Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Why Every Sunday? (2) -- Memorial or Experience?

Last time I said that we observe the Lord's Supper weekly because the N.T. Church did. We want to promote unity by going back to the essential faith and practice of the church in the New Testament. While valid, this reason for weekly communion is inadequate. We must go beyond asking, "why did the NT Church ovbserve the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week," to "what is there about the Lord's Supper that led them and leads us to commune weekly? There are several answers.

First, Jesus himself ordained it when he said, "Do this ..." Or, if we use the Latin we could say he "mandated" it. The word Maundy, as in Maundy Thursday, is from the Latin "mandatum", from which we get mandate. An even better word might be "prescribed." I like the word "prescribed" because it gets at the power of the Lord's Supper. Medicine prescribed by a Doctor can have powerful effects. By this clear prescription Jesus ordained a practice that has powerful effects in our lives.

The most obvious effect that he intended was to recall him. "Do this," he said, "in remembrance of me." We need this simple ceremony weekly in order to remember him. Recently, I heard it said that we are faced every day with 'Weapons of Mass Distraction.' We are constantly bombarded by all kinds of stuff and involved in many activities. And it is so easy to forget. How many times during the week do we consciously remember to say to ourselves, "Jesus died for me?" We call this a memorial service. We do it in remembrance of Him.

But is it enough to call it a "memorial?" In the upper room at the last supper Jesus was the host. He is still the host. Another powerful effect of the Lord's Supper is to help us experience the presence of Jesus as our host.

In the Bible, memory has a very special meaning. The theologian, Alan Richardson says, "When we remember something from the past, we do not merely entertain a pale idea of it; we actually make it present again, make it once more potent in our lives ... What does it mean that we who today receive the ... bread and wine in remembrance of Christ's death and passion are made partakers of his body and blood? The biblical answer to such a question [is] that when we remember the past, we make it present" (An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament, 367-8). Let me stress his words: when we remember something from the past ... we make it once more potent in our lives. In our remembering, the Lord is present again as the host.

Isn't this at least part of what Luke meant when he told the story of the men on the road to Emmaus who encountered the resurrected Christ and took him home for dinner? They did not recognize him until he, acting as the host, "took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew him." Later they found the eleven disciples and "told them about the things that had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24).

As the hymn says, "Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face ... Here would I feed upon the bread of God ... Here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven." We need the weekly communion in order to remember, but more than that, we need it to experience him as host.


C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Knox said...

I like your explanation of communion. I often take it for granted and, while I still take it to remember Christ and what He means, many times I don't consciously choose to truly experience the total power that communion can hold.

A random question: What do you think about the Presbyterian's view that communion should only be conducted by an ordained minister?



Will Spina said...

I really have enjoyed looking over this blog. Thanks for posting. As an avid believer in the Lord's Supper, I am linking to you off of my blog. Thanks agains