January 27, 2021

Let’s Discuss…The Lord’s Supper

The Last Supper, Buoninsegna

By Chaplain Mike

One of our most popular posts this year so far was our discussion of baptism back in May. It’s time for another.

Today, I’d like our iMonk community to weigh in on another primary sacrament (or ordinance) of the Christian Church. Whether we call it Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Table, today we speak about the meal that Christians share when we gather for worship.

There are obviously many different perspectives among Christians about our sacred meal.

Some partake daily, some weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, some annually. Those who share at the Table more often view this celebration as essential to the very definition of Christian worship. Those who have communion less regularly tend to see it more as an occasion for a special focus on the finished work of Christ.

There are also differences in viewpoints about the elements of bread and wine. Are they symbolic in the sense of merely “representing” or pointing to another reality? Or is Christ actually present in them or with them in some mysterious way?

Who is invited to come to the Table? How should one prepare for this act? What does “taking Communion” do for the participant? Should this ritual be part of a meal? Is it a sacrament or ordinance? Should children partake?

These and many other questions and opinions have been discussed regarding the Lord’s Supper down through the centuries. We are obviously not going to even begin to solve all dilemmas here today. That is not the point. This is a chance for us to discuss our various viewpoints with respect in order to learn and, perhaps, refine our own understandings.

To assist you in getting a handle on a few of the main traditional positions, I will reproduce some statements from official catechisms and teaching sources. I have only included short excerpts; there is obviously much more that each tradition has to say about the Lord’s Supper. For further study, I encourage you to follow the red links and read the full articles.

As with baptism, we especially welcome input from other traditions not represented here.

Finally, I will repeat what I said before the last “Let’s Discuss…” post: I ask that you remain civil and respectful in the discussion. You may be passionate about your viewpoint, and that’s ok. But let’s not be questioning another’s salvation or casting stones of judgment. This is a discussion, and I hope it will be among friends.

Roman Catholic View (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

1373 “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,” in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species.”

1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares:

It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.

And St. Ambrose says about this conversion:

Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed. . . . Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”

1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.

• • •

Orthodox View (OCA)

The sacrament of the eucharist is also called holy communion since it is the mystical communion of men with God, with each other, and with all men and all things in him through Christ and the Spirit. The eucharistic liturgy is celebrated in the Church every Sunday, the Day of the Lord, as well as on feast days. Except in monasteries, it is rarely celebrated daily. Holy Communion is forbidden to all Orthodox Christians on the week days of Great Lent except in the special communion of the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts (see below) because of its joyful and resurrectional character. The eucharist is always given to all members of the Church, including infants who are baptized and confirmed. It is always given in both forms — bread and wine. It is strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, his true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in his name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God.

…One of the most unfortunate developments took place when men began to debate the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood in the eucharist. While some said that the eucharistic gifts of bread and wine were the real Body and Blood of Christ, others said that the gifts were not real, but merely the symbolic or mystical presence of the Body and Blood. The tragedy in both of these approaches is that what is real came to be opposed to what is symbolic or mystical.

The Orthodox Church denies the doctrine that the Body and the Blood of the eucharist are merely intellectual or psychological symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood. If this doctrine were true, when the liturgy is celebrated and holy communion is given, the people would be called merely to think about Jesus and to commune with him “in their hearts.” In this way, the eucharist would be reduced to a simple memorial meal of the Lord’s last supper, and the union with God through its reception would come only on the level of thought or psychological recollection.

On the other hand, however, the Orthodox tradition does use the term “symbols” for the eucharistic gifts. It calls, the service a “mystery” and the sacrifice of the liturgy a “spiritual and bloodless sacrifice.” These terms are used by the holy fathers and the liturgy itself.

The Orthodox Church uses such expressions because in Orthodoxy what is real is not opposed to what is symbolical or mystical or spiritual. On the contrary! In the Orthodox view, all of reality — the world and man himself — is real to the extent that it is symbolical and mystical, to the extent that reality itself must reveal and manifest God to us. Thus, the eucharist in the Orthodox Church is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ precisely because bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and manifestation to us in Christ. Thus, by eating and drinking the bread and wine which are mystically consecrated by the Holy Spirit, we have genuine communion with God through Christ who is himself “the bread of life” (Jn 6:34, 41).

• • •

Lutheran View (Luther’s Large Catechism)

Question: Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar?

Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink. And as we have said of Baptism that it is not simple water, so here also we say the Sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine, such as are ordinarily served at the table, but bread and wine comprehended in, and connected with, the Word of God.

It is the Word (I say) which makes and distinguishes this Sacrament, so that it is not mere bread and wine, but is, and is called, the body and blood of Christ. For it is said: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element, it becomes a Sacrament. This saying of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word must make a Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element. Now, it is not the word or ordinance of a prince or emperor, but of the sublime Majesty, at whose feet all creatures should fall, and affirm it is as He says, and accept it with all reverence, fear, and humility.

…Thus we have briefly the first point which relates to the essence of this Sacrament. Now examine further the efficacy and benefits on account of which really the Sacrament was instituted; which is also its most necessary part, that we may know what we should seek and obtain there. Now this is plain and clear from the words just mentioned: This is My body and blood, given and shed for you, for the remission of sins. Briefly that is as much as to say: For this reason we go to the Sacrament because there we receive such a treasure by and in which we obtain forgiveness of sins. Why so? Because the words stand here and give us this; for on this account He bids me eat and drink, that it may be my own and may benefit me, as a sure pledge and token, yea, the very same treasure that is appointed for me against my sins, death, and every calamity.

On this account it is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man. For by Baptism we are first born anew; but (as we said before) there still remains, besides, the old vicious nature of flesh and blood in man, and there are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes also stumble.

Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger….

• • •

Reformed View (John Calvin)

Now, if it be asked whether the bread is the body of Christ and the wine his blood, we answer, that the bread and the wine are visible signs, which represent to us the body and blood, but that this name and title of body and blood is given to them because they are as it were instruments by which the Lord distributes them to us. This form and manner of speaking is very appropriate. For as the communion which we have with the body of Christ is a thing incomprehensible, not only to the eye but to our natural sense, it is there visibly demonstrated to us. Of this we have a striking example in an analogous case. Our Lord, wishing to give a visible appearance to his Spirit at the baptism of Christ, presented him under the form of a dove. St. John the Baptist, narrating the fact, says, that he saw the Spirit of God descending. If we look more closely, we shall find that he saw nothing but the dove, in respect that the Holy Spirit is in his essence invisible. Still, knowing that this vision was not an empty phantom, but a sure sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, he doubts not to say that he saw it, (John i. 32,) because it was represented to him according to his capacity.

