Approaching the Holy Supper Worthily

Toronto, Sept. 18, 2005

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?

Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

He who walks uprightly,

And works righteousness,

And speaks the truth in his heart;

He who does these things shall never be moved.

(Psalm 15:1,2,6)

We have gathered together once again to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lordís Supper. There are only two sacraments in the New Church, Baptism and the Holy Supper. Baptism and the Holy Supper, considered together, are called the "universal gates" into the church, for they are the means by which every one can be introduced into the life of the church, and conjoined with the angelic heaven. Baptism and the Holy Supper are called "universal" because they are for everyone who wishes to be conjoined to the Lord.

What does it mean to be "conjoined with the Lord" in this sense? Certainly not a mystical union where oneís personality is submerged in some "cosmic oneness" with God, but rather we are thinking here about something much simpler, much more human: the fact that each of us, when faced by difficulties in life, feels better when someone else is near, someone who loves us, supports us, and can listen sympathetically to our troubles. The Holy Supper is a way by which the Lord Himself can approach us as we, through our voluntary approach to His table, invite Him into our spiritual lives. It serves to help us focus our minds on spiritual things, to think about the Lord, and to ask for His help. When we are thus thinking about the Lord, when we are fighting to do what we believe is right, He draws near to support us in our battles against the hells. The Holy Supper is a physical event that serves to support the spiritual event.

There is a passage in the True Christian Religion that talks about the approach to the Holy Supper, and has been misunderstood by many people. The passage speaks of the "regenerate, who approach the Lordís Supper worthilyÖ Unfortunately, many people have heard this statement, which is quite correct and understandable within its own proper context, and begun to believe that somehow you must be completely regenerated, or nearly so, before you can approach the Lordís Supper "worthily." This is an unfortunate misunderstanding, for nothing could be farther from the truth, and it sometimes prevents the very people who need it the most from coming forward because they, in their state of despair over the sins they see within themselves, feel unworthy to approach the Lord.

The Lord is present with every individual who partakes of the Holy Supper. However, we are taught that He is with those who have not prepared themselves before hand in a "universal" sense, and with those who have prepared themselves "particularly." It does not cause spiritual harm to take the Holy Supper without preparation. However, it is true that the more you have prepared yourself for the sacrament, the more it will mean to you, and the more it will help.

The question then is, what does one need to do to prepare oneself for the Lordís Supper? There are a number of different ways to go about it, but for today, let us consider three general steps: Love to the Lord, Charity, and Faith.

First, in regard to love to the Lord, the Heavenly Doctrines warn that partaking of the Lordís Supper only so that you will appear religious and devout to others is an unworthy way approach to the Lordís table. This sacrament can only be taken worthily and properly if you are ready and willing to admit your heartfelt belief in God and your dependence on Him for life itself. There is no point doing something that signifies a contract with another individual if you deny that that individual exists.

The second point requires the most work because it has to do with charity, and therefore has to do with how we actually live our lives. We are taught in the Word that to approach the Lordís Supper worthily, we must first take careful stock of the course of our lives, of our actions. We must examine our life as to acts and intentions to see if there is anything contrary to the Lordís will. For most human beings living in the world, the problem is not discovering evils of life, but rather, deciding which one of the many to shun. Time should be taken to look closely at the selected evil and its affects on self and on others so that we fully appreciate why this evil is a sin against God, and why we should flee from it for the sake of our spiritual lives. Once having appreciated the impact of our sins, we should beg the Lord for forgiveness, and show our good will in the matter by beginning a new life without that evil.

The Holy Supper then takes the place of our signature on the contract with the Lord that we will go and do that particular evil no more. It will help us in those dark moments when the hells attack our intention, when they swarm over us to break our resolve. We remember taking the bread and the wine on our knees and say to ourselves, "I wonít do that again. I promised."

The final step in approaching the Holy Supper worthily is to spend some time reflecting on what our faith is, that it is our belief that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One God of Heaven and earth that is central to our lives, and that it is faith in Him that is saving faith. Obviously, it is quite difficult to sit down and just start thinking about "faith" in the abstract. It would do us no more good than it does to condemn ourselves as being sinners without taking the time to look for an individual sin. In order for us to think effectively about our faith, it is necessary for us to use something to stimulate and direct our thought. That is the function of daily reading the Word, for when we read the Word the angels of heaven draw near, and their sphere flows into our mind and directs our thoughts to heavenly things. When we are thinking of heavenly things, the Lord Himself draws near, and orders the things in our mind so that we see the truth in a new light, we are "enlightened." In this way alone does our faith grow.

