Who should come and how often?
There have been numerous books and many hours spent on writing and articulating theology on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This in ow way intends to exhaust all there is to understand concerning this important sacrament. It is simply a pastor’s concise attempt to speak to the frequency of coming to the Table of the Lord, and also, who is invited at the Table of the Lord. The issues of the presence of Christ at the Table will be addressed on another occasion.
Recently our congregation began celebrating communion once a month on the first Sunday of the month. As Nazarenes, who are Wesleyan in our theological understanding, not only do we understand communion to be a memorial of the death of Christ, but that it is also is a means of grace. We believe it represents the presence of God’s grace that is at work in our lives.
In partaking in communion we “proclaim the Lord’s death until his coming again (1 Corinthians 11:26).” In proclaiming the Lord’s death we also understand that it is through His death that we have salvation; through His death we have grace. In celebrating communion we celebrate grace, we celebrate that grace that is found in Christ Jesus.
Understanding that communion is a “means of grace” is paramount. If it is a means of grace then the tradition of celebrating it once a quarter seems very inappropriate. It should be noted that John Wesley taught that Communion should be celebrated at least, not at the most, once a quarter. This was mainly due to the lack of ordained ministers who were available to serve the sacrament here in the United States. Being an Anglican priest Wesley certainly would have opted for a weekly celebration of the sacrament. For whatever reason this “once a quarter” tradition trickled down to us and caused some to believe that we should only celebrate communion no more than 4 times a year. If communion is a means of grace then it is only proper that we celebrate it as much as we can.
Some may could say that frequently celebrating communion may cause it to turn into a dead ritual. I have a ritual of kissing my wife everyday (sometimes, and hopefully, more than once) and I can tell that this “ritual” is certainly not dead. Rituals are like the rhythm beats for a marching band; they remind us of who we are, what we are suppose to be doing, and what we are about. The church is full of rhythms and rituals, and they only become “dead” when our approach to them is no longer sincere and genuine.
So who should partake in this means of grace? I love seeing children coming forward and participating at the Lord’s Table. As Wesleyan’s we believe in God’s prevenient grace – this grace that goes before us and calls us into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is also this prevenient grace that is applied to children before they can fully understand the moral responsibility of turning away from evil and following Christ. Children partaking in communion is simply an outward sign of God’s grace that is already at work in their life drawing them to Him. Jesus Himself said, “Let the little children come unto me (Matthew 19:14).” One of my professors from graduate school said it best when he wrote, “the invitation to encounter and be present to Jesus should not be based on having mastered to full implication of the sacrament.” (Peterson, 186)
Understanding communion as a means of grace helps us see that the Table of Lord is also a table of invitation. It is an invitation for the believer to examine themselves and to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to them any area of their life which may be out of line with the character of God. The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup1 Corinthians 11: 27-28).” For this reason, after the elements have been distributed and before we partake together, I always allow time for reflection and confession as the Holy Spirit prompts.
In being a table of invitation and of grace, then I believe the invitation is extended to those who truly desire to know Christ as the their Lord and Savior. Yes, communion is certainly an act of worship where we the believers confirm who we are in Christ, but it is also an invitation to conversion. I believe there is healing at the Table of the Lord and in there being healing it is a place for those, who are truly repentant, to come and fine healing for their sins. The gospels tells us that Jesus regularly invited “sinners” to be in His presence, even to the point that he was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19a).”
Perhaps the feeding of the five-thousand is the most visible expression of the Table of Lord being a table of invitation. This miracle made it in all of the four gospels so it certainly made a great impact on the early church and the gospel writers. In his book, “Created to Worship,” Brent Peterson points out that while many may not see the feeding of the thousand appropriate to guide our communion practices we should not quickly glimpse over the similar actions of Jesus in both instances of the Feeding of the Five-Thousand and The Last Supper; Jesus taking, blessing, breaking, and giving. (Peterson 184)
Are we to “water down” the sacrament and allow people to partake freely without any responsibility to grace? Of course not. The invitation to the table, whether it be an invitation to confirm or to convert, is an invitation to come with true sincerity, and genuine desire to leave the table different than how we came.
Peterson, Brent D. Created to Worship: God’s Invitation to Become Fully Human. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2012.