"Red: Week One" - Daily Reflection Thursday, October 8, 2015
This is the third entry in a series of daily devotions that I am writing to support my church's October sermon series: "Red: Understanding The Hard Sayings of Jesus." This week we are reflecting on the Lord's Supper as we respond to the "hard" saying of Jesus: Eat my flesh, drink my blood."
One question that sort of hovers over every conversation about the Lord's Supper is: How often should we celebrate it?
Catholics celebrate essentially every day, as do many Orthodox Christians. Most Lutheran and Episcopal congregations celebrate each week.
While a growing number of Reformed, and non-denominational churches have begun celebrating the meal every week, there are still many churches both denominationally affiliated and otherwise that exercise their freedom to celebrate the Lord's Supper once a month, once a quarter, and even once a year.
In my own tradition (Presbyterian) there is a long history of annual celebrations of the Lord's Supper that were looked forward to with great anticipation and preparation. As I mentioned in an earlier devotion, members of many Presbyterian churches in bygone eras were examined annually by elders to determine if they were worthy of participating. If you determined to be not worthy and missed the once-a-year celebration, you simply had to "wait 'til next year."
The Presbyterian Church (USA) gives great freedom to it's member congregations, allowing the governing body of each church (what we call the Session) the authority to determine the frequency with which they celebrate the Lord's Supper. And the vast majority of Presbyterian churches don't do auditions to determine someone's "Lord's Supper worthiness."
When I arrived at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis where I am the pastor, I discovered that we only celebrated Holy Communion six times a year. Because we distribute the elements and used hundreds of tiny antique silver chalices to share the juice from the Cup, it was a herculean task to prepare and clean up.
So, in deference to those who were in charge of such things, the Session approved celebrating the Lord's Supper once every other month. There was no great theological reason, it was just a practical one. I suspect practicality is at the center of more than a few churches decisions regarding the frequency of communion.
Things have changed since then, however, and in our Traditional service we now celebrate once a month. It was just a matter of finding enough volunteers with a willingness to perform the task in order to add the extra six celebrations.
At our casual service, however, we celebrate the Lord's Supper each week through a way of sharing called "intinction" where participants come forward, take a piece of bread and dip it into a shared cup.
I suppose if I had my preference, I would have to say that I prefer celebrating Holy Communion each time that we gather for worship. There is just something about being able to conclude the communal gathering by coming to the Table, experiencing Christ's presence and being reminded of how we are made whole.
I am also part of a congregation, however, within a particular tradition and I'm definitely not journeying alone. So, I move and lead within the ebbs and flows of that tradition, which includes giving up some of my own preferences on occasion. Plus, I think that if I suggested we pull out the tiny, silver antique chalices each week--my communion preparation team might quit!
If you are not sure why your particular church celebrates the Lord's Supper when it does, ask your pastor. But whether it's once a week, once a month or once a year, you can be assured that when it is celebrated, Jesus is present. And you will be reminded each time that you are part of something that is far greater than preferences and forms of church government. Our traditions, our order of worship might differ from church to church, but our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not.