In the ARM (American Restoration Movement), we have a lot of conceptions around the Lord’s Supper. Some of these are only decades old; others are a couple of centuries old, and others may be older than that. Some, I’ll flatly suggest, are misconceptions. They are no greater misconceptions than Roman ones in this area, and they don’t use the fabricated term “eucharist” or consider that metaphysics are disturbed by clergified incantations (i.e., “transubstantiation”). But consider, for example, on a lower level, the ideas that the Lord’s Supper is …
- to involve a thimbleful of grape juice and a morsel of cracker
- to be observed in quietude
- to be observed in the morning (“Supper”? morning?)
- to be observed no less than one time per week, necessitating evening “mini-communion” with the Sunday morning absentees
- to be observed no more than one time per week
- to involve a single cup, or is
- to involve multiple cups
- to involve trays (and pews, and people who pass said trays through the people in said pews)
- called “The Lord’s Supper” when that phrasing is used only once in scripture (and no other phrase is much more prescriptive)
Non-ARM readers may be going, “Huh?” to most of the above. Dyed-in-the-wool ARM readers may also be going, “Huh?” (but for different, more closed-minded reasons). We have had such a legalistic view of “the Lord’s Supper” that we’ve manufactured and bought little communion “kits” in which can be packed a little cracker and juice, so shut-ins and convalescing members can eat and drink. (Talk about a sacramental view! “If only I can eat a morsel and drink a trickle, I will receive grace!”)
Yet it’s our problem more than theirs. We ambulatory ones are the ones who’ve perpetuated it. Do those who care for shut-ins in this way eat and drink with them, or do they think, “Wait . . . I can’t do that again . . . I already did that earlier today ‘at church’ . . . I’d better not do it again”? Do they make it a mini-communal experience of some sort, or do they just shove the cracker toward the bed and tenderly hold the nonagenarian’s head up so she can sip the juice, thinking somehow that the substances are grace-giving? Wouldn’t it be better to do away with this morsel model and have a small group meeting with the shut-in person as church, experiencing more of the whole of the Christian assembly, and also eating and drinking “at the table,” including the memorial bread and juice.
What about the common ARM practice of having mini-communion on Sunday evenings for those who were sick or traveling or at work on Sunday morning? Some congregations have the formerly missing congregants come to the front pew while the congregation sits (im)patiently and tries to feel simultaneously devoted, all the while going “umm … did this already in the morning … wasting my time now … uh-oh, bad attitude … back to trying to feel devoted.” Others have the people stay where they are and raise their hands if they want to be served by people passing the trays. Even more churches have the folks leave the assembly hall and go to some little room elsewhere. If they’re off by themselves, they’re certainly not communing with the whole gathered body, and perhaps are feeling more familial with the few … and at least you don’t have the weirdness of having 96% of the people in the sanctuary twiddling their thumbs … which certainly isn’t very communal.
The thinking around one cup has probably had entire books written on it, and Catholics and a small subsect of ARMers agree on that aspect. I’m not very interested in this scruple, although if germs weren’t part of our world, I’d probably prefer the unifying aspect of the same cup. As it is, I simply can’t fathom how so many people can be satisfied with a wiping of the rim of a cup with a dirty rag and then drinking after someone else. Onward….
I’ve greatly appreciated Alan Knox’s writing on this subject. I have found only one minor flaw in his particular blogpost that probes pretty much all the scriptures that might relate to this topic. One of his conclusions has been that “When the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in Scripture, it is mentioned in the context of a meal.” While this appears true from the Last Supper through to Jude, where the plural agapais (usually translated “love feasts”) is found in a single instance, I would take minor exception to the term “the Lord’s Supper,” because it has come to connote, for many, a ceremony that seems worlds apart from the essence of that which on Alan (and Paul and Luke and Jesus) were really discoursing.
Tomorrow: “breaking bread” in Acts, and a challenge to conceive of “the Supper” anew