"Ye do proclaim the Lord's death till He come"--
1 Corinthians 11:26
The Lord's Supper is a permanent memorial of Calvary. It is purposed to keep a stupendous sacrifice in mind, and to prevent it from becoming a neglected commonplace. It is a lowly gateway into a most mysterious place. In its wonderful precincts there is unthinkable bitterness of sorrow. And yet out of the very bitterness there comes sweet bread for the soul. There are tears in its silences, and there is also "joy unspeakable and full of glory." How, then, shall we come to the feast?
Sometimes we have come to the Lord's Supper as though it were a battleground, and we have forgotten the feast. We have come as noisy controversialists, and not as hungry guests. We have contended for spiritual privileges which we have not used. We have been heated, quarrelsome, defiant, and we have gone unblessed away.
And ministers have sometimes been so ensnared by the administrative part of the office that they have altogether forgotten that they were sinners. They have "administered," but they have not received, and when they have left the table there has been no holy glow about their souls, and no taste in their mouth of "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
How, then, shall we come to the feast? Let us come as impure suppliants. There is no room here to boast of personal merits, but abundance of room to sing the wonders of redeeming grace. This is no place to exhibit webs of our own weaving; it is rather a place of exchange, where we lay down our defective garments and humbly receive "the best robe" in the Father's house, even "the robe of righteousness and the garment of salvation." The most elaborate garment of the self-made man looks very drab and seedy when set in the light which shines around the table of the Lord.
The best thing we can do is to say nothing about our own clothes, but humbly seek that "wedding garment," which is the gift of the Lord of the feast. "Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spoke unto those that stood before him, saying, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with apparel. . . . So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments; and the angel of the Lord stood by."
How shall we come to the feast? Let us come as sickly disciples, whose obedience has been thin and faint. We have been anaemic in His service. There has been an obtrusive want of rich, red blood, and the curious, quizzing world has seen the lack, and has wondered whether we were real kinsmen of the warrior with the "red apparel," or whether our claim is a presumptuous pretense. The only authorized Alpine rope has a red worsted strand running through it from end to end. And the really sealed followers of the Lord are known by their red strand, the blood sign, the red, endless line of sacrifice. A life which shows the wan colour of a selfish worldliness, which has nothing to distinguish it from the children of mammon, cannot claim moral kinship with the Lord, who "laid down His life for His friends." We need the red strand. "My blood is drink indeed." We come to the table in order that our sickly anaemia may be changed into strong and sacrificial chivalry.
"We lay in dust life's glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be!"
And so we come as unimpressive weaklings, who in ourselves are devoid of forceful grip, and who lack the splendid virile influence of contagious health. We have too frequently moved about our work as though we had "received the spirit of bondage again to fear," and were strangers to the spirit of "love and of power and of a sound mind."
And, therefore, devils have not trembled when we drew near, and when we have commanded their expulsion they have remained powerful and enthroned. They have laughed at our approach, and had we carefully listened we might have heard the old challenge: "Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are ye?" The "voice of the great Eternal" was not in our tone, and so the evil spirit proved himself stronger than the professed disciples of the Lord, and we could not cast him out.
And now we come for the bread of strengthening. And this holy bread, this bread of tears, this bread of affliction, is the food of giants. It endows the soul with "the power of His resurrection," and it transforms the ineffective weakling into a strong son of God, and perfectly equips him as a minister of salvation. We have come from defeat and failure up many a pilgrim road, and from many a clime, and we are now in the guest chamber, where the gracious Host is accustomed to meet weary and disheartened pilgrims, and where he graciously feeds them with "the finest of the wheat."
"Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts,
Thou fount of life, Thou light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to Thee again!"
And what will He do with us? What will He do for us? What will He do in us? Well, first of all, He will commune with us. He will whisper again to our hearts the wondrous consolations of the fourteenth of John. He will deliver us from our distraction, and He will smooth out all wrinkling and wasteful cares.
"Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid!" Have we not experienced this quieting ministry of the feast? Have we not known the gracious seasons when the real life forces have begun to move, and the soul has begun to kindle, and the envious distractions of the world have melted away, just as the imprisoning ice loosens its grasp in the genial breath of the spring? "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way?"
And thus, while He communes He will communicate, and the communication is so marvelously abounding and complete that we become incorporate with the Lord. The fifteenth of John shall follow the fourteenth; and when the separating fears and sins have been washed away and we are clean, we shall know ourselves to be engrafted into the Vine of Life. And no figure of speech, be it ever so intimate, can express the closeness of the incorporation. But friendship, be it endowed with feelers and tendrils most exquisite, leaves half the tale untold. Even wedded bliss, when the union seems fleckless and indissoluble, only dimly reflects the fellowship of the soul and Christ. The Apostle Paul ransacked human experience for symbols of correspondence and intimacy; but even when he had used the best and most expressive, he laid down his pen in utter impotence, despairing ever to shadow forth the marvelous kinship of the soul whose life is "hid with Christ in God."
And how shall we go away from the feast? We must go as heralds. We must "proclaim the Lord's death till He come." The Lord's death! We must go out to vagrant pilgrims, who are painfully following illicit lights, and becoming more and more confused, and we must lead them to this strange, solemn birthplace of eternal life and light and hope.
We must "proclaim the Lord's death!" We must tell our struggling fellows that in that fertile gloom gilt finds its solvent, tears become translucent, and moral infirmity begins to "leap as a hart." Yes, we must leave the table as heralds, and this must be our cry: "Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price."
And we must go as covenanters. We have taken "the new covenant" in His blood, and the holy sacrament will be fresh upon our lips. And there must be something about us akin to the Scottish Covenanters when they emerged from Greyfriars churchyard, having entered into holy bond and covenant with the Lord. There must be something in our very demeanour telling the world that we have been at a great tryst, and our lives must be gravely, grandly quiet, confident in the glorious Ally, with whom the covenant has been made.
There must be nothing dubious in our stride. Our courage must be kingly, as though we have imperial friendships, and as though in very truth we "walk with God." It must be apparent to everybody, in the home, and in the market, and in the street, that we, too, have been "brought again from the dead, . . . through the blood of the everlasting covenant."
As heralds we must go, and as covenanters, and as crusaders, too. We must leave the table as the covenanted knights left King Arthur's table, "to ride abroad, redressing human wrong," and to labour for the creation of conditions like unto those whose fair pattern we have seen in the Mount. We may test the reality of our communion by the vigour of our crusades. We must drink our politics "from the breasts of the Gospel."
There is a great word in one of Kingsley's letters which was written when the condition of the people was burdening him with its ever-deepening tragedy, and when his spirit was being tortured with the sense of accumulated degradations. And this is what he wrote:
"If I had not had the communion at church today to tell me that Jesus does reign, I should have blasphemed in my heart, I think, and said, `The devil is king!'" But he left the feast, he assures us, braced and strengthened, and with "a wild longing to do something for his fellow men!" That is it, the power of the holy blood must be proved in our positive action upon the kingdom of the night.
"The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar,
Who follows in His train?"
And so let us turn to our feast. The door is open and the King is near, and blessed are all they that love His appearing. Let all human ministries veil their faces and stand aside, and let the soul have undistracted dealings with the Lord.