The Use, Purpose, and Meaning of the Holy Supper

Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Sept. 21, 2008

The life of piety is … to go to the Holy Supper frequently every year (AC 8253).

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that for us to truly be members of the Lord’s church on earth, we must live both the life of piety and the life of charity together. To be pious without being charitable profits us nothing spiritually, but when the two go hand in hand, it is profitable in all things (see AC 8252). The doctrines further tell us, as we read in our text, that the life of piety is, in part, to go to the Holy Supper frequently every year. (AC 8253)

But what is so special about this ritual? There are many answers to that question, because the Holy Supper serves to help each of us in a different way in our struggle to escape from the pull of evil, and to help us reach out and embrace the life of heaven. The Holy Supper has been instituted by the Lord, in order that by means of this ritual there may be the conjunction of the Church with heaven; thus with the Lord: therefore, it is the most holy thing of the Church (AC 10519).

The fact that the Heavenly Doctrines frequently refer to the Holy Supper as "the most holy thing of the church" has led to a common misconception that somehow the Holy Supper is only for people who are holy, that is, only for those who are already regenerated, or mostly regenerated. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Holy Supper has been instituted by the Lord for those who are not regenerated, but who nevertheless want to become regenerated by the Lord. In other words, it is specifically designed for those who are not holy, but who hope to become holy. That should include everybody – and explains why the Lord Himself calls it a "universal gate" into the church.

What makes the Holy Supper holy is not the bread and the wine, or even the spiritual states of the people who partake of it, but it becomes a holy sacrament through the Lord’s presence in it.

We read The … holy things of the Church are not holy unless they are holily received; for (otherwise) what is Divine does not inflow into them … For example … the bread and wine for the Holy Supper become holy solely through the presence of the Lord (AC 10208:3).

And further, The Holy Supper has been instituted by the Lord, in order that through it there may be the conjunction of the Church with heaven; thus with the Lord: therefore, it is the most holy thing of the Church (AC 10519).

It is the practice in the General Church that every service of worship, every ritual, and every sacrament is open and available to any adult who wishes to take part for it is the Lord who builds the church and leads to it. Our job is to assist the Lord in His work of building the church, not to stand in His way through artificial restrictions and rules. Therefore, anyone who is old enough to be going through a spiritual crisis in their life where they feel a need for the Lord’s presence and help in shunning some evil is welcome to come to the Holy Supper in church, or, if the need is urgent, to request a private administration either in the church or at home.

We also need to recognize that every local church society has its own customs and traditions which need to be considered and balanced with other needs. For example, in many societies of the church the rite of confirmation is considered to be a sign that an individual is prepared to take on adult responsibilities within the church, and is therefore ready to share in the privileges of adult life, such as taking the Holy Supper. But, if someone is in the midst of a terrible spiritual problem and feels the need of the Lord’s close presence and help, they should not refuse for themselves the help that the Holy Supper can bring simply because they have not yet been confirmed. The only one who can judge the quality and strength of the need, is the person himself. The church and the priesthood stand ready to give whatever assistance is required.

However, if the Holy Supper is to have a meaningful, lasting effect on your life, you must prepare yourself beforehand. This is why the Holy Supper is sometimes announced in church the week before, and always noted in some way, so that each member of the congregation can spend some time during the week preparing themselves for the Holy Supper. This preparation takes the form of examining the course and intentions of your life for evils, and when one is found, choosing to shun that evil as a sin against God.

The heavenly doctrines say, What is better known than that a man ought to examine himself? For everywhere … before the approach to the Holy Supper they are taught … that a man must examine himself, know and acknowledge his sins, and live a new life (TCR 526).

Further, A voice came from Heaven … Saying … Actual repentance is to examine one’s self … to confess sins before the Lord, to implore help and power to resist them, and so to desist from them and lead a new life; and to do all this as of one’s self. Do so once or twice a year, when you come to the Holy Communion… (AR 531:5)

And finally, Actual repentance, if performed … as often as a man prepares himself for the Communion of the Holy Supper, if he afterwards abstains from one sin or another which he then discovers in himself, is sufficient to initiate him into the actuality … (of reformation and regeneration) (TCR 530:3)

One of the problems that we face in shunning our evils as sins against God is that we love our evils, and it is difficult to permanently get rid of things that we love. Our life is our loves, and it seems to us that we die a little when we give up something we love. This means that we need help in following through on our commitment to the Lord. In the world, when we put ourselves in a position where we have promised to do something difficult, such as paying off the mortgage on a house, we sign our names to a contract so that if we later run into difficulty, or if we change our minds, or something comes up, we know that there is a signed contract to compel us to continue to do what we agreed to do. The contract is an external form which helps us do what is morally right.