Thus it is with the communion which we have in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. It is a spiritual mystery which can neither be seen by the eye nor comprehended by the human understanding. It is therefore figured to us by visible signs, according as our weakness requires, in such manner, nevertheless, that it is not a bare figure but is combined with the reality and substance. It is with good reason then that the bread is called the body, since it not only represents but also presents it to us. Hence we indeed infer that the name of the body of Jesus Christ is transferred to the bread, inasmuch as it is the sacrament and figure of it. But we likewise add, that the sacraments of the Lord should not and cannot be at all separated from their reality and substance. To distinguish, in order to guard against confounding them, is not only good and reasonable, but altogether necessary; but to divide them, so as to make the one exist without the other, is absurd.

Hence when we see the visible sign we must consider what it represents, and by whom it has been given us. The bread is given us to figure the body of Jesus Christ, with command to eat it, and it is given us of God, who is certain and immutable truth. If God cannot deceive or lie, it follows that it accomplishes all which it signifies. We must then truly receive in the Supper the body and blood of Jesus Christ, since the Lord there represents to us the communion of both. Were it otherwise, what could be meant by saying, that we eat the bread and drink the wine as a sign that his body is our meat and his blood our drink? If he gave us only bread and wine, leaving the spiritual reality behind, would it not be under false colours that this ordinance had been instituted?

• • •

Classic Baptist View (Tom J. Nettles) *

Baptists practice the Lord’s Supper in conformity with the Zwinglian view of its essence. John Gill states very simply that it is “to Shew forth the death of Christ till he come again; to commemorate his sufferings and sacrifice, to represent his body broken, and his blood shed for the sins of his people.” Any who desires to take it should examine himself to discern if he “has true faith in Christ, and is capable of discerning the Lord’s body.”

The emphasis on commemoration and representation reflect Zwingli’s interpretation of Scripture and his understanding of the distinctive idioms of human nature in conformity with the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon concerning the undivided person of the two-natured Christ. In his Exposition of the Faith sent to King Francis of France, Zwingli argued that “in the Lord’s Supper the natural and essential body of Christ in which he suffered and is now seated in heaven at the right hand of God is not eaten naturally and literally but only spiritually.” The Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation he contended was not only “presumptuous and foolish” but, more importantly, “impious and blasphemous.”

Though this view has been described as “bare symbolism,” for Zwingli it was no more bare than powerful spiritual meditation on the truths of the gospel. “To eat the body of Christ spiritually,” he explained, “is equivalent to trusting with heart and soul upon the mercy and goodness of God.” This meditation may become a spiritual feast and a means of renewed assurance and sanctification.

* See also Michael Spencer’s post, “The Baptist Way: The Lord’s Supper”


  1. Is it just me or is Calvin’s view really confusing?

    • Rob Burke says

      I agree. He never really says what the benefit is.

    • For me, I have a hard time understanding the distinction between the Calvinist and Lutheran views. For me, it’s a practical matter, as I’m a Presbyterian (layperson) who sends my children to a Lutheran school, which entails worshiping with them from time to time. When I took the “Intro” class at the (WELS) Lutheran church, I asked the difference between the two and the pastor gave me a great rundown on the difference, except for the fact that what he described as the reformed/presby view was really the Baptist/Zwingili view. That didn’t get me very far… Regardless of if I’m welcome at their table or not, I really would like to better understand that difference. The problem is that I can’t seem to find anyone who understands the nuance of both positions well enough to clearly articulate the differences.

      • Some of us Lutherans welcome all baptzed Christians who believe Christ to be actually present in the Supper, to join with us for Communion.

        Christ commanded that we do it, so He’s in it…for He never commanded us to do anything where He wouldn’t be there in it, for us.

        Worthiness? If you think you’re worthy…then maybe you ought not come, but if you know you’re a sinner in dire need of forgiveness…then it’s for you.

      • Here’s a Lutheran explanation of the difference.


        • Another Rev Fisk video, eh? He’s good but very “confessional Lutheran” in both the good and bad way.

          • Pastor Brendan, My husband grew up Lutheran but I’m not familiar with the confessional Lutheran term. Could you explain the good and the bad?

        • Does Bill Nye the science guy have a kid who is a Lutheran? Yikes. Great exposition nonetheless.

          Here’s the problem. He says that the reformed teach that the sacrament is simply a metaphor. (in reality – many do – our bad) While we say that the elements are an ordinary sign (is that the metaphor he’s talking about?), it also seems to indicate Christ’s real, actual presence in the elements.

          The Westminster standards state that Christ is “spiritually present to the faith of the receiver”. That’s not a metaphor. Christ is really there, by the elements, being given to us. As far as I can tell, we definately is “with” and present in the elements, versus “in, with and under” (In and with I get, but why only under? If you’re in zero gravity, which way is under? 😉

          From what I can tell, the reformed play up the “sign-ness” of the sacrament over the presence and the Lutheran vice versa. So is it a matter of differences in emphasis, or something more?

          • The reformed view is that Christ’s presence in the supper is dependent on the faith of the recipient. Therefore, it is subjective b/c the recipient cannot know if their faith is sincere.

            The Lutheran view is that Christ is truly present whether the recipient believes or not. It is an objective reality.

            Big diffence.

          • “difference”

  2. The problem I’ve had with the Baptist view is that it so minimizes Holy Communion, it almost isn’t worth celebrating. I’ve been in a Baptist church where the quarterly “Communion Sunday” was forgotten altogether; and in one non-denominational/charismatic setting where someone literally went to the store during the worship service, and bought grape juice and goldfish crackers to be given out during communion at the end of service! Even though I held the idea at the time that communion was an ordinance, and only symbolic, I was appalled! One Baptist friend of mine tells me that his church only offers communion once annually, because “Doing it more than that just isn’t Biblical. Jesus only did it one time, so we’re not going to do it any more than that.”

    If we Christians would only allow ourselves to be exposed to sacramental theology, rather than fearing the Table as being “too Catholic”…heavy sigh. We have no idea of the power and refreshing of Christ that we miss out on!

    Whether you believe in the “real presence” as the presence of the true body and blood, or as the presence of the Holy Spirit (Anglicans, etc.), God is in the Eucharist! There’s nothing I look more forward to than partaking, and nothing I miss more when I don’t have the opportunity.

    • You are right, Lee. If the Baptists and non-denoms (same theology) only want to have the Lord’s Supper once a year, or every day…it really wouldn’t matter… because to them it’s only a symbol anyway.

      Our Lord was not into empty religious ritual just for kicks.

      Holy Communion is pure gospel. A gift from our Lord. To turn it into nothing (basically) is pretty bad.

