[The following is an extract from Andrew Murray’s book “The Miracle Table: Rediscovering The Power Of Communion”. You can purchase the rest of the book in paperback or on Kindle on Amazon stores worldwide.]
“Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when He broke the bread.
So far in this book we have looked at the great longing that God has for communion with His children. This is the significance of the Table, it is one of the methods that God uses to have fellowship with us which is what He longs for more than anything else. We have also looked at the truth that Communion is for us an act of remembrance. Whenever we come to the Lord’s Table we are looking back two thousand years to the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross. For us this act of remembrance should be a powerful and important moment in our lives, and on a regular basis. In the midst of the trials and circumstances of our lives, and our own struggle with sin, how often we forget the basic truths – I am loved, I am forgiven, I am a child of covenant. Communion helps us focus. Helps us remember.
However, I would suggest that the Lord’s Table has to be about so much more than just remembering the Cross. It has to be about so much more than just looking back to what happened at Calvary. The Christian act of remembrance is more than just remembering a historical event – it is the invitation into a fresh, present day encounter.
Having been in countless Communion services during my life I can confidently say that the overwhelming majority of them have been focused entirely on the act of remembrance. Here is a typical of the Communion service: the bread and wine placed on a table in which is engrained the words, “This do in remembrance of me.” The person leading Communion then says a few words such as, “As we come to the Lord’s Table we are reminding ourselves of what Jesus did for us on the Cross.” Then commonly, the praise team will sing a song about the Cross, or perhaps the love of God.
It seems like the whole act of coming to the Lord’s Table has been reduced down to only being seen as an act of remembrance. I wonder if sometimes that is why Communion can be a dull and dare I say it, boring part of our worship experience. We try and remind ourselves of the wonder of the Cross, but these are words and scriptures we have heard countless times before. This week’s “Communion Song” contains similar sentiments to the one that we sang the week before. It’s the same old tired prayers of thanksgiving from the same people each week. No wonder some churches no longer partake of Communion regularly. There are only so many times you can talk about the same things without it sounding and becoming stale.
But what if the Lord’s Table was about more than just looking back and remembering? What if in making the Lord’s Table only about remembrance, we are missing the act of communion itself.
Of course, Communion is not just about looking back, it’s also about looking forward. We are remembering the promise of Jesus that He will come again and take us to the future Table and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. However, in the looking forward, we can still miss the “now.” We still miss the communion that is in the Communion.
The Lord’s Table is remembering the past and longing for the future. But it is also an experience, an encounter in the now. The Master is here with us at the Table. He is here inviting us not just to remember, but to dine, to commune, to fellowship. This is the beating heart of this book – to put the communion back in the Communion.
Experiencing Him in Communion
Luke 24 and the story of the two men on the Road to Emmaus is a powerful example of what can take place when we encounter Him at The Table.
‘Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked
Him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the
things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” He asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the
prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and
then enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He
explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on
as if He were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is
nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.
When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it
and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized
Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not
our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened
the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:13-32)
What were these two men doing as they were walking on the Emmaus Road that day? They were remembering. They were looking back to the crucifixion and death of Jesus. When they encountered the mysterious third man they continued this act of remembrance, going over once again the story of the death of the Nazarene.
But surprisingly, this act of remembrance was doing them little good. They were downcast, discouraged and disappointed. They were looking back with nostalgia and wondering where it had all gone wrong. There was little hope or joy in their present and certainly not in their future.
They didn’t realise that they were in the presence of the very One who they were remembering. Little did they realise that they had an opportunity to fellowship, commune with and encounter the One who had not only died, but who was alive, and was with them!
They should have realised as He spoke with them and their hearts were ignited by the fire of heaven, that they were receiving more than a Bible study on the road that day, they were conversing with the very Word of God Himself. His life giving and life creating words were piercing their dullness and setting their hearts on fire.
‘When He was at the table with them,’ (v30). Oh, the power of these words! This act of the breaking of bread was more than just an act of remembrance, it was more than just looking back. He was there at the table with them as they broke bread! Their Saviour was there! They were fellowshipping with God Himself at the table!
Just looking back and remembering, whilst having some benefits has in itself no power to change us. Only a fresh, new encounter with the Living God will do that. When our Communion services go from just reminding each other of the old story, and we come to realise that He is actually here with us at the table – get ready for our acts of Communion to be life changing and transforming!
‘He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him.’ (v30-31)
Although He was there all the time, it was during the breaking of bread that they “recognised Him.” The Greek word used here for “recognised” is the word Ginosko; it means to come to know, to experience. It doesn’t mean to just intellectually know something, but to know something by experience or exposure. This same word can also be used for the act of sexual intimacy between married couples.
How wonderful this is! Although Jesus is always with us, something wonderful happens as I break bread with Him at the table. It is during the act of communion with Him at the Table that I experience Him, and have an encounter with Him. It is at the Table that I am exposed to His presence. As I recognise that He is here with me, I am no longer just remembering with my mind the past but my whole being – spirit, soul and body is experiencing Him in the now. It is here at the Table, that I am experiencing true intimacy with the Bridegroom.
