on the Lord’s Supper

[The Lord’s Supper] is the primary way that Christians remember, receive, and share the meaning of our salvation.

Eugene Peterson

Once upon a time, I thought services were the most dreary event on Sunday. I especially disdained first Sundays of each month, because Holy Communion meant service would drag even longer. Thankfully, that has changed: the surface mundaneness and routine of attending service, sitting under God’s Word,  praying familiar words, and yes, eating and drinking the bread and wine, are often precisely what gives me joy and comfort.

In one of 9Marks’ little books on ministry (either The Gospel by Ortlund or Evangelism by Mack Stiles; I can’t remember), the writer discussed how churches are quick to plan large-scale evangelistic events and direct long-term evangelistic efforts while ignoring the means of grace that God has instituted. Baptism declares the gospel of death and new life, while the Lord’s Supper is about past grace and future grace, expressed and experienced in the very present task of eating and drinking. That was probably the first time I considered the significance and beauty of the sacraments.

Two passages I read recently reminded me again of how I came to the realisation. The first, from James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, touches on how the Eucharist is a microcosm of how the Christian relates to past and future:

In worship, we taste “the powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:5), which births in us a longing for that kingdom to come, because this taste is also a bit of a teaser: it gives us enough of a sense of what’s coming that we look around at our broken world and see all the ways that the kingdom has not yet arrived. “Come, Lord Jesus!” and “How long, O Lord?!” are prayers of a futural people.

At the same time, the rhythms of Christian worship and the liturgical year stretch us backward. They are practices of remembering —another habit we learn from Israel. We remember with gratitude God’s acts of redemption in the exodus (Ps. 78) and the cross. Lent and Easter invite us backward to remember the power unleashed in the cross and resurrection — a power that continues to break into the present (Phil 3:10-11).

(…) Thus we are constituted as a people who live between times, remembering and hoping at the same time. Each week this between-ness is performed in the Eucharist, which both invites us to “do this in remembrance of me” and by doing so to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

 

And here’s Eugene Peterson, on the significance of Jesus choosing to use a meal — such an earthy, communal activity — as his means of reminding us of his work and word:

The meal does more: it maintains the social shape of salvation… We do not customarily, or if we can help it, eat alone. We come together with others, with family and friends. We demonstrate basic courtesies at the table. It is the place we learn consideration and forgiveness. It is also the place to which we invite strangers, hospitality being the means by which we bridge suspension and loneliness, gathering the outsider into the place of nurture and acceptance. The table incorporates the evangelistic thrust of salvation that Jesus insisted upon: “And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29)

Every time I reflect on the Lord’s Supper, I’m in awe at what it points to. Thankful (:

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