      • “Our Lord was not into empty religious ritual just for kicks.

        Holy Communion is pure gospel. A gift from our Lord.”


      • “Only a symbol?”

        What you are then saying is that a symbol has no meaning, it is an “empty religious ritual just for kicks”?” Thus something like the American flag-only a symbol-is just an empty poliltical object, right? We don’t need to respect or honor the American flag because it is “just a symbol”. I don’t understand why people cannot respect the religous views of others with which they disagree. Calling another’s view of communion a meaningless symbol or and empty religious ritual is disrespectful and demeaning. You can do better than that.

        I hold to a memorial view, not a sacramentalist view of the Supper but I value those Christians who do have another understanding than mine and am delighted they find such meaning in that way of interpreting this act of worship.

        Several years ago I heard an author being interviewed, I don’t remember who he was or the title of his book, but I do remember something he said, “Loving our neighbor as ourselves means allowing that other person, friend or enemy, as much inner complexity as we claim for ourselves.” Yet we often claim our view is deep and nuanced and rich while we act as if the other guy’s view is simple and shallow and empty. Perhaps it is just another way of loving ourselves more than the other guy.

        • I held the view that communion was an ordinance for a long time, until I researched church history for myself. The idea that communion is a sacrament was predominant for the first 1500 years of Christianity, and the view that it’s an ordinance is completely post-reformation. Communion is considered a sacrament in the theologies and practices of four of the five largest Christian denominations in the world (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran…Baptists come in at number five…Methodists are a little farther down the line, but also consider the table a sacrament). I do hold that the sacramental view is a deeper, richer view. The proof is in the pudding…goldfish crackers? For real?

          You’re certainly free to hold the view you have, and I don’t believe looking at communion as an ordinance makes you a heretic, or that you’re hell-bound. I’m not that egotistical, nor do I promote the idea that different theologies or denominational variations about communion are going to get you in or out of heaven. I can respect your ideas, but I don’t have to agree with them, do I? We all have our own personal experiences, and maybe your experience with communion as an ordinance has been more reverent and rich. I hope so. It’s an important part of our faith, not to be treated lightly.

          • Lee, I think what JSturty is getting at is that even if we disagree, we can do so without being unnecessarily hurtful or provocative. That language which prompted his comment was not found in your preceding comment, but in the one before that by Steve Martin which you so heartily endorsed with your “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.

            Steve characterized the view held by JSturty and many others as “empty religious ritual just for kicks” — an entirely unnecessarily hurtful and provocative way of putting the non-sacramental view of the Supper.

          • Point taken.

    • “If we Christians would only allow ourselves to be exposed to sacramental theology . . .”

      Really? Who do you think is being exposed to sacramental theology instead of Christians? Is there any significant research or interest in sacramental theology outside of christianity.

      • I’ll rephrase…”If we Protestants would only allow ourselves to be exposed to sacramental theology, instead of fearing it as being ‘too Catholic’…”

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Keep going. Many Protestants are fully immersed in sacramental theology. Perhaps what you meant was “If we Evangelical Protestants”?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’ve been in a Baptist church where the quarterly “Communion Sunday” was forgotten altogether; and in one non-denominational/charismatic setting where someone literally went to the store during the worship service, and bought grape juice and goldfish crackers to be given out during communion at the end of service!

      Grape Juice and Goldfish Crackers?

      (twitch twitch twitch)

      • Goldfish crackers: Unleavened bread, in the shape of ICHTHUS, the Christian fish. What could be more biblical? 🙂

        As for grape juice, it was a Baptist church, don’t forget.

        Although in my Baptist church, nobody has thought about Goldfish crackers yet. It’s enough of a break from the ol’ Wonder Bread tradition for us to use Manishewitz matzos.

        • Is that Wonder Bread? Or Signs and Wonder Bread?

          • No. We’re not Pentecostal ’round here (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Enough of a stretch for us to use Jewish matzos (I think our pastor likes to hear the *snap* when he breaks the bread).

  3. Hi all,

    I think it can be aptly demonstrated that the Lord’s Supper was a common or full fellowship meal. The idiosyncratic complications of whether it be sacramental or an ordinance actually obscure its simplicity. The meal came to represent faith, hope and love in the person of Jesus resurrected from the dead. Unfortunately eating a tiny waffer with a thimble of grape juice or wine is purely our own tweaking of the celebration from what it originally was. Also I think it was meant to be done in an atmosphere of joy but too often it has pennitential and morose overtones and with some it is viewed as having mystical properties.



    • “Whoever does not eat my body and drink my blood has no life in them.”

      It may be simple, but it’s very important. And many turn it into pure symbolism.

      “This IS my body. This IS my blood.”

      He’s in it, alright. How? How should I know. But when He says it, you can bet your life on it. Isn’t that what we are doing?

      • You bet. We are betting our life on it. I’m born Catholic, spent a decade and a half evangelical then back to Catholic. I cherish communion but honestly don’t know what the heck is going on. When Jesus said this is my body, wasn’t he in his body holding a piece of bread in front of his disciples? If I did that in front of you right now, wouldn’t you assume that the bread was a figure of me? A representation? Maybe I’m concretizing and not seeing spiritually. I do, in fact, feel a mystical unity during the sacrament, there’s no question. I guess in the end I’m unconcerned about the dogma – it almost seems unfitting under the circumstances. I agree with you Steve that he is in it somehow.

      • Donalbain says

        He also said he IS a door. Is he actually a door? No.. he was talking symbolically.

    • sarahmorgan says

      It always bothered me how much Scripture talks about feasts — wedding feasts, setting the table before me, etc , and then for Communion all one gets is a thimble of grape juice and an almost inedible cracker. Why, especially in denominations where the number of potlucks/year is greater than Communion/year, can’t it at least bear some resemblence to a real (not necessarily hugely sumptuous) meal? I saw this done once in a forward-looking orthodox Presbyterian church; it was a fairly quiet evening worship service (with a few modern songs, led by a soloist), ending with a small served (not potluck) sit-down meal (tables set up in the back of the sanctuary, not in another room). Something about eating together with other people draws a community closer; it at least encourages friendly discussion of the kind that allows you to get to know people better.

      • I’m with you, Sarah. The way most of us do it resembles a parody of the original Passover Seder on the night the Lord was betrayed. That was a celebratory feast, muddied by the Judas episode, although the other eleven weren’t aware at the time.

