The Elder and Lord’s Supper
January 5, 2011
Updated February 27, 2014
4 comments 893 views
According to the church order, “The sacraments shall be administered upon the authority of the consistory in the public worship service…” and “The Lord’s Supper shall be administered at least once every three months in a manner conducive to building up the body of Christ and in keeping with the teachings of God’s Word.” While not providing details, there is some direction.
One thing is clear: the consistory is responsible. I suppose that could mean many things. Consistory could be responsible for setting the table by preparing the bread and wine. Consistory could ensure that those who participate are faithful members of the church of Christ (historically, we have sometimes called this fencing the table). Perhaps the consistory could be involved preparing the liturgies used for communion though I have seldom seen this.
Over the past few years the key question has been: can children participate? If they are members of the body of Christ, ought they not join at the table of the Lord? This conversation will continue leading up the consideration of the report on “Faith Formation” at Synod. And probably afterwards.
The mystery and wonder of the Lord’s Supper has grown on me over the years. When I was a child, Lord’s Supper meant an extra long service. Great emphasis – from my perspective – on who may come to the table of the Lord: the answer was simple – the people who trust in Jesus Christ to forgive their sins. The practices seemed more linked to variations of confession, penance and justification. I have not stopped being amazed at this gift of God.
But something new has entered into my experience. What is new is the wonder of entering into and living in the circle of divine love and fellowship of the triune God. I spend less time thinking about the door opened by Jesus and more time reflecting on sitting in the kitchen of God's house, where the warm embrace of divine hospitality refreshes my spirit, nourishing me for the life of mission. Who would not want to just stay there for a while as God gives nourishment for my soul, speaks words of divine encouragement and embraces me in love? An extra long service could be too short.
Consistory has responsibility to building up the body of Christ. Communion can be a central building block for experiencing the love of Christ and nourishing faith. Beyond liturgies (important as they are), beyond the ways of fencing and opening the table, we need to ask ourselves how we developing a church culture in which communion is welcomed as an experience of divine nourishment and divine love. Are there practices that deepen our experience of the community of Christ? Is sitting in the pew best or ought we come forward? Should we look each other in the eye and say “this is the body/ blood of Christ for you”? Should we practice communion in house groups or small groups?
Communion is practiced under the authority of the consistory. But the host of the meal is Christ. Our actions are ways we serve the purpose of Christ giving nourishment to the community of faith. Have a conversation not so much about the rules and practices of communion, but on the practices that deepen faith and encourage our walk in the fellowship of God.
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"under the authority of consistory" I wonder if sometimes that limits our celebration opportunities, e.g. small groups or other congregational events (potluck dinner, barbeque?). "Under the authority" can sound like simply "only with their permission" rather than something like "with consistory's encouragement and guidance". I do find the tradition of "fencing the table" to be about individuals rather than about the community. Is the community not the emphasis in 1Cor 11:17+, the traditional proof text for protecting the table of the Lord?
I wonder if we (I) need to focus more on the very nature of a sacrament to get more toward the experience of divine nourishment and divine love.
When years ago I suggested we celebrate Communion at least once a month, the first objections were that it would become too routine and lose its significance if we partake too often. We celebrate at least once a month now and I never hear anyone comment that they would rather not as it is not meaningul to them.
Personally, I look forward to welcoming all members of the Body to communion. We have some children who have made a children's profession of faith and some families where the parents are carrying out their spiritual overseer role with their children and serving them from what they themselves are served. Wonder if the 'God's kitchen' is getting more company of late ...
Typically the elders of Telkwa CRC serve the bread and juice to the people in the pews; a few weeks ago, we invited people forward. My personal preference is to alternate between these two methods. When people are served in the pews, it reminds me of how God blesses us even before we "get up" and do anything; when the elders come to the people and serve them, it reminds me of how Jesus comes to us (Immanuel!) not to be served but to serve. On the other hand, when people come forward, it reminds me of how we are called to respond to God's grace in our lives; the Holy Spirit prompts us to "get up" and do something with the gifts God gives us.
I think both (and other) methods of partaking in the sacrament can be meaningful... We just need to sometimes stop to think about them and what they signify.
I think Paul was talking about people who were abusing the Lord's supper by being selfish, starting to eat by themselves at these meals, and being gluttons and not caring about those who had less. The meal was becoming a place of privilege, of elitism, etc. There was a lack of love at the meal. That is what was meant by not discerning the body of Christ. They did not understand or live from the example of Christ, who gave his life for us. The amount or type of food was not the issue. It was the spirit in which it was done.
I also have a problem if the Lords supper seems to be "owned" by a particular church or denomination. Or used as a "rite of passage". It should transcend those human earthly conditions by bringing us to an intuitive understanding of the true and complete body of Christ, all those who belong to Christ.
There are places in scripture where the churches (and particularly the leaders, I assume) are warned that the church shouldn't share "meals" with unrepentant sinners. (I Cor 5:11 and Jude 12 at least refer to the Lord's Supper. Whether they refer to more general meal-sharing is debatable.) This is the basis for our shared belief in HC Q&As 81-82 and for the practice of fencing the table.
But the key word is "unrepentant", not "sinners." The big mistake is to think that fencing the table means preventing sinners from coming to the table. No, No, No! It is because we are sinners that we come to the table.
The best way for the elders to be responsible for the Supper is to find ways to make this very clear: we come to the table because we are sinners who need to consume the body and blood of Jesus Christ by faith. Only those who don't think they need Jesus Christ should be held back (according to I Corinthians and Jude). In fact, for that reason, Q&A 81 answers the question of who "may" come quite well. (Although perhaps the language shouldn't be who "may come," but who "needs to come." I'm glad that our translation of the HC at least uses the ambiguous "are to come.")
There are, of course, many themes that can be highlighted by the supper: fellowship (perhaps sitting around tables would emphasize this well), having your faith strengthened (perhaps sitting in the pews together quietly thinking of Christ is a good way to do this), the real presence of Christ (perhaps coming forward and dipping emphasizes this well), etc. But whatever we do, the Lord's Supper must be about the gospel: those who are dead in their sins being fed Jesus Christ in order to be nourished and given life. The Lord's Supper is nothing if it is not about the forgiveness of sins. And that is what the elders need to make sure we remember. All of our practices should direct our attention ultimately to that fact.
As Paul wrote more than once: the message of the cross is the power of God for salvation.
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