Friday, November 4, 2011

More Bread, More Wine, Please

Hungry and Thirsty

I like to have supper every day. It’s a part of my daily routine, and, at least in moderation, it contributes to my health. I also have come to the place that I would like to have my spiritual Supper when I gather with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day to engage in the ordinary acts of worship and to receive the ordinary means of grace. In other words, I would like to receive Word and sacrament, preaching and communion.

I recognize that the Biblical case for weekly communion is not so compelling as is the case for some other church practices. But, I think it is stronger than the usual practice among Presbyterians would indicate. I have heard Presbyterian ministers make the argument for the weekly collection from 1 Corinthians 16: 1, 2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches in Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of the week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up as he may prosper…” But, though they might make the case for long sermons from Acts 20: 7 (despite the consequence!)  I am doubtful they would argue for weekly communion based on the approved example in the same text: “One the first day of the week, when we were gathered to break bread, Paul talked with them…and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” First day of the week, people gathered, Word and sacrament.

I can remember as the PCA was coming into existence, that a minister who was opposed to the invitation system, said that perhaps one of the reasons for this innovation being included in so many worship services was that people instinctively sensed a need to respond to the reading and preaching of the Word in some way. Since they could not respond by taking and eating and drinking the elements, maybe they found that the opportunity to respond by walking forward to receive Christ, re-confirm their reception of Christ, or recommit themselves to Christ to be a substitute. I am not saying that is necessarily a right analysis, but I do believe that there is sense that “we should do something” which now amounts in many places to a brief prayer followed by a hymn. (I am not attributing this to him, but I do remember clearly that, at the Convocation of Sessions, John R. DeWitt spoke strongly against the addition of the invitation to the elements of public worship.)

It also seems to me that weekly communion might help, given the uneven quality of sermons. I suspect that many preachers have left their pulpits, and not just on one or two occasions, feeling sorry for their people who have had to endure the sermon. (Perhaps sorry as well they had to listen to their own sermon.) Why should we put virtually all our eggs in the sermon basket? I wonder if it would not promote the spiritual welfare of Christians, if every Sunday they could count on hearing the words of institution, the invitation from the Savior to those who are weary and heavy-laden, and then receive by faith the spiritual nourishment of eating and drinking the body and blood of the Lord. To be sure, the Word is central, and God is pleased through primarily by preaching to convert sinners and edify sinner saints, but why would we put asunder what the Lord seems to have joined – Word and sacrament?

Sometimes we hear that if we had observed the Supper more frequently, it would become less “special.” But, it seems to me that, in a curious sort of way, when the Supper is made so special it invites an almost superstitious response. “This is a really special Sunday, one of the four when we have the Lord’s Supper,” is what I perceive not a few people think. It seems ironic that those who want to emphasize that sacraments are “just signs” and so not so important end up making them more important in the minds of participants. Maybe we would take preaching more seriously if we received it less frequently, too? And why don’t we want the Supper to be ordinary as in “ordinary means of grace”?

I’m hungry and thirsty. I’d like to eat and drink more frequently. Bread and wine, please.


Everett said...

You summed up, very nicely, why I favor (and practice) weekly communion. Thank you!

Steve said...

Bingo. Sometimes "infrequenters" will suggest that frequency nurtures a superstitious regard for the sacraments that ends in ex opere operato. But it seems to me that the way to get there is more infrequency than frequency--Calvin's medieval church practiced yearly and may have been a part of why he favored weekly. After all, what better way to diminish an extraordinary but by routine?

P.S. Keith Mathison's "Given for You" is a compelling case for weekly.