The Supper

The Lord’s Supper should not “be viewed as a funeral for poor Jesus rather than the wedding supper of the victorious Lamb.”

—Laurence Hull Stookey, Eucharist: Christ’s Feast with the Church, 153

Since Christ is the host of the meal, and very much present in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the focus and central dynamic of the event are in the present, not the past. We are not, then, reliving or reenacting a past event—neither the event of the cross nor the event of the Last Supper. We are, rather, allowing a past event to shape and inform the present.

—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 40

The Lord’s Supper is the meal of the church, the body of Christ, and our basis for gathering around this table is not our blood affiliation but the fact that we have been called together by Christ. This meal, in the language of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation,” is the holy food of the faith community:

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 54

In Remembrance of Him

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

—Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 744

Through the Spirit

The question may well be asked how it can be that the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ can possibly come to us as Word of God through the instrumentality of some minister in the pulpit…this is precisely the same question as to how the Word of God made flesh can come to us in water, bread, and wine through the instrumentality of some minister at font or table.  The two problems are no different, and for both Scripture has an identical answer: whether Christ comes to us from pulpit, font, or table, he does so through the operation of the Holy Spirit.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 203

Divine Sustenance

Author of life divine,
Who has a table spread,
Furnished with mystic wine
And everlasting bread,
Preserve the life Thyself has given,
And feed and train us up for heaven.

Our needy souls sustain
With fresh supplies of love,
Till all Thy life we gain,
And all Thy fullness prove,
And, strengthened by Thy perfect grace,
Behold without a veil Thy face.

—Charles Wesley (Methodist Hymnbook #764)

The Leveling Table

The Lord’s Table is a leveling reality in a world of increasing inequalities, an enacted vision of “a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine” (Isa. 25:6). This strange feast is the civic rite of another city—the Heavenly City—which is why it includes our pledge of allegiance, the Creed.

—James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love:  The Spiritual Power of Habit, 98

Grace Enacted

The sacramental actions of the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—are concrete, tangible, and visible means by which the church takes the very stuff of creation, water, bread, and cup, and in response to the invitation and command of Christ reenacts the wonder of the gospel. In so doing, the material creation is a means by which God’s grace is known.

Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 28

Hallowing All Food and Time

The eucharistic bread and wine are real bread and wine, . . nonetheless different from our ordinary bread and wine, for they are restored to their true end, they secretly justify and hallow all the food of this world by the promise of the Messianic banquet which they carry.

It is the same with Sunday which restores time to its true end, of doxological duration, and secretly it justifies and hallows all the other days.

—Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theory and Practice, 223-4

Jesus Himself

That which is received in the Sacraments is not something other than that which is received in the Word, though it is received in a different way; for both in Word and Sacraments it is Jesus Christ Himself who comes to us. 

—C.E.B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958), 395

Advent Supper

We should not think of the Eucharist not so much as Christmas—as if the Son were born again in bread—but instead think about it instead in terms of Advent. This table marks a triple Advent: It celebrates the past coming of the Lord; it is the coming of the Lord; and it looks ahead to the coming of the Lord. We commemorate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; we feed on Him by the Spirit; we proclaim the Lord’s death until He come.

When we view it as an Advent meal, we see that this Supper is about Jesus’ absence as well as His presence; it’s about the future as well as the present. It is a present feast, a feast we celebrate because the Lord has come. But it is not yet a full banquet, because the Lord is still to come.

—Peter Leithart

Table Manners

We are to discern the Lord’s body in one another. When the Lord’s Supper is being served, we should sit up straight, and look around the congregation, eyes open, up and down our row. It is true that we are to examine ourselves, but we are to do so in relation to one another. We must not curl up in a little ball, close our eyes, and try to establish a private, spiritual moment with Jesus.

—Douglas Wilson, A Primer on Worship and Reformation, 57

Come to the Table 14

The Lord’s Supper was never conceived in the early Church, as it came to be by some in later times, as a solemn wake held in sad remembrance of One who died. From the beginning it was a meal of fellowship, dominated by thanksgiving offered in praise, wonder, and adoration of the Lord of life who had broken the bonds of death and was alive for evermore, really and eternally present with His people.

—William D. Maxwell, Concerning Worship, 14

Come to the Table 13

SEVEN ASPECTS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

1. Remembrance: The Lord’s Supper as a Memorial  (1 Corinthians 11:24-26)

2. Communion: The Lord’s Supper as Fellowship with Christ and with One Another  (1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:27-34)

3. Forgiveness: The Lord’s Supper as a Table of Mercy  (Matthew 26:26-28)

4. Covenant: The Lord’s Supper as a Renewal of Baptismal Vows  (Mark 14:22-25)

5. Nourishment: The Lord’s Supper as Bread from Heaven  (John 6:35-58)

6. Anticipation: The Lord’s Supper as a Declaration of Hope  (Luke 22:14-27)

7. Eucharist: The Lord’s Supper as a Joyous Thanksgiving Celebration  (Acts 2:46-47)


—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church

Come to the Table 12

I don’t think we can ever say too much about the importance of an active exercise of mind and heart at the communion service. . . .