When we come before the Lord and take the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper, or we bring a child before the Lord to receive the waters of baptism and to promise to keep the commandments for that child, we are in effect signing a contract with the Lord. Then, when the temptations follow, as they surely will, we can remember standing on the chancel, watching the child’s response to the water and the blessing; we can remember kneeling at the front of the church and the taste of the bread and the wine, and we know that there is a covenant between us and the Lord. We can gain strength from the knowledge that He has promised to help us to love what is good if we will only do what is true.

The Writings put it this way: With the Holy Supper it is the same as it is with a covenant, which, after the articles are settled, is agreed to, and is finally sealed with a seal … What is a commission or a will without the signature? What is a legal decision without a decree signed to ratify the decision? What is the possession of a house without purchase or agreement with the owner? These last things have been added merely for the sake of illustration in order that even the simple may perceive that the Holy Supper is like a sealing, a seal, a pledge, and an evidence of commission, even before the Angels, that they are sons of God; and moreover it is like a key to the house in Heaven where they will dwell to eternity. (TCR 730)

What a powerful image: "it is like a key to the house in Heaven where (you) will dwell to eternity."

The sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper are external forms of worship, which, when approached correctly, have within them the very presence of the Lord. Because the waters of baptism represent washing away what is evil; and the shunning of evil and turning towards the Lord signified by the Holy Supper puts a person on the path to heaven, the sacraments are called "universal gates" into the spiritual world.

For those who prepare themselves by self-examination, the Holy Supper brings a powerful sphere of the Lord’s immediate presence and aid in times of personal need. It is a very private and personal experience, and as such it requires a sphere that is peaceful and without disturbance or distraction. On the other hand, even those who do not plan to take the Holy Supper still contribute to the sphere of the service by their presence, and in fact, the few minutes spent in this powerful sphere can be quite moving and helpful. All are welcome to the Lord’s Supper and to feel His presence among us, whether or not you are ready to come forward. You are invited to stay and take part according to your own needs and states.

A voice came from Heaven … Saying … Actual repentance is to examine one’s self … to confess sins before the Lord, to implore help and power to resist them, and so to desist from them and lead a new life; and to do all this as of one’s self. Do so once or twice a year, when you come to the Holy Communion… (AR 531:5) AMEN.


1st Lesson: Genesis 9:8-17

Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: {9} "And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, {10} "and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. {11} "Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." {12} And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: {13} "I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. {14} "It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; {15} "and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. {16} "The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." {17} And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth." Amen.

2nd Lesson: John 6:22-40

On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone; {23} however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks; {24} when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. {25} And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, "Rabbi, when did You come here?" {26} Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. {27} "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." {28} Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" {29} Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." {30} Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? {31} "Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’" {32} Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. {33} "For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." {34} Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." {35} And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. {36} "But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. {37} "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. {38} "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. {39} "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. {40} "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." Amen.

3rd Lesson: AR 224:13

( A Memorable relation where instruction is given from heaven concerning the sacraments)

Concerning Baptism, they said, "That it is spiritual washing, which is reformation and regeneration; and that an infant is reformed and regenerated, when, on becoming an adult, he does the things which his sponsors promised for him, which are two, repentance and faith in God; for they promise first that he shall renounce the devil and all his works; and second, that he shall believe in God. All infants in heaven are initiated into these two, but to them the devil is hell, and God is the Lord. Moreover baptism is a sign before the angels that a man is of the church." … Afterwards the assembly of Englishmen, enkindled with the desire of being wise, said to the angels, "So many various opinions are spoken of the Holy Supper, tell us what is the truth." The angels replied, "The truth is that the man who looks to the Lord and performs repentance, is conjoined with the Lord by means of that most holy sacrament, and is introduced into heaven." But some of the company said, "This is a mystery." To which the angels replied, "It is a mystery, but still such that it can be understood. The bread and wine do not produce this effect, for there is nothing holy in them, but material bread and heavenly bread correspond mutually to each other, and so do material wine and heavenly wine; and heavenly bread is the holy of love, and heavenly wine is the holy of faith, both from the Lord, and both the Lord. Thence there is a conjunction of the Lord with man, and of man with the Lord, not with the bread and wine, but with the love and faith of the man who had done the work of repentance; and conjunction with the Lord is also introduction into heaven." And after the angels had taught them something concerning correspondence and its effect, some of the company said, "Now for the first time we understand." And when they said, "We understand," behold a flame with light descending from heaven, consociated them with the angels, and they loved one another. Amen.


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