During a research project on a different topic, I was so encouraged by Calvin’s words here:
…we have not perfect faith, and we have not given ourselves to serve God with such zeal as we are bound to do, but have daily to battle with the lusts of our flesh; yet, since the Lord hath graciously been pleased to print His Gospel upon our hearts, in order that we may withstand all unbelief; and hath given us this earnest desire to renounce our own thoughts and follow His righteousness and His holy commandments: therefore we rest assured, that our remaining sins and imperfections do not prevent us from being received of God and made worthy partakers of this spiritual food. For we come not to the Supper to testify hereby that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves; but on the contrary, seeking our life in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death.
The Christian life is a long war, a constant struggle, and I need reminders like the above in zealous battle against sin, and encouragement when we stumble. It reminds me of the importance of godliness, and the need for Holy Communion.
Some Christians seem to get through daily faith in an almost light, easy way. That has never been my experience. But I cannot begin to describe how hopeful and thrilling it is to be reminded that God has a plan for my unbelief; for my failings… for my sins. And His plan is to print His Gospel on my heart. As Philippians 2:12 – 13 reminds us, our Redeemer is even concerned for our desires and wants, to train our wills and ways in His holy obedience. So often, my best efforts to live the Christian life remind me that “I lie in the midst of death.” I see failure and destruction all around me. But when I lift my eyes off my own efforts, but His sovereign grace Christ enables me to see the shocking ways He is continually transforming me from within to conform to His holy law.
The Lord’s Supper is a wonderful time to acknowledge that I need my hunger and desires transformed, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, not the worldly garbage the old Adam lusts after. At the Table I acknowledge by faith that the life I live, I live by faith in Jesus, not in myself. Though all my physical senses tell me I am surrounded by death, I know that faith speaks a better Word, and that the truth is that “I live in Jesus Christ.” His broken body and shed blood not only cover my remaining sin, but they strengthen me to be conformed to His image.
Some Christians who come to the Reformed tradition find the emphasis on “means of grace” – the reading and preaching of the Word, prayer, and the sacraments – to lack a vitality or excitement. For those in American evangelicalism, the idea that regularly receiving the Lord’s Supper would be a main way of spiritual growth sounds boring and irrelevant. We are fed such a spiritual sugar rush of emotion-based “worship,” personality-led teaching, and “relevance” & “feeling” ordered experiences that we forget our Lord’s command was actually to go to the Table.
But it becomes a little easier to see how Holy Eucharist could instill in us a deeper desire to grow spiritually when we consider that the above quote was taken from the Communion Service in the Reformed Church at Geneva. When the minister gathered God’s people around the Table, to publicly represent the body & blood of Jesus that gives us glorious salvation, an awesome mystery takes place. When we are regularly reminded of how God’s grace enables us in sanctification, saying no to sin & temptation (mortification), and makes us alive in Christ (vivification), the Supper takes on new significance.
I have included the whole context of the Communion Service below. As you read, I hope these words kindle a holy flame of passion for Christ’s truth and the Spirit’s holiness, that we would grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
“Therefore, according to the exhortation of St. Paul, let each of you examine and prove his own conscience, to know whether he have true repentance of his sins, and sorrow for them; desiring henceforth to lead a holy and godly life; above all, whether he putteth his whole trust in God’s mercy, and seeketh his whole salvation in Jesus Christ; and renouncing all enmity and malice, doth truly and honestly purpose to live in harmony and brotherly love with his neighbor.
“If we have this testimony in our hearts before God, we may not doubt that he adopteth us for His children, and that our Lord Jesus addresseth His word to us, admitting us to His Table, and presenting us with this holy sacrament, which He bestows upon His followers.
“And notwithstanding that we feel many infirmities and miseries in ourselves, as, namely, that we have not perfect faith, and that we have not given ourselves to serve God with such zeal as we are bound to do, but have daily to battle with the lusts of our flesh; yet, since the Lord hath graciously been pleased to print His Gospel upon our hearts, in order that we may withstand all unbelief; and hath given us this earnest desire to renounce our own thoughts and follow His righteousness and His holy commandments: therefore we rest assured, that our remaining sins and imperfections do not prevent us from being received of God and made worthy partakers of this spiritual food. For we come not to the Supper to testify hereby that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves; but on the contrary, seeking our life in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death. Let us then look upon this sacrament as a medicine for the those who are spiritually sick; and consider that all the worthiness our Lord requireth of us, is that we truly know ourselves, be sorry for our sins, and find our pleasure, joy, and satisfaction in Him above.
“First, then, we must believe these promises, which Jesus Christ, who is infallible Truth, hath pronounced with His own lips: That He is truly willing to make us partakers of His body and of His blood, in order that we may wholly possess Him, and that He may live in us, and in Him…”
Baird, Presbyterian Liturgies, p. 54 – 55.