The church of all ages has regarded the Lord’s Supper as a love feast in two ways: first, we regard it vertically, through communion with God. When remembering Christ at His Supper, we may experience a love both from Christ and for Christ that can better be experienced than explained. In the Supper, the Lord condescends to bring the gospel to all five of our senses—we see, touch, smell, and taste the signs and seals, even as we hear the Word proclaimed. By faith we eat and drink of Christ spiritually and rise to sit with Him in heavenly places. By faith our love for God is sometimes enflamed in a quiet way, like the still, small voice of the gospel (see 1 Kings 19:12–13), so that we enjoy some restful yet intimate communion with God. And other times our love for God is enflamed in a more fervent way, arousing all our affections, at times enabling us to commune with the individual persons of the Trinity with unspeakable joy (see 1 Cor. 10:16; 2 Cor. 13:14).1See John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), vol. 2. With the apostle John, we cry out, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Second, we regard it horizontally through the communion of saints. Though our focus as believers should be first and foremost on Jesus Christ while partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the love experienced in communing with God also spills over into the lives of other believers so that we feel a great love for each other, as is beautifully described in the Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper:
That we by this same Spirit may also be united as members of one body in true brotherly love, as the holy Apostle saith, “For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread” [1 Cor. 10:17]. For as out of many grains one meal is ground and one bread baked, and out of many berries being pressed together one wine floweth and mixeth itself together; so shall we all, who by a true faith are ingrafted into Christ, be altogether one body, through brotherly love, for Christ’s sake our beloved Savior, who hath so exceedingly loved us—and not only show this in word, but also in very deed towards one another.2Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, in Psalter, 138.
The Lord’s Supper, therefore, is also a family meal for God’s people that strengthens their union and communion among themselves so that their fellowship and covenant bonds flourish, for they are one body in union and communion with Christ; they share in Christ’s once-for-all saving sacrifice for needy sinners. Thus the vertical dimension of the Lord’s Supper spills over into the horizontal dimension of words and deeds of love shown especially to one another as believers (see Gal. 6:10).3For some helpful thoughts on the horizontal dimension of the Lord’s Supper, see Waters, The Lord’s Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New Covenant, 96, 102, 104, 108.
When our love is enflamed both vertically toward God and horizontally toward our church family, the benefits flowing into and from our souls are immeasurable. All of love’s accompanying graces—which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit—are then deepened as well: “joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22–23). In short, our entire inner life is refreshed and revived by love.
How Can I Benefit from the Lord’s Supper?
Joel R. Beeke and Ray B. Lanning