Not long ago I was conversing with a fellow minister about weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He made a comment that set my mental wheels spinning: there is, he said, a particular piety that flows out of (or accompanies) weekly celebration of the Supper, and it sits rather awkwardly with certain versions of piety in our Puritan-Presbyterian heritage.
Hmmm. . . . So much to think about here. I would have to say, from my own experience as a pastor, that implementing weekly communion in our congregation has transformed our worship and, in more subtle and gradual ways, our piety. I believe the reason for this lies in the nature of the Supper, and what it forces us to confront about the character of our God.
For one thing – and it is no small thing – the Supper hammers away at the spirit-matter dualism that continues to shackle so much Christian piety. God could have given us only His Word, and if we were honest, I think a lot of us in Reformed churches would have been satisfied with that. We love preaching, we love words, we love grand ideas, we love the Logos. And we should. But God didn’t stop there. He also gave us sacraments. The God who determined to walk among us as the Logos-made-flesh also determined to pour water over our bodies and to feed us bread and wine. And He is quite insistent that this shall continue until He returns, in the body, to resurrect our bodies and usher us into the new heavens and the new earth. If we take this seriously – if it isn’t just a footnote to our hearing sermons but a profound and necessary unfolding, to all of our senses, of what we hear in sermons – then we are forced to a confront a God who is “with us” in the fullness of our lives, not just in the cerebral sanctum of our minds. He isn’t some Idea far off in the ether, accessible only through gnosis. He is the Maker, Lord, and Redeemer of all things in heaven and on earth, of our souls and our bodies. He is transcendent, speaking to us from above and beyond; but He is also immanent, speaking to us – quite literally – at hand, as the God who fills all things. “The Word is near you.”
But there is something else, and this brings us closer to the question of weekly communion. One of the main arguments I have heard against weekly communion is the idea that people will start “taking it for granted.” After awhile, it will become ordinary to them, and they won’t take it with sufficient seriousness.
Curiously enough, I have never heard the same argument marshaled against weekly preaching of the Word, and so I wonder: what kind of “sufficient seriousness” do we think God expects of us at the Supper? It must be a seriousness unique to the Supper, because it isn’t imperiled by weekly practice of any other element in worship.
I must be careful in what I am about to say. Sweeping generalizations are unfair, and I want to be clear that I am not accusing anyone in particular. That said, I believe there is a seriousness about the Supper in some Reformed circles that miserably distorts our Lord’s intentions for the Supper. The Supper is, indubitably, “serious” in that it sets before us the death of our Lord Christ. One can, I should think, never take that with too much seriousness. But our problem in some circles is not that we are taking the death of Christ too seriously; it is, rather, that we are taking ourselves far, far too seriously at the Supper. On the basis of a really confused idea of “self-examination,” we miss the whole point of the Supper – which is that God in Christ is for us. The Supper is not a judgment seat; it is not a place of thunder and lightning (except insofar as it shows how thunder and lightning were visited on our Surety); it is the table of our Father, where He brings forth the Bread of Life and the good wine of the gospel, and joyfully feeds His children.
May I say it respectfully: I simply can’t see why children need six months of preparation before they approach their father’s table; and if we, being evil, can figure that out, how much more our Father who is in heaven? The Table of the Lord is a friendly place, a joyful place, yea, even for sinners (no one else, incidentally, is invited); and weekly communion implicitly bears witness to this by not permitting weeks and months of anguished “preparation.” Rightly conceived, weekly communion reflects a certain view of God and of our approach to Him: it takes “seriously” the work of the Spirit by which Christ is really present at the Supper, whose work it is to cry out in our hearts, “Abba, Father.” And yes, this does bring forth a certain version of piety. It’s called the Spirit of adoption, rather than the spirit of bondage to fear. God give us more of it.