Encountering Jesus at his table more frequently (part 2)

So what’s stopping us from inviting Jesus to open our eyes by gathering around the Lord’s Supper table more frequently?

Some worry that celebrating the Lord’s Supper more frequently will diminish the preaching of the Word. While it is conceivable that the Lord's Supper graphic found via Googlependulum could swing the other way where the table pushes the pulpit off of center stage, churches I’m aware of in the Reformed tradition that celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently still have faithful preaching. I do not see coming to the table more often as a threat to our historic and enduring emphasis on the centrality of Scripture. If anything, I’d suspect that more frequent participation in the Sacrament will actually help the congregation more deeply comprehend and embrace the Word.

A more common fear I encounter is that the Sacrament will become less special if we celebrate it more frequently. I have two responses to that: First, part of me wonders if that actually wouldn’t be such a bad thing. There is, after all, something very ordinary, very common about the Lord’s Supper. As William H. Willimon observes in his book Sunday Dinner, Jesus specializes in “taking the stuff of everyday life … and using them to help us see the presence of God in our midst” (p. 25). Have we made the elements of the Lord’s Supper “too special,” leading us to think we require “special things” in order to encounter God?

Second, it occurs to me that doing something frequently does not automatically make it less meaningful. The late Harry Boonstra expresses this in a memorable way in the winter 1997 issue of Calvin Theological Seminary’s Forum: “It’s strange that we use this argument about the Lord’s Supper [that increased frequency will make it less meaningful] and not about preaching or praying or singing… It certainly is possible to pray or to sing thoughtlessly and carelessly. But the solution is not to sing less frequently … but to sing with conviction and devotion.” Both the Word and the Sacrament are means of grace God uses to bring his Gospel message to us, yet no one argues we should hear less preaching of the Word for fear it’s becoming less meaningful. (Frankly, between hearing a sermon or joining others for a meal, I’d probably tire less quickly of the latter than the former!)

Think about how we need to eat healthy food throughout the day – typically three meals with additional beverages and snacks in between. Sometimes these are memorable occasions; most often they are routine. Regardless, we eat and drink because our physical bodies need the nutrition. It turns out that our spiritual life “needs feeding and nourishment just as much as our physical life,” as Howard Vanderwell observes in Living and Loving Life, and “much of that kind of nourishment comes from the Lord’s table… Speaking of our need of such nourishment, John Calvin said, ‘Our faith is slight and feeble and unless it be propped on all sides and sustained by every means, it trembles, wavers, totters, and at last gives way.’

“And so we come to the table: A 72-year-old woman with all her struggles, a young father trying to find balance in life, an 80-year-old still vibrant and eager to be nourished, a teen whose faith is growing, and an 8-year-old boy who knows for sure that Jesus loves him” (p. 71; the quote from Calvin comes from his Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.14.3). They all come (as do I) needing this very ordinary yet also very good food to sustain our spiritual lives.

The advantages of celebrating the Lord’s Supper more frequently outweigh any disadvantages. Why are we content with depriving ourselves or our children or new, freshly baptized believers of the nourishment God longs to give us?

Hungry

When I miss a meal, I can tell. (When my hunger starts making me cranky, then everyone else can tell, too!) It’s pretty important for me to have breakfast, lunch, and supper each day for my body to function properly.

There’s a corollary between eating meals around our kitchen tables and eating the Lord’s Supper around the Lord’s Table. We need this holy meal not only to remember that Jesus shed His blood and died on the cross for you and for me, but also to allow the Holy Spirit to feed us with the resurrection life of Jesus (to paraphrase “Our World Belongs to God” ¶38). The church needs to eat this meal for the body (of Christ) to function properly.

Historically in the Christian Reformed Church, congregations gathered around the Lord’s Table only four to six times or so a year, and this is still the practice in some places. I cannot help but wonder whether such infrequent partaking deprives our faith similar to how Lord's Supper (picture found via Google)putting too much space between breakfast and supper can be detrimental to our day.

I have heard the suggestion that celebrating the Lord’s Supper too often may make it less meaningful. However, as a study committee of the CRC once stated, “that more frequent Communion diminishes its impact is a weak argument. That seems to be an argument against weekly preaching and even against worship itself.”* If more frequent partaking threatens the meaningfulness of the Lord’s Supper, how come no one worries about the frequency (weekly, often twice!) of preaching? (One would think people would rather err on the side of eating too often rather than listening to too many sermons!)

I thought of this afresh after reading a few paragraphs in William H. Willimon’s cleverly-titled book Sunday Dinner: Sunday Dinner by William H WillimonThe Lord’s Supper and the Christian Life

How often should our church have the Lord’s Supper? We might better ask, How often should we eat? We usually eat three meals a day. Admittedly, not all of our daily meals are special or full of significance. Some are, some are not. But that is not the point. We eat regularly, even routinely, ritualistically, because we need these gifts to live. The Lord’s Supper is the normal food for Christians. Sometimes the service is special and significant for us. Sometimes it is not. But whether a service strikes you as deeply moving or as routine, the important thing is that you are fed.

We might respond to the question, How often should our church have the Lord’s Supper? by asking, How often should we commune with the risen Christ? Is once every three months enough? Hardly. Friendship takes time, commitment, risk, frequent meetings. The more you get together, the more you grow together. Sometimes your gathering with a friend can be invigorating, inspiring, and full of significance. Sometimes it will be a cup of coffee, a little idle talk, and nothing more. But the important thing was that you met. You got together. You provided the opportunity for a deep encounter. You took time…

If we are going to grow and mature in our relationship with Christ, if we are to meet this Truth as He must be met, then all of us must keep at it on a regular basis. A lifelong series of big and little, significant and commonplace rhythm of meetings at the meal is required. (pp. 99-100)

Coincidentally (or providentially!) I happened to be listening to “Hungry” by Kathryn Scott while I was typing this. If we know Jesus is the One who satisfies our hunger, why don’t we eat at His table more often than we do?


*This is from a 1997 report by the CRC’s Committee to Study Worship titled “Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture.” It’s out of print, but can
still be purchased or else found as part the CRC’s Agenda for Synod 1997 beginning at p. 93.