        Our communion (my tradition is Baptist or Congregationalist, essentially identical) has wandered from celebration to a funeral-like ritual that may or may not hold much meaning for people. I don’t know for a fact that it doesn’t because we really don’t talk about it—other than to decide who’s turn it is to put the elements together beforehand or to serve it during.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It always bothered me how much Scripture talks about feasts — wedding feasts, setting the table before me, etc , and then for Communion all one gets is a thimble of grape juice and an almost inedible cracker.

        Thimble. Not even a shot glass of Welch’s.

      • Paul Timo says

        If it really is Jesus then it really is a feast no matter how much or how little you consume!

    • I’ve always wondered, and still do, why communion is more of a ceremony or ritual than a meal. To me, it makes much more sense for Jesus to be talking about remembering Him EVERY time we have a meal together with other believers than about only remembering Him during the set aside worship times that are scheduled by our church.

      What’s the Biblical basis for communion taking the form of a specific worship act during a service versus taking the form of a full on joint meal? (Isn’t there a passage about some believers taking the best of the food during a communion ‘potluck’ and not leaving any for the poorer members?)

    • Atmosphere of joy? The night he started it he knew he was going to be betrayed and executed.

      • I think the main reason it is not a full blown meal is the same reason Sunday morning (almost regardless of denomination)has the same over all passive/only the leadership will express themselves kind of participation it often does: it is easier to manage and control.

        A meal is messy. We might actually engage one another rather than doing things alone together. Same reason we get lectures instead of discussions: crowd control.

        “Experience supplies painful proof that traditions once called into being are first called useful, then they become necessary. At last they are too often made idols, and all must bow down to them or be punished. ”
        -J. C. Ryle

  4. Aaron Croteau says

    Dr. Ben Witherington wrote a good book on this a couple of years ago entitled, “Making a Meal of It”. He takes a middle of the road approach (neither actual body/blood, nor pure symbolism). It’s a good book (I’ve read it a couple of times now) and would recommend it.

    In Christ,

    • While trusting Christs words that it’s His body/ blood is important, what Lutherans care most about is the effect.Forgiveness brought to me a sinner today for certain. We trust his word is true in both statements.

  5. I grew up essentially under the Baptist view, baptism and communion only for those past some mysteriously-determined age of accountability (I was about 8). Once a month, pass it around. (Better than once a year, or once a quarter on a Sunday evening service no one who had to work the next day could attend.)

    This spring, after attending a Lutheran church for awhile, we decided to have the children (2-6) baptized on Easter Sunday, and realized a couple of nights before that we needed to decide if they were also to receive communion. Emergency Bible study. We looked at the warnings over communion and they were all gauged to adult sins: hording, unbelief, hypocrisy. We looked at what Jesus said about children and there were no cautions about whether they were old enough to understand, just the warning for us not to get in the way.

    Under the way communion was approached at my childhood churches, though, permitting children to partake would not have made sense. First, if it’s about us remembering Jesus, then it makes sense that only those old enough to do good remembering should participate. Second, if you’re passing it around like snacks, it would be very easy for children to get confused and act disrespectfully.

    However, if communion is in fact a mystery of Christ providing himself for us, then He is just as available for the children as for the adults. And when it is a weekly part of the service, with everyone getting up and going forward, and with the children individually receiving the elements with the words, “The body of Christ, broken for you,” there is no danger of confusing it with a skimpy snack time. And I am quite certain that my 3yo, stepping away from the communion table with his Thomas the Tank Engine underpants showing and a huge grin on his face, is as truly proclaiming Christ’s death as any of us.

    • many confessionsl lutherans are starting to agree. The ability to discern body and blood suggests an ability to discern that isn’t present until about confirmation age, but if discerning the body and blood is an act of faith, and acts of faith are solely from the Holy Spirit, then baptized infants are as able to discern the body and blood as baptized adults. I don’t know which way I’d go on this one. Probably with the Eastern tradition.

    • “And I am quite certain that my 3yo, stepping away from the communion table with his Thomas the Tank Engine underpants showing and a huge grin on his face, is as truly proclaiming Christ’s death as any of us.”

      I love that, Queen of Carrots! I also enjoy seeing people with serious mental challenges receive the Eucharist. It makes me feel humbled and blessed somehow.

  6. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    I was raised about 50/50 Roman Catholic and Episcopalian (up until Jr. High). As a young’n I remember preferring to go to the Episcopal church because I was allowed to take communion. In fact, at the tender ages of 4-7ish, the only things I could tell were different about the two denominations were that at the Episcopal church, kids could take communion (which sometimes had fluffy bread rather than the wafer, but sometimes not) and the priest had a wife. Even as a 4- or 5-year-old, I understood that there was something special about communion and that it was a time where we were supposed to meet Jesus. And that made me want to participate.

  7. Call me dense, but it staggers me that Christians have long firmly opposed each other on whether their Lord is truly in the Supper. Could one side get it so wrong?

  8. I always think of CS Lewis – Jesus’ command was to take and *eat*….not take and *understand*
    I am for ‘the more communion the better’ —– it is a mystery live it that way & love it!

  9. Speaking as one who has only been anything like “christian” as a Baptist, I’ll note that Zwingli’s view pretty much originated with him. I’ve just never been willing to accept that God had to wait a millenium and a half for Zwingli to arrive to reveal the “truth” about the Eucharist to us.

    • Or wait for nearly 2 millenniums to say infant baptism is wrong and negate the the gazzilion believers in history who where baptized as infants. Just sayin’. Can’t have Lutherans talking about the Supper without mentioning baptism.

  10. In a completely different vein, it’s great that church can sing fifty songs, preach 65 minutes. show movie clips/skits and have time for donuts and coffee but yet can’t figure out how to incorporate the Lord’s supper every week in their services. After all, where does Jesus say sing this in remembrance of me? I have yet to see a compelling reason for not having it every week.

    I’ve been wrestling with the Lutheran view a lot recent. As a Christian church/Church of Christ guy (who typically believe in the Baptistic view though some would argue that you need it for forgiveness like RCC), we take it every week to do it in remembrance of him but it is just a symbol. We don’t view baptism that way (we hate what Zwingli did with it) but not the Lord’s Supper (though Zwingli did the same thing here). I see it as inconsistent. Maybe you Lutherans can help me out for yours is the only other one I can see from scripture.

  11. Most of my life has been in traditions (mostly baptist) holding the Zwingli view of the Lord’s Supper. Over the past year I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable and dissatisfied with that view. I’ve written an extensive article on my own blog but will not regurgitate all of that here.

    I am leaning towards Calvin’s view. As I understand it, for Calvin the real presence is not based on some view of the ubiquity of Christ’s body, but on the drawing near of heaven and earth in the Supper. The best picture of that from the Bible would be Exodus 24 where the Elders of Israel are eating before the LORD. Confusing? I suppose to our rational mind, yes, but then again it is a mystery.

