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.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 21, 2008

The Influence of Hell in Our Lives

The Influence of Hell in Our Lives

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me (PSA 139:8,10)

It is much nicer to talk about heaven. It’s something we can look forward to; it’s something that’s pleasant. But we do have to acknowledge that evil greatly affects our daily life, and that the source of all evil is hell. We all have evil thoughts. We all have fantasies about what we would do if we were no longer under our present restraints and obligations. We all feel guilty about these thoughts because we are led to believe they are our own, when yet they are fleeting thoughts that originate in hell.

Divine Providence 320 teaches: If man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and account it meritorious, nor would he appropriate evil to himself and account himself responsible for it.

If we can learn something about hell and the way it operates, we can then become more objective about evil; we can stand back and say “that is rubbish from hell and I don’t wish to have anything to do with it” and find that it goes away and torments us no longer. We can become free, genuinely, spiritually free to do and think as we choose.

One more thing needs to be clarified: In the New Church, we often speak of “hell” in much the same way that others speak of “the Devil.” However, the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the basis for the belief in some one individual who presides over the hells is because the Devil, Satan, and Lucifer are mentioned by name in the Word, and those references have been understood only in the sense of the letter. When understood in the internal sense, it can be seen that these are names which signify different qualities or attributes of hell.

The idea of one ruling devil is also based on the idea that is held in some Christian Churches that heaven is a place where God and the angels dwell, angels being His messengers, spiritual beings created in heaven to serve Him, and have never lived upon the earth. There is the belief that some of these angels rebelled and were cast down into hell, and these fallen “sons of light” became the devils.

There cannot be one devil who rules the hells, because all who are in hell, like all those in heaven, are from the human race. Just as there is a logical inconsistency in having more than one all-powerful God, there an even greater problem with having two Gods, one of whom has fallen and become evil and the leader of evil beings. Therefore, there is no devil as a distinct individual, although we may speak of the common effort of all those in hell as “the devil” in the same way that we can refer to a joint effort by many individuals in this country as something done by “Canada.”

Keeping these first principles in mind, let us see what else we can learn about hell that will help us to keep free of its insidious influence in our lives.

Everyone knows that the Lord is the King of Heaven. And because Heaven and Hell are opposites that balance once another, the ruler of one must be the ruler of both. This is because from the action and reaction there is an equilibrium which gives permanence to all things. It should also be obvious that there must be a supreme, all powerful governor who can restrain the violence, uprisings, and insanities which would erupt from hell, destroy the equilibrium, and bring down everything else with it. Therefore, although it sounds strange at first, it should be clear that the Lord must be the governor of both heaven and hell.

The equilibrium or balance that is maintained between the power of heaven and hell on our lives in the world of nature is extremely important, for when two things mutually act against each other, since there is equal power on either side, neither has any effect, and both can be acted upon by a third force which then acts without opposition.

This is a simple idea that can be illustrated by springs, or the game of tug of war. But when we are thinking about true spiritual equilibrium we must beware falling into the idea that heaven and hell are balanced because they are of the same strength. The strengths of heaven and hell are not equal. There is far greater strength on the part of heaven, but it is held in restraint. Hell rushes in as far as it is able, to the absolute limit of its power, with the intent of drawing a person into its own sphere. It acts on and stimulates the evil tendencies of our hereditary nature, making us believe that these loves and desires are from ourselves, and not from hell.

Heaven, for its part, wants nothing more than for us to act in genuine freedom of choice. Therefore, although there is infinite power for good in heaven, its power is carefully moderated so that it balances the evil influences, preventing us from being overpowered by them. From superior power and practised restraint, the power of heaven leaves us free to choose our own course, to do what is right from our own decision to act according to the truth that we have from the Lord.

As an illustration, we might think of a young father playfully wrestling with his little boy. The little boy attacks furiously, at the limit of his strength and skill, and the father easily controls and directs that energy so that there is no harm through his far superior strength and skill.

Yes, there is an effective equilibrium in our spiritual lives, but that is because of the infinitely greater power of heaven exercised out of love and concern for our eternal well-being. The purpose and effect on our spiritual lives is to allow us, through our puny and feeble efforts, to co-operate with heaven and lift ourselves up and out of the sphere of hell – and stay out of it!

Hell reaches out to stimulate evil loves and hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind in such a way as to make us think that these ideas and desires are our own. It hides itself, tries to keep its true nature unseen, but the sphere of hell is like a perpetual effort to destroy all that is good and true, combined with anger and a kind of fury at not being able to do so.

The spirits of hell are particularly in the desire to destroy the Divine of the Lord, (that is, to make Jesus Christ no longer Divine and authoritative, but to make Him to be just a man. Just as the acknowledgement of His divinity is the one pearl that forms each of the twelve gates of the Holy City New Jerusalem, the wish to destroy or hide His divinity is the one clod of dirt that guards the entrances to hell.)

The hells wish to destroy the Divinity of the Lord, because that is the source of all that is good and true, therefore the source of all the things that frustrate them and bring them pain because they oppose the loves of self and the world.

A sphere of good and truth proceeds from the Lord out of heaven to restrain and balance the spheres of hell. It is from the Lord alone as a source, although it appears to be from the angels of heaven, and this because it is through them as a means. While they serve the Lord’s uses, they happily and completely acknowledge that the power for what they do comes from the Lord alone and not anything from themselves.