This is where transformation takes place. ‘Their eyes were opened,’ (v31) it was like the veil that was covering their senses, making them blind and dull to the reality of His presence was suddenly lifted as they broke bread with Him.
Paul said it like this in 2 Corinthians 3:
‘But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ (v16-18)
At the Lord’s Table we deliberately turn our thoughts, attention, worship, and gaze upon Jesus. It is in that moment that the veils that keep us dull, discouraged and spiritually blind are lifted. It is at the Table, as we behold the Lamb that we see Him face to face. In this powerful act of communion we experience true freedom, and we ourselves are transformed as we become like the One we behold.
Whilst the NIV translation says that they “recognised Him,” the NKJV says “they knew Him.” There is such beauty in this translation! It is here, at the Table that we truly come to know Him. We can never fully know Him just by reminding ourselves of what happened two thousand years ago; but in actually communing with Him at the Table is how we truly get to know Him, not just as an historical figure, but as a present day lover and friend.
Staying with the NKJV for a moment – as they came to know Him – this translation says, “they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem.” (v33) When we truly encounter Him at the Table it demands a response to arise. We rise up from our discouragement. We rise up out of our despair and disappointment. We rise up and enter into joy and hope. We return to our Jerusalem, the place which speaks of our future destiny, purpose, and future infillings.
Can you imagine the journey back to Jerusalem and how different it was? Can you imagine the joy, excitement, and eagerness to share what had just happened with others? Why? They had had an encounter with Jesus as they broke bread! When was the last time you left a Communion service like that?
What Has Gone Wrong?
So how did we get from the Lord’s Table being a powerful moment of encounter to what has become, for many, something dull and overly familiar?
At the start of every chapter in this book, there is a quote from one of the Church Fathers/Mothers, or one of the ancient Christian mystics. These old men and women of God, some writing over a thousand years ago, predate Martin Luther and his protestant reformation by hundreds of years.
Whilst I do not believe every point of doctrine from the likes of Augustine and his contemporaries, there is no doubt that these Fathers and Mothers of the Church encountered God at the Table in powerful ways, like many never have in our modern Communion services.
The ancients of the Church believed powerfully in the act of Communion. For them, the Lord’s Table was the high point of peoples worship experience. It was at the Table that they met with the risen Jesus, and ate and drank of His presence. They truly believed that Jesus was in the Communion, that the Holy Spirit was present in the Bread and the Wine.
Like with any truth, religion has a habit of perverting and distorting things, and this became true of Communion. False teaching crept in that during Communion, the Bread and the Wine literally became the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. It was then taught that the Bread and the Wine could in themselves bring salvation. People began to live like the devil during the week, but then in receiving the flesh and blood of Christ, they believed they were receiving salvation.
500 hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, and so began the Protestant Reformation and the breaking away of the Catholic Church, which had become corrupt and full of heresy and idolatry. One of the heresies that the Protestant Reformation began to correct was the heresy surrounding Communion. Protestantism began to rightly teach that the Bread and Wine did not literally become the flesh and blood of Jesus and that there was no power in taking Communion to save anyone – only faith in Christ can do that. And so Communion became – not an act of salvation, but – a remembrance of salvation. A looking back to where our salvation really took place, not in a religious act, but on a cross two thousand years ago. Today, for the vast majority of Protestants, this is what Communion represents, an act of remembrance.
But I wonder if in rightly breaking away from some of the heresy’s that the Catholic Church had allowed to creep in, if the pendulum has now swung too far the other way. While for 500 hundred years Communion has been seen primarily as an act of remembrance, we would do well to remember that for 1,500 years Communion was seen as so much more than that!
I wonder if we are sometimes so afraid of leading people into the error of transubstantiation that we continually refer to the Bread and the Wine as just “emblems,” and in doing so do them a great disservice.
I do not believe that the Bread and the Wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus. But I do believe that there is “presence” there; they are more than just symbols, more than just religious tokens.
The Communion Revival
As an evangelist the vast majority of my meetings conclude with an altar call, or ministry time. It is here I encourage sinners and backsliders to come to the altar, and receive forgiveness and salvation. It is here that I will encourage the sick and bound to come, and receive healing and freedom. These altar/ministry times are powerful and I have countless testimonies of people encountering God at the altar. Sometimes my whole message is taking people on a journey with the destination of the altar, where they can meet with God. For some churches, the altar call or ministry time is the main moment where people come and have their God encounter.
Would it surprise you to learn that the altar call is a relatively new concept in Christendom? It was really only during the ministry of the great Charles Finney (1792-1875) that the cry “O, come to the altar,” became the main focus of the churches evangelistic efforts. The popularity of coming to a ministry time is an even more recent phenomenon.
For the vast majority of the past two thousand years, the appeal of the Church was not “Come to the altar,” but was “Come to the Table.” Do you need forgiveness? – come to the Table. Do you need healing? – come to the Table. Do you long to meet with God? – come to the Table! It was here, at the Table that people had God encounters.