    Two books that have been of help to me are; “A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Suppeer in the Life of The Church” by Gorden T. Smith (Baker), and for the more academic inclined reader, “This Is My Body: The Presence of Christ in Reformaton Thought” by Thomas J. Davis (Baker).

    The Davis book looks at Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. He also asks the question how Zwingli’s view might have developed and even changed if he had not been killed at a relativly young age…

    For myself, the Lord’s Supper IS a memorial, but it is not JUST a memorial.. It is much, much more.


  12. Very helpful, especially the contrast between the Orthodox definition of a symbol and Zwingli’s bare symbolism. I especially like the Orthodox emphasis upon the mystic communion. I have seen so much doctrinal emphasis upon “real presence” that the mystical experience of that presence is lost.

    • I used to be a pentecostal, but pentecostal mysticism became oppressive, inhuman, and at times very scary because is was pure subjectivity. Mysticism needs a foundation of objectivity. A kite held by an earth-bound string soars, where a kite without a tether falls to the ground. The sacraments provide that vital objectivity.

  13. Here are some observations from a Quaker point of view, including a link to the classic Quaker exposition (Robert Barclay, Apology for the True Christian Divinity).


    Thanks so much for this great discussion!!

    • Thanks for that. I’m from the Salvation Army, and we don’t practice communion (in the ceremonial sense) at all, officially. A reasonable summary of our position can be found at http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/our-beliefs/sacraments.html,svSizeChange=3

      In recent years we have been encouraged to experiment with different ways of incorporating meals into our worship. That might often just mean having a meal together and enjoying Jesus’ presence amongst his disciples. In my experience, inviting the poor and disadvantaged from our area to our common meals as our equals (as opposed to our clients) has been a fantastic way for our worshipping community to learn about Jesus’ practice of commensality.

  14. Harvey Cooper says

    Bring on Part III, on the ordinance of foot-washing!

  15. I am always amazed/disappointed/fascinated by the liturgy that surrounds the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. On the one hand the ‘plain, ordinary bread and wine, a meal among friends’ and on the other hand a ‘mystic’ symbol of something too huge to understand.

    These two sides sometimes lead to over-emphasis on one of these: making it too ordinary (and thereby disregarding what it is all about) or making it too mystic (and thereby making it lose its accessibility)

    Too me the words spoken and ways of handling the ritual are extremely important. Not that I depend on them; but they easily distract me from what I should be involved in.

  16. Since the Lord commanded that we do it…it’s not a symbol.

    The Word, given in the words of institution, attached to the bread and wine, assure us of Christ promise in the meal.

    We can take it in faith…or we can choose to not believe it and then there’s no benefit and it might as well be a symbol.

  17. For many of us who are RC, the reception of the Eucharist is the closest we get to Jesus, and it imparts a certain thrill and sense of fortitude for the week (or day) to come.

    I can only say that explaining this little rapture is a bit like trying to explain the joy of the marital bed to an eleven year old child. We can talk and talk about the mechanics, but the moment of joy and grace has to be experienced.

  18. In the past I’ve always held (what appears to me to be) the typical evangelical view – it’s only a symbol and only a once a month thing

    However recently God has been leading me on a rather unexpected journey which is leading me into training for ordination in the Anglican Church (Church of England), and part of the journey has been a realisation that the Eucharist is something far greater and far more important than my own tradition has made it out to be.

    I’m still not really sure exactly what my view of Eucharist is except to say that I feel it should be more central than my current church (which I’m leaving soon to begin training) considers it.

    In terms of the denominations view of it, here is the official line from the 39 articles of Anglican faith (apologies to my Catholic and other brothers for the strength of the language!):

    “The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

    Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

    The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.

    The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.”

    • Nick,

      Good words. I am a recently ordained Anglican priest, coming from a tradition I suspect that is similar to yours. If you haven’t yet got a copy of Bishop Rodgers new book on the 39 Articles it is a worthwhile buy. And while I understand the sentiment to not want to offend our RC brothers, there are some pretty important issues at stake in our understanding of what is exactly happening.

      This is a side note but one of the greatest reliefs as a minister was moving from a service where the whole focus was on the preacher and whatever dynamic new word he could come up with each week, to a service focused on the Table and a liturgy. Not that the preached word is not very very important, as our epistle reading this week will point out, but to not be the focus of the service as preacher be it at Morning Prayer or Holy Communion rescued my sanity and has enriched my own spiritual life.

      Not to cast stones at memorialist, b/c even when I was in my previous denomination and we did communion rarely it was still special to me, but as an Anglican priest when you begin to lead the congregation in the Prayer of Humbe Access, or when after recieving the Sacrament you all rise, give thanks, and sing the Gloria, Wow!

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

        Our assistant rector and I are tag teaming on teaching a class on the Articles. I highly recommend Gerald Bray’s book on the subject, but have been informed that a copy of Rogers’ book is on the way with my name on it. The Articles’ position on Communion seems most reasonable to me.

  19. I took Communion at a Lutheran church a few weeks ago and a little boy came up with his grandparents. He was hanging on to a little lamb and I thought, this child has it right. Hang on to the lamb.

  20. I’ve progressed alot in my view of the Lord’s Supper over the past couple of years. I started with the standard Bapitst “memorialist” view. Eventually I was able to say that there was something more than mere calling to memory going on the Supper, although I was always hesitant to define what that something was. I would express it in vague terms like the fullness of Christ’s promise, or the full expression of communion, the grace of God, or the actvity of the Holy Spirit. Somewhere along the line I came to see that if Christ is giving us anything in the Supper, and surely he is, that something can be nothing less than the fullness of Himself, body and soul. He tells us that unless we eat HIs Body and drink His Blood, we can have no life in us. And He is our true Life!

  21. Once I took the elements which had been blessed and left over from worship over to a friend’s home. I served the mom and dad communion, taking the cup and bread to them as they held their babies and fed them. It was wonderful.

    I can remember growing up and going to church with my grandmother and not being able to take communion. It’s kind of ironic that we have to be as children to enter the kingdom, yet some of our human institutions exclude children from communion. I am not aware of Jesus ever turning someone away from His table.

