“Do this in remembrance of me.”
That’s how Jesus left it in Luke 22:19 as he shared one last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. With those six words (six in the Greek, too), Jesus instituted a continuing meal for his church to observe “to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Bread and wine. Body broken and blood poured out for us. When we observe this meal, we are somehow “participating” in the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16).
If Christianity is new to you or if you’ve never really thought much about it, you probably have a lot of questions. Why a meal? What exactly does it mean? What happens when we observe it? Who is it for? Is it acceptable to use grape juice and foam wafers instead of real wine and bread? How often should we do it? Believe it or not, some of these questions have led to intense debate throughout history. Churches have split. New denominations have begun. Tragically, human sin has often turned a unifying meal (1 Corinthians 10:17) into its very opposite.
I want to address only one of these questions here, and I’m addressing it now because I will be leading Ashland Community Church to change our practice this year. Beginning this month, we will begin observing the Lord’s Supper every week. Before giving the reasons why, I want to say plainly and directly that this decision does not arise from any biblical mandate. Jesus said to do it, but he did not specify how often we are to do it. Churches who practice it annually, quarterly, monthly, or bi-weekly are not less faithful to Christ’s command. There are many factors to consider when deciding such matters, and there are valid reasons for differing views. However, we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly for three reasons.
First, we want the gospel to be as tangible as possible for our people. The sacrament or ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, like baptism, is a visible sign of an invisible grace. Theologian John Calvin went beyond this fundamental truth and argued that it doesn’t just signify, it also seals God’s promises to our consciences (Romans 4:11). As a sign the Lord’s Supper points backwards to what Christ has done, and as a seal God works in the Lord’s Supper to reaffirm his promises to those who have faith. We can call the Lord’s Supper a “means of grace” because we believe that God works through it to confer continuing assurances of his promises by his Spirit. In other words, in the Lord’s Supper human beings are simultaneously expressing faith in Christ and receiving sanctifying grace from Christ.
Second, we want our church to be as unified in Christ as possible. In addition to signifying and sealing, Paul argues that the Lord’s Supper unifies the church: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). When the church gathers around the table, three different “bodies” come together. The physical body of Christ, signified by the bread, gathers the redeemed body of Christ together in unity. Though we are diverse in many ways, the Lord’s Supper provides physical confirmation that what we share in Christ overcomes our petty differences.
Third, we want our church to function as a family. The “household” is one of Paul’s favorite images for describing what the church is and how it’s supposed to function (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 3:6). The church is the family of God, and the Lord’s Supper is our family meal. During Christmas every year, my extended family gathers and enjoys a steak dinner. Every person who has a seat at the table for this special meal identifies as a member of the same family. The annual ritual does far more than fill bellies with good food. It confers identity.
But my family of seven also celebrates ritual meals. As often as we can, we sit down together after busy days of coming and going and eat dinner as a family. During crazy seasons when family dinner becomes infrequent, we miss it. When we share food, we’re reminded that we share life, but when we’re cramming Big Macs down our throats on the way to baseball tournaments, we miss that reminder. Families are in it together. We have each other’s backs. We all need weekly reminders that we’re not alone, that we belong to something bigger. The Lord’s Supper provides a weekly opportunity to sit down around the table as the family of God. It’s another powerful reminder that none of God’s family members are in this alone.