Growing up, we took the Lord’s Supper—the juice and bread—every Sunday. That’s what the early church did, so we did it. I still do. And I’m glad for it.
But our church tradition viewed this practice as simply an ordinance—something mandated by Jesus. A command to keep. We focused almost exclusively on “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). Some communion tables even had these words in wood lettering across the front. Each time we ate and drank together, we remembered; we thought back to what Jesus did for us on the Cross; we reflected on His sacrifice for us. It was right and good that we did this.
These days I’m more of a sacramentalist.
I don’t dismiss the importance of remembering. Not for a moment. But this experience that we variously call the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or Eucharist, involves more. There’s mystery. There’s encounter. There’s participation. There’s grace.
At the end of Acts 2 we find a fledgling church “feeling a sense of awe” (Acts 2:43). God was performing signs and wonders among them, and they were devoting themselves daily to “the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Every day they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. It’s hard to imagine that they teetered on the brink of forgetting Jesus. He had just been raised from the dead, and many of them had seen Him! It’s also hard to imagine why this needed to be a daily practice, if it served only as a memory aid.
They surely understood it in much larger terms.
John records Jesus saying, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.… He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:54. 56). Scholars have debated the significance of these words for centuries, but it’s hard to dismiss the apparent connection with the Lord’s Supper—“This is My body (flesh)…. This is My blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26, 28).
Later, Paul would describe the Eucharist as “sharing in the blood of Christ…and the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Not just remembering, but sharing.
It is common these days—especially in evangelical circles—to ask people to examine themselves to see if they are worthy to participate. It’s a seriously flawed understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:27. Or, similarly, to invite people to decline the bread and the cup if they don’t “feel like it.” Unbelievers, in many services, are told that they should not participate but just pass it to the next person and think about their relationship with God. Similarly, we sometimes discourage junior-high and high-school students from participating until a certain age.
We’re missing something.
If participating in the Lord’s Supper opens the way for us to perhaps experience the mystery of grace in some small way, then those who feel least worthy are precisely the ones in greatest need! Of all people—more than most people—they should take the bread and cup with gratitude and anticipation.
As I take the bread and the juice week after week, I certainly remember the gracious work of Christ for me on the Cross. I also receive the grace of Christ for me because of the Cross. That’s perhaps something I should do every day!
The Lord’s Supper is not just a look back. It’s a powerful fresh start, each time, for the day(s) ahead.