  22. i commented about communion not too long ago on another topic/thread. being raised Roman Catholic & then a pilgrim wandering the Evangelical wilderness i have experienced the breadth of traditions+practices…

    i think the important element of communal sharing (common-union) not given much attention in these threads. although it is implied that such a ritual/partaking done in a group setting, it is this dynamic that has the greater spiritual meaning or depth to it.

    as such, it should be available every week during a worship gathering. i took communion every Sunday at the small church i attended before moving away 2 months ago. it was not a communal expression, but available anyway. and i think we did do a corporate communion service once every 3 months…

    did the bread & grape juice become Jesus’ body+blood? was there any requirement for words to be spoken ‘over’ the elements beforehand by an ordained cleric? was grace infused, given, consumed, received during the eating+drinking of the elements? did it matter if the bread was leavened & only grape juice offered? and should there be any age limit on participation or a theological test to permit sharing in the elements?

    i have my own theological understanding of communion which i stated earlier in a post related to this one. but it is not going to clarify the sacramental/memorial experience for anybody else. i know what i understand about it & so i approach in like manner. i do think the communion practice should be a special occasion all times it is shared. yet i do not think a one-size-fits-all approach was Jesus’ intent the night He was betrayed…

  23. I agree that Christ meets us where we are, so to speak. He does not wait until we have proper theological understanding before he gives Himself to us (while we were yet enemies…). However, it seems like a cop-out to assume that Jesus didn’t mean anything to specific when He re-instituted the Passover meal into Holy Communion. Just because we all have different opinions about it doesn’t mean that Jesus is ok with that and that we should not strive to understand as best as humanly possible what the intended meaning is. After all, the Church – both East and West – was virtually unanimous about the meaning for the first 1500 years after Christ’s death.

    • This post was meant as a reply to Joseph’s.

      • Clay: i appreciate & respect your viewpoints.

        is it presumption on our parts to categorize what Jesus is OK with regarding how we worship Him? especially in regards to communion?

        i have been thru many faith expressions of Eucharist/communion & believe me, not one of them the pinnacle of my Christian experience, but each has enriched my faith journey…

        if we want to get really technical on all the Last Supper details, shouldn’t it be limited only to the 12 in attendance at that one particular evening? did Jesus break the bread starting with His left or right hand? was the wine chilled to a proper 58 degrees F.? was the bread passed between partakers after breaking off a piece or did Jesus divide it up beforehand?

        was the bread baked in clay or brick ovens? over an open fire on a skillet? if Jesus the One that spoke the words of remembrance, why do we assume that one definite pronouncement not sufficient for all time in all situations???

        to have constructed an elaborate theological+ritualistic expression the ‘real’ manner which Jesus intended to be remembered? replete with cleric only powers & words of transformation of the simple elements???

        although the manner which communion was standardized for the first 1500 years of church history part of its tradition, does it mean any later deviation wrong, diluted, weakened, heretical, threatening, incomplete, or in your words, not OK with Jesus?

        • “Although the manner which communion was standardized for the first 1500 years of church history part of its tradition, does it mean any later deviation wrong, diluted, weakened, heretical, threatening, incomplete, or in your words, not OK with Jesus?”

          I’m talking about meaning more than manner. But yes, If the Church’s understanding of communion for the first 1500 years, continuing to this day, is based on God’s Revelation, then any changes that affect the meaning are wrong.

  24. True story from my Catholic friend:
    Local priest held the Eucharist for farmworkers in the fields using an ironing board for an altar and tortillas for the bread. He was investigated for this and it came down to a question from the canon lawyer about whether the tortillas were flour or corn. Turns out they were flour. The canon lawyer was relived at this because it meant the Eucharist was only invalid; if corn tortillas had been used it would have been not only invalid but also illicit. The priest reportedly later told my friend that next time he’d use corn tortillas! 🙂

    I’m somewhere in the middle on this theologically. Don’t begin to believe it’s just symbols. There’s a lot more going on than that. At the same time, can’t go all the way to the full transsubstantiation view. I also think it should be open to anyone who professes belief, and am even comfortable with opening it to all who wish to partake.

    Other than that, I’m content to not try to sweat something that I really consider a divine mystery. In my experience God’s grace and mercy and acceptance are pretty much always greater than that of the human rule makers.

    • I remember talking about communion with a couple of Anglican friends, on separate occasions.

      My more hard-line friend insists that real wine must be used, that if it isn’t real wine it isn’t a real eucharist. I tried to point out (from my baptist perspective) that wine has been a stumbling block, and what about recovering alcoholics? Wine might trigger a relapse. He said no, the Holy Spirit would keep this from happening, and he probably referred to whether the faith of the person were genuine or not, or yada-yada. You’d have to know this guy.

      With my other Anglican friend and I brought up the possibility of a scenario like you mentioned, only I was a bit more liberal than flour tortilla vs corn. I said that, if stranded on a desert island, even Coca-Cola and potato chips would do. My friend walked off without further discussion, but it may have been because he was chasing one of his kids. I never did get his true response (unless that was it) and I’ll have to ask him sometime.

      Point being, people do take communion seriously. They even take seriously what to call it.

      • even for those that believe in Transubstantiation, the fact remains this: partaking of the elements still an act of faith…

        contrary to the definition of a miracle, the bread+wine do not physically change. no change happens. it is only the faith of those that receive that is the active part of communion no matter which faith tradition practices it…

        same as it was at the Last Supper. the manner which Jesus instituted the form of remembrance that avoided the literal cannibalism word picture used as a reference to the literal eating of Jesus’ physical body.

        so what was it that Jesus intended with the elements? He took them from the Jewish Passover feast with all its built-in symbolism. did He then turn that bread+wine into His body+blood? and no crumbs left over or drops of wine spilled? all of it consumed then & there? was some left over? eaten later by the servants that most likely cleaned up later???

        the idea that communion should only be a specific bread type (unleavened flour, but not barley or oats or rice or corn) & wine (red vs. white & only Kosher) going too far? and then it has to be presented in such-and-such a manner with these specific words spoken (in English, not Aramaic?), etc. gets to be more minutiae than intended IMHO. was it the basic elements of nurishment the choice Jesus made? not something more involved? no meat which was also part of the Passover feast? i think there are extenuating circumstances that would lend themselves to the use of soft drinks & chips, but then the immediacy of ‘having’ to take communion not in the way it was originally celebrated. however, i do not think doing it just for the novelty has much merit. do you?

        • No, I agree, doing it differently just for the sake of novelty could be disrespectful. My point was hypothetical on that desert isle, and best not to make anyone stumble by deliberately offending. But the hoops that people think they have to jump through aren’t always necessary either.

          You also said, “and then it has to be presented in such-and-such a manner with these specific words spoken (in English, not Aramaic?), etc. gets to be more minutiae than intended IMHO.”

          Or any other language, for that matter: It literally became a kind of hocus-pocus as to the “magic” wording, when the Latin “Hoc est corpus meum” (This is my body) became corrupted to “hocus-pocus” and used as an incantation because some people misunderstood it (the words and the eucharist itself) so badly.

