesus in a special way to experience His cleansing grace to wash away our sins. It serves as a continual reminder after baptism that we always stand in need of Christ's assurance of cleansing and renewal (Samaan, 2000: 130).
Like baptism, the Lord's Supper is an ordinance that reminds us of our covenant relationship with Jesus. Just as we see in the Passover celebration, our participation in coming to the Lord's Table commemorates our deliverance from sin. It reminds us that through His death, Jesus has provided all that is necessary for our salvation, all that is necessary for our forgiveness and eternal life. The eating of the bread and the drinking of the fruit of the vine symbolise our acceptance of Jesus' life and death as our guarantee of eternal life.
We also need to remember that no Christian is an island, and this ordinance reminds us again that we are all part of the body of Christ. It highlights our corporate communion with Him. The Supper not only celebrates unity within the church and in Christ, but also our mutual interdependence.
In our celebration of the Lord's Supper, we also anticipate Christ's second advent. Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 11: 26 that each time we partake of the emblems we proclaim His death until He returns. In so doing the meal at the Lord's Table points to the climactic expectation of the Christian life. It therefore connects the past with the future and, as such, it connects the cross with the Second Advent. It is essential for us all to remember that our glorious future is based on the redemptive validity of Jesus' death on Calvary.
This view is reinforced by author Ellen White in the book Desire of Ages p. 660 where she says: 'It is only because of His death that we can look with joy to His second coming. His sacrifice is the centre of our hope. Upon this we must fix our faith' (White, 1940: 660).
How often should we celebrate this service?
It was believed by the early Church that the salvation of men depends upon a continual application to their hearts of the cleansing blood of Christ. Therefore, it was seen that the Lord's Supper should not be observed only occasionally or yearly, but more frequently than the Passover.
We need to remember that this solemn ordinance commemorates a far greater event than the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. It was to commemorate the sacrifice of the life of God's only Son on the cross of Calvary for the final deliverance of His people. Thus, through this ordinance we are continually reminded of just how dependant we are upon Jesus, not only for our redemption, but for our sanctification and finally, our glorification' (Samaan, 2000: 133).
This morning we are given the opportunity to take part in this service, but before this takes place we invite you to join in the foot washing which, again, reminds us of Christ's condescension as He took the form of a servant, giving Himself in loving service to others. Let us now separate for this very important ordinance of humility.
We have learnt this morning that the sacred ordinances outlined for us in the Scriptures are all sanctioned by Christ's example and authority. They serve to initiate and renew the assurance of eternal life. More than mere symbolic rituals, these acts of worship are the appointed means of grace through which God gives His effective testimony of faithfulness. Let us never forget the depth of the sacrifices He made on our behalf.
Nichol, F. D. (1956) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 5. Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
Samaan, P. G. (ed) (2000) Our Assurance of Salvation. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.ImHim
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