The Lord’s Supper

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.

CommunionBut 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.

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12 Responses to The Lord’s Supper

  1. Truda says:

    David,
    Please address the current practice of having the Lord’s Supper only once a month or in the back room for those who want it every week. What is the Biblical basis to support this practice? I have understood from childhood that this is part of our fellowship together each first day of the week.

    • David Timms says:

      Truda, our Communion practices are always a reflection of either a) traditions we have inherited and simply perpetuate, or b) specific beliefs that we have about the place, purpose, and meaning of the Lord’s Supper. As you might imagine, I favor the Lord’s Supper as an inclusive and frequent event. Those who fear that too great a frequency will somehow diminish the significance of the Eucharist, may not share my conclusion that this is a “grace experience.” Can’t get too much of that! 🙂

      • Truda says:

        David,
        Your post and response to my question (plus Dan Gonzaga’s comment) make me realize how we limit God’s ability to move in the lives of others.

  2. Tim Ross says:

    It is indeed powerful. As I break the bread with my teeth, I imagine Christ’s body being broken for me. Is incredibly humbling to experience that grace and to know that Christ did this for me. We cannot underestimate the power of this mystery and I agree with you the table is open to all.

  3. Dan Gonzaga says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, David! They cry out for reconsideration. Reminds me of one of our Moslem Iranian PhD students some time ago who began to take a look at Jesus. She responded positively to an invitation to an Easter service, and during the service felt compelled to go up to the Communion table and connected with that part of the event more than anything else. I am thankful that the particular church did not put a barrier at someone like her who was being drawn by the Lord.

    • David Timms says:

      Interestingly, Dan, I’ve heard several stories like that in our own congregation, including one person whose first real step towards Christ was in taking Communion. Such a simple practice; such profound possibilities. 🙂

  4. markskrause says:

    “We’re missing something” describes most of what we do concerning the Lord’s Supper, I think

  5. Jan Neff says:

    Having branched out into other denominations from the Christian Church for the last 35+ years, one of the things I’ve missed was the taking of communion more often. The majority of faith groups are of the once-a-month persuasion, it seems, outside of the Catholic faith. As a worship leader I’ve done my best to present the communion experience music as authentic and personal as well as communal. But I love your thoughts on the grace of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to move as He chooses in the hearts and minds of both His children and those whom He is calling. When we get to second-guessing God, we get into trouble every time, it seems!

    • David Timms says:

      Thanks for the note, Jan. “Allowing the Spirit to move as He chooses” does seem relevant in this conversation. Blessings as you continue to lead others in worship and surrender.

  6. Thanks for this, David – incisive as ever! I whole heartedly agree with your critique of the way ‘our tradition’ has tended to make participation in the Lord’s Supper a matter of one’s feelings towards their ‘moral compliance’ (not your words, I know 😉 We have certainly misunderstood (misapplied?) God’s grace given us in the Gospel when we pursue ‘perfectionism’ as the benchmark for participation in Communion.

    Could the ‘daily breaking of bread’ in Acts 2 also be more of an ‘everyday, common meal’ practice that the early church engaged in? So perhaps it was more about an almost constant, daily reminder of Jesus, every time a meal was shared. This would reflect the cultural significance of eating and sharing in ‘a common meal’ as a community event. It would also reflect the context of 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul is addressing greed and gluttony at ‘common meal-times’ in which the Church were participating in (presumably in a disorderly, ungracious & exclusive manner).

    • David Timms says:

      Chris, I think you’re quite correct about the daily meal. It seems that the early church knew this was to be more than a Passover-related event (once a year). And while it perhaps served as a “daily reminder” it may have also provided “daily grace.” 🙂

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