I’ve had a mixed experience with the Lord’s Supper—the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. See if you can tell which is which. Better yet, give each experience your own Yelp rating.
- When I was ten, the Air Force chaplain snapped his Communion (the term used in Protestant Chapel) wafer, after saying, “Jesus broke the bread.” The congregation followed his model with a loud, simultaneous CRACK of their wafers—except newcomers like me. Our belated, individual cracks went on for a full minute, causing me to spend the next five minutes suppressing uncontrollable giggling.
- In my first Lord’s Supper at my college church, I saw the elements displayed in front of the altar. I whispered aloud, “Alright! We’re going to take communion.” A little ol’ lady scolded me, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Don’t say ‘communion.’ It’s called ‘Lord’s Supper.’”
- We took the Lord’s Supper, in a dorm Bible study group, using Oreos and Dr. Pepper for the elements. The upperclassman leading us read from a Baptist Pastor’s Manual that the original elements were as common as cookies and punch in Jesus’ day.
- At my college roommate’s home church, everyone laughed, talked, and fellowshipped as we waited for the service to start. I was surprised by pre-service communion plates that were passed, and the elements were consumed while the plates were in one’s hands, which was a weekly practice. There was no introduction or comment from the ministers, and there was no spiritual preparation. Indeed, there was no interruption to any of the ongoing conversations—except for a quick couple of swallows.
- While taking a course on the Reformation at seminary, my wife and I visited churches of different denominations as I studied their origins. Over and over, we were welcomed to participate in Communion, the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper (whatever they called it) as part of the Body of Christ.
- A pastoral ministry class I taught joined together in a student-led Lord’s Supper. One teary student confessed, “I’m only able to attend church on Sunday nights, and this is the first time I’ve had the Lord’s Supper in four years.”
- After giving my youth minister the high privilege and responsibility of leading the Lord’s Supper service, he realized, “I was so concerned about everything going properly, I didn’t get to worship, myself.”
- My five-year-old son got into our car with telltale grape stains on his lips. I interrogated my wife on whether she had let him take the Lord’s Supper that morning. She replied, “I tried to explain why he couldn’t take it, and he started crying and said, ‘But I love Jesus with all my heart.’ So, YOU try explaining it next time.”
- I skipped the common cup, even though it was full of real wine, during a “House Blessings” service for some friends. I wasn’t judging anyone or objecting to anything. It’s just that from my Clinical Pastoral Education days, I remember that alcohol does little to eliminate germs.
- Soon after, I attended a Good Friday service where the church offered both elements using intinction. The participants dipped the bread into a common cup and then took both the bread and the cup simultaneously. I thought this was the perfect solution to my concern about germs, . . . until I saw the fingers of the man in front of me come up dripping in juice.
- And then there was the interim church where I led their first Lord’s Supper service in four years, only to discover we were all being dive-bombed by yellow jackets.
The truth is, each one of these (and many other stories I don’t have room to include) pales in comparison to the countless times I’ve led, or participated in, traditional Lord’s Supper services. Overwhelmingly, I have been blessed to experience communion and thanksgiving and obedience in a fully symbolic ritual that was both deeply spiritual and sacred. Nevertheless, each of the listed incidents above also helped me form a bit of my theology of the Lord’s Supper. Can the Lord’s Supper include expressions of joy and celebration, or is it all to be somber? Are the types of elements used variable, or is there only one acceptable type for each element? Is the table open, closed, or somewhere in-between? How often should the Lord’s Supper be shared? What spiritual preparation is required before a Lord’s Supper service? What are acceptable options for dispersing the elements? Is the Lord’s Supper totally symbolic, totally mystical, or somewhere in-between?
These experiences produced teachable moments, but experience (and relationships) cannot be allowed to dictate truth or theology. I had to search out the Scripture for instructions and/or verification. This was a path helped by my theological education, reading, and mentors.
Maybe today, I could challenge you to make your own short history of the Lord’s Supper, or Baptism, or YOU NAME IT—some important faith practice in your life and tradition. Check and see how your practical experiences have impacted you emotionally, how they have shaped your faith and practice, and see if they have biblical support.
I’d love to see your ratings for each of my experiences, but what I really hope is that we can meet someday at His table.