  25. black cat says

    My husband was raised Lutheran, and when we were visited a Baptist church over a period of several weeks, he eventually would not take communion because the pastor emphasized that it was not the body & blood but merely a symbolic remembrance. He felt it was made too light of, and inaccurate as well, and passed on it. I wasn’t raised much of anything, so I will take communion however it is offered, if I’m allowed. In some churches, particularly my husband’s home Lutheran church, I’m not allowed.

    I always appreciated it when we had communion supper at a church that practiced communion as a meal, but we only did that once or twice a year. Plus, feet were washed, and I can do without that. 🙂 It was suggested by someone at that church that we keep the communion suppers and add celebration of communion once a month by passing the plate during service, with the small cups and (inedible) bread. You would have thought that we were advocating mass suicide in the busy street outside, to gauge various member reactions. Whatever. I look on all this and wonder why we have to emphasize what communion is not rather than what it is.

    When I attended my niece’s confirmation at her Lutheran church, I was permitted to take communion, but rather than going up for the common cup, we went up for a wafer that was dipped in wine/juice and placed in our mouths. My daughter, who was attending a Christian college, said one of her profs was adamantly against receiving communion that way. Once again, whatever. However. Wherever. There must be better things for Christians to worry about.

  26. Curious…several comments have mentioned a move from a memorialist viewpoint and less frequent observation (monthly or quarterly) to a “stronger” view and more frequent observation (usually weekly). I’ve made that same progression, so I can appreciate this line of thought.

    Has anyone made the reverse move? It would be interesting to hear a competing perspective, if that person is bold enough to share.

  27. Paul Davis says

    Chaplain Mike, I’m going to apologize for this post before I even start it…

    I read through the whole posting on my lunch hour, there are some great comments on here, this is an important topic for all of us to consider. As converts to the RCC, my wife and I started with the Baptists view and eventually landed at the doors of the Magisterium of the RCC.

    In that time we experienced most of what has been described here, the single most offensive experience was in a non-denom who did the happy meal route. That experience alone, did a number of things to our faith, and started us on our journey to Rome. We have celebrated with the Baptists, Calvinists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and yes at times it was very special. But once we finally understood the Roman Catholic view, read the scriptures for ourselves, the whole thing changed. The Church Fathers had the same view, and it’s not until the reformation that you start to hear the *I* part come into play.

    Reading the posts here, one thing that really struck me was how many statements revolved around *my* understanding of whats happening, it’s *my* interpretation, and how *I* view it.

    I’m not saying that having an opinion is a bad thing, but how many of us when we say *I* are really basing that on the belief of one individual?. Calvin, Luther and Zwingli couldn’t agree with the Catholic Church on this issue, but here’s the thing: Each had his *own* interpretation of the Eucharist. And that trait has continued since the reformation, to the point where as stated above grape juice and goldfish crackers are being used for something that the Lord clearly instructed us to do.

    The Catholic View on the other hand is not the view of the Pope or any one man, but the Magisterium who in agreement with the Church Fathers, the Holy See and apostolic writings in scripture put forth what was known from the deposit of faith (remember the Eucharist predates the Bible by 400 years). My point is that on something this important do we really want to leave the decision to our own understanding of what’s going on, and worse yet the musings of singular men throughout history? Or as in our case rely on a consistent and historical viewpoint taught and protected by men dedicated to safeguarding that information for all time.

    I’m not trying to offend anyone, but the more I read things like this the more I realize that Luthers statement about plowboys and popes is alive and well, my wife and I finally gave up on trying to figure it all out for ourselves and moved across the Tiber. I realize that it’s not for everyone, but there is peace in knowing that the Magisterium and the Papacy are there, it’s not that I have stopped thinking for myself. It’s just that on critical issues like this, I’m not smart enough to discern real truth of the matter. At some point I have to either believe in an institution with a deep history, or men who break from that and strive out with their own ideas.

    You know who I choose.

    Great discussion, and sorry if I offended anyone… Just speaking my mind… (now I’m waiting for Martha to come in and correct me 😉

    Newbie Catholic….

    • Great comments Paul. My journey to Eastern Orthodoxy is based on the same questions and issues you bring up.

    • Welcome to the crazy hodge=podge of believers all over the planet who ARE the Catholic Church.

      You are right that RC’s don’t check their brains at the front door, but do think that those who study and pray for their entire lives might have something to say to enlighten the rest of us,.

      I don’t think Martha has any corrections for you….just a welcome to the pilgrim church on earth!

    • In Catholicism the direction is reversed. The sacrifice is offered up (in Lutheranism it is from Christ down to us).

      In Catholicism the priest who has been ontologically changed in his ordination HAS to preside over the Sacrament for it to be valid. Not so in Lutheranism, because it is the Word attached to the sacrament that makes it valid, and not certain human hands.

      It certainly is a big difference.

  28. Dan Crawford says

    In all discussions on the Eucharist, I take some comfort from the words of Flannery O”Connor in a letter to a friend:

    “I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, A Charmed Life.) She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say…. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

    Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.

    That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

    • One more Mike says

      I also tell this story about my fellow ex-patriate Savannahian when my former fellow baptists/evangelicals (I’m a former/expatriate of many communities) tell me it’s symbolic. I don’t care about the arguments about real presence, symbolism, yada, yada…I only know that for me the eucharist, communion, supper, again whatever others may call it, is the only time in my life when Christ has a “real” presence in my life. It is the only time when our dimensions cross. I sometimes attend a small ELCA congregation where I can take holy communion without showing an ID card or knowing someone, and am refreshed that the whole service is pointed at the table.

      I grew up in the Evangelical, it’s symbolic community but have always felt, as long as I can remember, that it had to be something more. Maybe it’s all those Sunday afternoons spent in Lafayette Square (which the Cathedral faces)when I was very young and Nuns in habits (showing my age here) used to walk around the square, and we’d have to be careful not to knock them down. Flannery O’Connors Birthplace also faces that square. Can you be Catholic through osmosis? Eucharistic through proximity?

      I think my spiritualities are becoming very complex.

    • Incredible! Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorites…

  29. Okay, so I skimmed the posts after awhile, but can anyone speak to Communion, as presented by Jesus, in the context of the Jewish Seder? The ceremony was a cornerstone of Jewish life. Everyone present had likely participated year after year, since before they could remember. Yet He either added an additional ceremony afterwords with the sharing of bread and wine as Himself, or He RADICALLY altered one of the holier Hebrew traditions, right in the middle. I’ve been wondering about this. Wikipedia says something brief about Jesus “instituting communion right after dinner”, and one of the themes of the Seder is “slavery and freedom”, so the context of the Seder seems, well, critical to the meaning of Communion itself. I’d be interested in some books or resources on this.

