For centuries—depending on how you look at it, from two to twenty—many have considered the Lord’s Supper central in the Christian worship assembly. I want to probe this idea.
The actual experience of communion has left me “high and dry” far more often than it has produced in me some meaningful meditation, a compelling spiritual inclination, or appreciable growth toward Jesus and His will. Note that I say the actual experience—not the envisioned one—is the issue.
I must admit that an inner longing continues to nag . . . something inside me wants to feel what others say they feel. In my worst moments, I suspect that many people are fooling themselves by thinking communion is really central for them. In my better, more self-probing moments, I realize my own lack of deep love for Jesus and wish I could increase the intimacy of the communion experience.
It is for no small reason that people often think of the communion activities as the core of the assembly. We have quite a persuasive legacy! Even if we set aside, for the moment, the Lord’s own words and those of his apostles, we have hundreds of years of Roman, Lutheran, etc., tradition—plus two centuries of the Supper’s biblically based pedestal in the American Restoration Movement—that come into play in our thinking and feeling about communion.
But I am much less interested in tradition and legacy than in what God wants in our observance of the Lord’s Supper. Is communion central in the heart and mind of the Lord? If so, how would we know it to be so? Probe with me, please. . . .
First, communion would appear to be central because of the priority Jesus placed on the “Last Supper.” It was no accident that the twelve reclined with their Rabbi around a table on the night he was betrayed. Along with the events of that ominous night, we should never forget the words of Jesus Himself: indicating some personal emotion, He placed a value on the communal experience of the Passover memorials simply by saying, “I’ve been wanting with my whole heart to share this experience with you , and I won’t ever get to do it again . . . not in the same sense, at least” (my loose paraphrase of Luke 22:15-16).
Next, we could certainly point to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11—in one of two sections that flank the “love chapter.” The horizontal connections here are clear, too: Christian assemblies are where we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, where spiritual gifts are used for the “body of Christ,” and where love is to be manifest. Incidentally, the discerning of the body in 1 Cor. 11: 29 seems more clearly related to human brothers and sisters in the church body than to the physical body of Jesus.
Even if we had no New Covenant writings at all that dealt with the topic of the Last Supper and the believers’ perpetual remembering of the Lord through observance of a similar “meal,” we would still be compelled to place this experience on center stage in our assemblies. Clearly, our raison d’etre as a people is centered in Jesus’ sacrifice, and the Lord’s Supper symbolizes that sacrifice, acknowledging our identity in Him and “proclaiming His death until He comes again.”
Early church history also confirms, in large measure, the emphasis placed on the Lord’s Supper. Although I yearn for more depth and more breadth in practice, and although I’m more often disappointed than inspired by observances, in the end, I may remain convinced that it is fitting that centuries of tradition suggest the conceptual centrality of the Lord’s Supper.
How to make the Supper central in our current-day experience—that’s the crux.