Heaven watches, like a gentle parent, and stimulates the good loves and delightful feelings that we have gotten through the experience of being loved and well-treated by others while in the world. And while in that state, the two forces balance each other out, allowing, as before said, a third force to act as if alone: That third force is the free will of each individual.

When we, in our freedom, make choices, we are the third force acting on our spiritual state. When we choose what is good, the net effect is to add to the forces of heaven, thus moving our spiritual state out of equilibrium toward heaven – and that’s good. Our continual effort and goal should be to co-operate with heaven against hell to push the marker off centre and toward heaven as far as we can, and hold it there as long as we can! Then we will have moved our normal state out of equilibrium into the state of heaven through our own efforts! Truly, this is what the Lord wants for us!

It has already been said that the Lord rules and governs the hells. The Heavenly Doctrines reveal how He does this both in general, and in particular: In general the hells are ruled by a general outflow of Divine good and truth from heaven which counters the flows of evil and falsity flowing forth from hell. The hells are governed in particular by an outflow from each heaven and from each society of heaven which serves to balance their counterparts. There are also angels who look into the hells and restrain insanities and disturbances there. They moderate these insanities and disturbances by their very presence, for the evil spirits fear the power of heaven, and fear is the most effective tool for governing the hells.

Everyone in hell is governed and controlled by means of their fears. Some are ruled by fears implanted in them while in the world, and are still with them. But such fears are not sufficient, and they gradually subside as the memory of the world fades, and they are then replaced by the fears of punishment. In hell, the fear of punishment is the most effective means of deterring the evil from their activities. This is because in hell, the punishment is directly related to the evil desired, and is derived from it.

The punishments of hell are wonderfully varied, and cause tremendous fear and respect from the evil spirits themselves. The punishments are lighter or more severe according to the severity of the evils. They are administered by other evil spirits, who derive pleasure from it. These spirits are in turn controlled by other spirits who protect and ensure that the punishment does not go too far.

But what does “too far” mean when it comes to the eternal punishments of hell? First, hell is eternal, not the punishments. When evil spirits keep themselves in a state of relative order, they are not punished. They are fed, clothed, given shelter, and have simple tasks to do. It is only when their evil lusts well up and break forth that they are punished, that is, only when they are in a state of disorder. When such a state breaks forth, the punishment is as harsh and immediate as is necessary to counter the rush of evil. But – and this is essential for our understanding of how to effectively punish in this world – the moment the spirit brings himself back under self-control and into a state of order, the punishment ends. Evil spirits are never punished when they are in a state of external order, and if they get out of order, the punishment ends the moment their state of disorder is broken. Even in hell, there is nothing of revenge in punishment. It is simply a tool used to restore order when necessary.

If fear is the most effective means of governing the hells, how can we take advantage of that fact in our own lives to control and defeat the effects of evil spirits? By bringing into our lives the one thing that the evil spirits fear the most: the light of heaven; the truth of the Word. When the light of heaven shines on an evil spirit, it reveals him as he truly is, a deformed and pitiful creature. It shows his gifts to be shoddy imitations, it shows his powers to be imaginary, like the beasts that dwell in the nursery shadows. The light of the Word shows them for what they really are, and shows us the way to what is of genuine eternal value.

When we are faced with evil, when we feel the delights of evil within us, we must shine the light of truth on them, drive them back into the caves and holes where they belong, for we know that we are spiritually free, responsible only for what we freely choose to do, and not any passing thoughts. We cannot be harmed by hell unless we want it, for we are under the Lord’s own protection. As the psalmist himself said, I will glorify Your name forevermore. For great is Your mercy toward me, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of hell. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 139:1-12, Matthew 12:22-30, HH 543

First Lesson:

(Psa 139:1-12) O LORD, You have searched me and known me. {2} You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. {3} You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. {4} For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. {5} You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. {6} Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. {7} Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? {8} If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. {9} If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, {10} Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. {11} If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; {12} Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. Amen.

Second Lesson: Mat 12:22-30

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. {23} And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” {24} Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” {25} But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. {26} “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? {27} “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. {28} “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. {29} “Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. {30} “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Amen.

Third Lesson: Heaven and Hell 543.

How the hells are ruled by the Lord shall be briefly explained. In general the hells are ruled by a general outflow from the heavens of Divine good and Divine truth whereby the general endeavour flowing forth from the hells is checked and restrained; also by a particular outflow from each heaven and from each society of heaven. The hells are ruled in particular by means of the angels, to whom it is granted to look into the hells and to restrain insanities and disturbances there; and sometimes angels are sent to them who moderate these insanities and disturbances by their presence. But in general all in the hells are ruled by means of their fears. Some are ruled by fears implanted in the world and still inherent in them; but as these fears are not sufficient, and gradually subside, they are ruled by fears of punishments; and it is especially by these that they are deterred from doing evil. The punishments in hell are manifold, lighter or more severe in accordance with the evils. For the most part the more wicked, who excel in cunning and in artifices, and who are able to hold the rest in subjection and servitude by means of punishments and consequent terror, are set over them; but these governors dare not pass beyond the limits prescribed to them. It must be understood that the sole means of restraining the violence and fury of those who are in the hells is the fear of punishment. There is no other way. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009