    I enjoyed the descriptions of various traditions, and their theology. Affirms the sacredness and centrality of Christ.

    • Indeed this is very interesting. Some thoughts:

      “22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is my body. 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. 24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:12)

      “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

      “this bread” and “this wine” could refer to exactly ‘that’ bread and ‘that’ wine; the Seder meal, in fact there are multiple cups of wine during the meal and some believe that Jesus was referring to a specific cup (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder#The_Four_Cups and read in the same paragraph about the bread)

      Also, the “you” might refer to those that eat the Seder meal. Again ranging from those that were present at that time to all the Jews, then and now.

      I am not so sure Jesus altered the tradition. Perhaps the tradition was explained, made more tangible.

      The Seder meal is a meal of remembrance, it is full of symbolism so, personally, I would not be surprised if Jesus continued the symbolism of the Seder meal liturgy. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder#Seder_Plate to read some of the symbols. When reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder#Magid_.28The_telling.29 I can’t help but hear the same style that I read in Mark 14:12.

      More on this:
      Google has a lot of references http://www.google.com/search?q=passover+seder+last+supper

      Not everybody agrees:

    • Excellent Susannah. I was hoping someone would raise this. The last supper does not just have something to do with the Seder meal, it was the Seder meal. Christ did not so much radically alter it but fulfill it.

      In celebrating the Seder today Jews, and Jews who are also Christian, and Messianic believers do not do so to remember the Passover (as one would a memorial) but to participate in it now. Experiencing the Seder and learning its roots, played a major role in my coming to understand and embrace Christ’s words in John 6, “this is my body”, Catholically.

      Toward the end of my time as a protestant I had become dismayed at the widely disparate interpretations of the Last Supper and finally had my fill when two different Presbyterian pastors, during succeeding Maundy Thursday services, referred to the Eucharist as literally meaning “great hugs” and the Last Supper as Jesus getting together “for a potluck” before his death.

      I’d had enough by the time.


  30. This is interesting. In my very early years, I was a Methodist, and communion was celebrated infrequently, and I wasn’t sure why. Then during my childhood we began attending Quakers and I was there for 4 decades. There the belief was that the time for all physical symbols ended with Christ, and real communion was spiritual, not physical. Eventually I came to realize that Quakers did have physical symbols (like the shaking of hands at the end of worship), and it was just those associated with the church tradition that were objectionable. So the Quaker rejection was really a part of rejection of a false church, and may have served a real purpose in that time, but does not represent a truth about physical and spiritual reality. And Quakers really have to go through some jiu-jitsu to try to explain the validity of their understanding in the light of the clear practice of the apostolic church with the bread and wine. (Same thing with water baptism.) But there is an important point in the Quaker witness. What is key is inward not outward. But Quakers hold that it is a dangerous crutch (but really mostly just when it is traditional ritual use) to use the outward to further the inward. There is danger – anything holds the risk that it can be used in the wrong spirit – but there is also the truth that the outward and the inward are intrinsically related in real life (which Quakers acknowledge in their dedication to service, but not in sacramental practice in worship). But Quakers are right that no ritual is essential.

    I came to realize that the very incarnation of God in the flesh as Jesus showed that God does relate physical and spiritual realities. The placing of them in inherent opposition is not Christian. We are made in the image of God, flesh and all.

    Then I began practicing communion with outward elements with some other Quakers who were also drawn to it. and found real meaning in it, entered into with the proper spirit. And what the actual elements are is not important. Due to dietary restrictions of some participants, we once had communion with Wasa bread and spring water. Does Christ care about the physical makeup of the elements, or the spirit in which they are taken?

    Now I belong to an unaffiliated church at which communion is at the heart of each worship service. We don’t preach a particular sectarian understanding of it. We are comfortable with the mystery of it, and that there may be truth in various ways of looking at it. I think generally we would lean towards the Orthodox view that questions the division of physical and symbolical into different types of reality. It is a deep and reverent time. The church originally used wine, but now uses grape juice because of the concern of the many recovering alcoholics in the congregation. I don’t think Christ cares which is used. We also offer options of taking it from a server, or from a table where it may be taken in a group or individually.

    I now often serve communion. When I was first brought into this, it struck me how intensely many listened to the words from the server. Being reminded in this way that Christ’s body was broken and his blood shed for the person receiving communion was really important. I was struck by the importance the priestly role that I play as server. Different from the hierarchical traditions, in our church the person who organizes the communion preparation may select anyone for this role – it requires no special training or even membership. This is the priesthood of all believers, which I deeply believe in.

    At our church, communion is open to all, members or not, whether or not they have made a specific profession of faith, and regardless of age. Our understanding is that Christ invites all to the table, and all who have a desire to meet Christ there are more than welcome. Denying communion to someone would be fundamentally inconsistent with our understanding of the gospel.

  31. Some things that have been great controversies can really be simple if you ask the right question. Churches have spent a lot of energy worrying about who it was proper to offer communion to. But when I say, “The body of Christ, broken for you”, it seems to me that all I need to answer to know if I can rightly offer the bread with those words is, “Did Christ die for this person?” You don’t need a lot of theological training to answer this question. If Christ died for the person, the words are spoken correctly and it is proper for the person to take communion. Who are we to judge unworthy someone Christ was willing to die for?

  32. Great post and great discussion! I grew up ELS Lutheran and was recently a member of a WELS Lutheran church. I have thought for a while that this debate is best summarized in the immortal words of Bill Clinton: It depends what the definition is “is” is.

  33. Humm…. hoping this won’t incite any ire…..

    I have grown up in the Baptist Church and at various ones (Army brat and all) and have celebrated the Lord’s Supper in many ways, mostly passing the elements, etc. My famiy and I are now at a non-denomination church which has it’s pros and cons, but one of the cons for me is taking Communion only once a month and in a way that feels like a ‘add on’ to worship that is just not acceptable to me anymore. I have spent some time in a Lutheran Church on and off over the past three years serving as an ASL interpreter and have come to really appreciate the speaking of the Creed and receiving the Lord’s Supper in a more formal fashion .

    So in comes the Baptist idea of the priesthood of the believer, which leads my husband and I to decide that this Sunday, and hopefully many more Sundays to follow, after we come home from church we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper with our three children and my mother and then have a light brunch together. ( I told a friend of mine whose husband is an Orthodox priest our plans earlier this week – we had a long talk about religion and ‘church’ – and she just gave me a blank look, so that’s why I’m prepared for ire…..)

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