I am grateful of the writings of J. Todd Billings in his book Remembrance, Communion and Hope for the research that he has undertaken into the Holy Fairs that were held in the Scottish Reformed churches from the 1620’s until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Holy Fairs were large festivals, four to five days in length, culminating in the celebration of Communion. Prior to the act of Communion itself, all the teaching, preaching and singing were building up to and preparing people for the time when they would come to the Table. People were encouraged to fast and prepare their hearts for that moment. They were taught that Jesus was present at the Table through the Holy Spirit and that as they ate and drank they would experience a presence that was real, powerful and overwhelming.
Billings describes how on the day of Communion itself that “participants wore their finest clothes and the celebration took place at long tables covered with clean, white linens. Each had a place at Christ’s Table. Rich and poor, male and female, celebrated together – no one was to receive superior or inferior wine and bread. Psalms and hymns were sung; tears of joy were shed at the table. Some fainted in their excitement; all celebrated. These gatherings deeply engaged the affections and the senses, as they centred on a message of passionate communion with Christ by the Spirit’s power.”
It was at the Table of the Lord at these Holy Fairs that people would weep, faint, groan, tremble, be filled with holy laughter, and experience spiritual revival. Now compare that with the last Communion service you had!
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of visiting the site of the Cane Ridge revival, held in Kentucky in 1801. It became the largest and most famous hub of revival that happened in the Second Great Awakening. What is interesting was that these revival services were focused on the act of Communion.
The revival began during what was known as “communions,” a version of the Scottish reformed Holy Fairs. Lasting three to five days, the singing, preaching, and teaching would centre around the Lord’s Table, culminating in the act of Communion itself. Interestingly, the most popular texts for the preachers were not the gospel accounts of the crucifixion but the ancient writings of the Song of Songs. Coming to the Table was seen not just as an act of remembering a crucified Saviour, but an act of intimate communion with a loving Bridegroom.
Some 20,000 people would gather at these revival services as the preacher would seek to woo the people to the Table, preaching on the “Ravishing Beauty and Glory of Christ,” and inviting them to “Sit under the Shadow of this blessed Apple Tree, and taste His pleasant fruits.”
One of the pioneers of that revival, James McGready, would often exhort listeners to feast at Christ’s Table on the hidden manna and be refreshed with the new wine of Canaan. McGready would say the following:
“The real Christian, the new born child of God, loves to see Jesus and behold His glory, and with joy, delight, and wonder to admire and adore His soul attracting beauty and loveliness; and for this reason – He is the centre of his love, his portion, his inheritance, and the soul and substance of his happiness. His greatest happiness on earth is to ‘see Jesus’ – to have sweet communion with him, and to feel His love shed abroad in his heart. The sacrament of the Supper is one of the most affecting institutions of Heaven, and one of the nearest approaches to God that can be made on this side of eternity, in which believers are permitted to hold intimate conversation with our blessed Jesus.”
During these revival services, men and women would have incredible encounters with God at the Table. One communicant said of their experience, “When I came to the Lord’s Table, He was pleased to give me much of His gracious presence, and I may say that He took me into His banqueting house, and His banner over me was love.”
Another communicant said that as they made their way to the Table, “I could scarce walk, I was swallowed up in love and enflamed affection for the Redeemer.”
Yet another communicant, who had been filled with grief at the death of her husband, and left alone with seven children, had in her words a “kind of visit of heaven” where she “heard the voice of my Beloved, ‘behold He cometh – skipping over the mountains and leaping over the hills.’ I was so much ravished by His love, that I scarce knew where I was.”
During these times of Communion – of being wooed to the Table – observers described multitudes being swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them. This was followed by shrieks and shouts. Some lay motionless for hours, others cried out as if in torment, seeking peace. Some laughed uncontrollably and hysterically and others jerked back and forth.
These phenomenon sound like something you would witness at an extreme Charismatic revival service where an evangelist is laying hands on people at an altar and people are lined up with catchers behind them.
But these remarkable incidents took place as people were eating bread and drinking wine at the Lord’s Table. This was not an advertised revival service but a Communion service.
In reading of these old moves of God I am deeply challenged. I love altar calls and ministry times, and I firmly believe that they have a vital role to play in people’s walk with God. But in our focus on the altar, have we neglected the Table? What if we once again started to call people back to the Table to meet with God? What if the Lord’s Supper was once again the high point of people’s spiritual experience? What if our most powerful God moments and God encounters were found in having communion during Communion? Is the Lord’s Table an ancient well of encounter that needs to be re-dug? What would happen if in our church gatherings we began to tap into this powerful source of intimacy with our Bridegroom?
A Prayer of Response
“Precious Jesus, as I sit at the Table I recognise that You are sat here with me. I am in the presence of the Living God. Jesus open my eyes. I want to see You. I want to know You. My heart longs for intimacy with You. Precious Jesus, fill my whole being, spirit, soul, and body with Your glorious Presence. I gaze upon You and in doing so I receive Your peace, Your joy, and Your freedom. Heal me and make me whole. Let me experience the true depths of Your love. Amen.”
[The following is an extract from Andrew Murray’s book “The Miracle Table: Rediscovering The Power Of Communion”. You can purchase the rest of the book in paperback or on Kindle on Amazon stores worldwide.]