So the purpose of the Holy Supper is to turn our attention to the Lord, towards our behaviour towards others, and to view our behaviour from the perspective of the teachings of the Word. And when, having examined ourselves, we find some evil, we must approach the Lord for His help in removing it. This is something that faces every adult from time to time. Therefore, it is the policy of the General Church, that any adult, that is, any person of about 20 years of age or older, who is struggling from conscience against their own inclinations to do what is evil, is both welcomed and encouraged to come forward and take part in the Lordís Supper and receive the signs of the Lordís promise to do His part in our battle against the hells. There is no other requirement than an adultís heartfelt desire to have the Lordís help in shunning their evils.

The purpose of the sacrament is to make that conjunction with the Lord something that seems more real by associating it with a physical act. In the world of business, when two people reach an agreement they naturally seal that agreement by a ultimate, physical sign: they shake hands, or perhaps sign a contract. The physical action gives a "reality" to the agreement between them. For the same reason, the Lord has asked us to come to the Holy Supper, so that we can share with Him a physical ultimate of His promise to save us if we will try to change our own lives, if we approach the Holy Supper worthily.

We often talk about salvation, of going to heaven, but every one of us harbours the question deep in our hearts, we wonder if we would "make it," we wonder if we are really prepared for a life in heaven. Of course, we cannot know for sure, and in fact we would not be spiritually free if we did know for sure, for then we would loose our freedom. However, the Lord does not desire for us to be left completely in the dark in regard to this important matter. There are many places in the Word where the Lord speaks to us, to give us help in finding our perspective, to help us judge how we measure up. The fifteenth Psalm in particular can help us see where we stand, to help us see our relationships with our fellow man, to see if we are prepared for the Lordís Kingdom.

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?

Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

He who walks uprightly,

And works righteousness,

And speaks the truth in his heart;

He who does not backbite with his tongue,

Nor does evil to his neighbour,

Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;

In whose eyes a vile person is despised,

But he honoris those who fear the LORD;

He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

He who does not put out his money at usury,

Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

(Psalm 15)

AMEN.


First Lesson: MAT 7:7-23

{7} "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. {8} "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. {9} "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? {10} "Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? {11} "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! {12} "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. {13} "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. {14} "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. {15} "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheepís clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. {16} "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? {17} "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} "Therefore by their fruits you will know them. {21} "Not everyone who says to Me, ĎLord, Lord,í shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. {22} "Many will say to Me in that day, ĎLord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?í {23} "And then I will declare to them, ĎI never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!í Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 719

719. V. THE LORD IS PRESENT AND OPENS HEAVEN TO THOSE WHO APPROACH THE HOLY SUPPER WORTHILY, AND IS ALSO PRESENT WITH THOSE WHO APPROACH UNWORTHILY, BUT TO THEM HE DOES NOT OPEN HEAVEN; CONSEQUENTLY, AS BAPTISM IS INTRODUCTION INTO THE CHURCH SO IS THE HOLY SUPPER INTRODUCTION INTO HEAVEN.

With both the worthy and the unworthy the Lord is present, because He is omnipresent both in heaven and in hell, and also in the world, consequently with the evil as well as with the good. But with the good, that is, with the regenerate, He is present both universally and individually; for the Lord is in them and they are in Him, and where He is there is heaven. Moreover, heaven constitutes the body of the Lord; consequently to be in His body is also to be in heaven.

[2] But the Lordís presence with those who come to the holy supper unworthily is His universal and not His individual presence, or what is the same, His external and not also His internal presence. His universal or external presence is what causes a man to live as a man, to enjoy the ability to know, to understand, and to speak rationally from the understanding; for man is born for heaven, and is therefore not merely natural, like a beast, but also spiritual. He also enjoys the ability to will and to do the things that from his understanding he is able to know about, to understand, and thereby rationally speak about. But if the will rejects the truly rational things of the understanding, which are also intrinsically spiritual, the man becomes external.

[3] Consequently with those who only understand what is true, and good, the Lordís presence is universal or external, while with those who also will and do what is true and good, the Lordís presence is both universal and individual, or both internal and external. Amen.