Holy Communion demands us of private preparation of heart before the Lord before we come to the table. We need to prepare ourselves for fellowship with Jesus Christ the Lord, who meets us in this ceremony. We should think of Him both as the host of the communion table and as enthroned on the true Mount Zion referred to in Hebrews 12, the city of the living God where the glorified saints and the angels are.

The Lord from His throne catches us up by His Spirit and brings us into fellowship with himself there in glory. He certainly comes down to meet us here, but He then catches us up into fellowship with Him and the great host of others who are eternally worshipping Him there.

We are also to learn the divinely intended discipline of drawing assurance from the sacrament. We should be saying in our hearts, ‘as sure as I see and touch and taste this bread and this wine, so sure it is that Jesus Christ is not a fancy but a fact, that He is for real, and that He offers himself to be my Saviour, my Bread of Life, and my Guide to glory. He has left me this rite, this gesture, this token, this ritual action as a guarantee of this grace; He instituted it, and it is a sign of life-giving union with Him, and I’m taking part in it, and thus I know that I am His and He is mine forever.’ That is the assurance that we should be drawing from our sharing in the Lord’s Supper every time we come to the table.

And then we must realize something of our togetherness in Christ with the rest of the congregation. . . . [We should reject the] strange perverse idea . . . that the Lord’s Supper is a flight of the alone to the Alone: it is my communion I come to make, not our communion in which I come to share. You can’t imagine a more radical denial of the Gospel than that.

The communion table must bring to us a deeper realization of our fellowship together. If I go into a church for a communion service where not too many folk are present, to me it is a matter of conscience to sit beside someone. This togetherness is part of what is involved in sharing in eucharistic worship in a way that edifies.

—J. I. Packer, “The Gospel and the Lord’s Supper,” in Serving the People of God, vol. 2 of Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer, 49-50

Come to the Table 11

The Lord’s Supper is the meal of the church, the body of Christ, and our basis for gathering around this table is not our blood affiliation but the fact that we have been called together by Christ.  This meal, in the language of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation,” is the holy food of the faith community:

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 54

Come to the Table 10

There is no place for solitary communion. The Lord’s Supper is, by its very nature, a corporate event—a meal of the community, not the individual. This is not to discount the place of personal, private prayer and a personal, intimate fellowship with Christ. It is rather to insist that this meal is an encounter with both Christ and the people of God. It is an act by which we are in fellowship with Christ and with others, and the two dimensions, of necessity, always go together. It is appropriate though for the elements of the Lord’s Table to be taken to those who cannot be present with the community—those in prison or whose health makes it impossible for them to be present. But then the elements themselves come from the common gathering, and this is made clear both in the common event and in the smaller celebration. The second is derivative of the first.

—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 55

Come to the Table 9

With the current situation of the American church in mind, we can say the following: frequent eating and drinking at the Lord’s table will inoculate the church against the Gnosticism of modern Christianity (not to mention trendy spiritualisms) that would reduce religion to a private, inner, purely “spiritual” experience; a church whose central religious rite includes baked goods is being trained in proper dominion over creation and will refuse resurgent nature worship in both its religious and political guises; a church that celebrates a feast of wine is being formed into a joyful community that contests the equation of Christian seriousness with prudishness; a church that celebrates the communal meal is bound into one body and will resist the corrosive individualism of modern culture that has too often invaded the church; a church that shares bread at the Lord’s table is learning the virtues of generosity and humility; a church that proclaims the Lord’s sacrificial death in the Supper is exercising itself in self-sacrifice and becoming immune to the lure of self-fulfillment. Not automatically, but in the context of biblical teaching and a robust community life, the skills and virtues practiced at the Lord’s table will spill over to fill the whole church with a eucharistic ethos. In short, the Supper exercises the church in the protocols of life in the presence of God.

—Peter J. Leithart, “The Way Things Really Ought to Be: Eucharist, Eschatology and Culture” Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997):176

Come to the Table 8

The eucharist became the showing forth of the death of One whom death could not hold.. .. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated not on Thursday night, the time of its institution, or on Friday afternoon, the time when our Lord died upon the Cross, but on Sunday morning, the time of His resurrection.

—William D. Maxwell, Concerning Worship, 13

Come to the Table 7

The Lord’s Supper is first and foremost an encounter with God’s love. As St. Francis de Sales counseled, “Your great intention in receiving Communion should be to advance, strengthen, and comfort yourself in the love of God.”

—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 66

Come to the Table 6

The efficacy of the Lord’s Supper does not, finally, rest on our faith or our sincerity or the depth of our resolve. The energy that sustains this meal and makes it a holy meal is that which is provided through the ministry of the Spirit.

—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 118