John Whitecross, in his work The Shorter Catechism Illustrated, tells the story of a converted Greenlander who, “rather than be absent from the missionary settlement when the Lord’s Supper was to be administered, rowed the whole night in his kayak with the animal in tow…” When asked about his exertion he said, “How could I stay where I was? My soul hungers and thirsts after the Lord and His communion.” That kind of fervency for the Lord’s Table might appear strange to many, especially in a day when many undervalue the precious responsibility of being committed to a local church. But one of the reasons why regular participation in a local church is essential is because the Lord expects His people to participate in the Lord’s Supper. We ought not miss the imperative that Paul recalled: Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24b). That wasn’t a suggestion; it was a command.
Every Christian has a duty to commemorate the Lord’s death by eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine during the Lord’s Supper. While there are times when, for one reason or another, a person may let the bread and the cup pass, and while such an action may reflect a high view for the solemnity of the ordinance, a Christian may mistakenly esteem their self-excusal as such an act of reverence that they fail to take the necessary measures to ensure their freedom of conscience to participate in the Lord’s Supper going forward. Our responsibility is to “do this,” not excuse ourselves from this. Thus, by way of application, if there is something keeping you from participating in the Lord’s Supper it is your God-appointed responsibility to rectify it so that you can participate in it. Listen to the way J.C. Ryle, albeit without some of the nuance that I would have used, emphasized the importance of partaking in the Lord’s Supper:
Do we stay away from the Lord’s Supper under a vague notion that there is no great necessity for receiving it? If we hold such an opinion, the sooner we give it up the better. A plain precept of God’s own Son is not to be trifled with in this way. Do we stay away from the Lord’s Supper because we are not fit to be communicants? If we do, let us thoroughly understand that we are not fit to die. Unfit for the Lord’s table, we are unfit for heaven, and unprepared for the judgment day, and not ready to meet God! Surely this is a most serious state of things. But the words before us are clear and explicit. Christ gives us a plain command. If we willfully disobey it, we are in danger of ruining our souls. If we are not fit to obey it, we ought to repent without delay. (Ryle)
So while we are not saved by our participation in the Lord’s Supper, the redeemed will participate in the Lord’s Supper. They must. The symbolism of the table extends to our partaking of it. It’s as we partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine that we demonstrate our access to the Lord’s presence, our spiritual union with Christ, and the reality of our participation in true fellowship with Him. This is more than just an acted-out parable of what’s to come when we eat and drink in the Lord’s presence in the kingdom, it is a witness to the communion we share with Him in the here and now. Therefore we must be careful not to undervalue this or excuse this, but as those who have partaken of Christ, the bread of life, we must do this, participate in the Lord’s Supper, in remembrance of Him.