Tuesday, 10 October 2017
Holy Communion every week?
Why Every Church Should Have Weekly Sunday Communion Like the Anglicans Do.
There was a long period where many Anglican churches didn’t have communion every Sunday. They would have morning prayer for a few weeks, and then a Holy Communion once a month or so. But a movement called Parish Communion successfully restored the tradition around the world. Today, most (but not all) Anglican churches celebrate Holy Communion every week on Sunday. And so should you.
I’ve heard a few arguments against weekly communion, but the “rote ritual” argument is the primary one from evangelical churches.
For me, this is really a non-argument. All churches do a lot of things every Sunday, such as singing, praying, and preaching. Any of these things can become rote or seem mundane. Yet we find ways to stay connected. The same goes with Holy Communion.
Examine Your Hearts
A historic argument against weekly communion is the “people are too bad” argument. This was the reason why most lay people did not receive communion during the Middle Ages. The lowly, sinful, tainted lay people were not so holy as the clergy, it was said. So they had to prepare for Eucharist every year during Lent, and then receive only on Easter Day. That way they wouldn’t risk the damnation that would come from receiving with an impure heart.
Ironically this argument was coming from the Pope and the Roman Catholics, not the Protestant reformers. The Reformers were actually arguing for more frequent communion. Their internal debate was whether it should be weekly or monthly.
Today many evangelicals make a similar argument against weekly communion. If people received every week, they might receive in the unworthy manner that St. Paul warns us about. So we should not have communion too often so that people will be careful to examine their hearts.
This way of thinking is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Holy Table of Jesus Christ. It is a table of grace. This is not to say that we should approach it lightly or frivolously. No. But it is to say that the Holy Communion is the place where baptized believers come to taste and see that the Lord is good. Communion is for sinners, saved by grace.
When we were children, we were helped to wash our hands before each meal. We weren’t sent away because our hands were dirty. So our heavenly Father will wash us and feed us.
Another argument against weekly communion is evangelistic. It is said that non-believers or seekers won’t understand or have time to sit through a full Eucharist. They might be confused by it.
The early church used to dismiss seekers before the communion. They would allow outsiders to hear the word read and preached, and some of the prayers. But they dismissed everyone except baptized believers before the communion. Keep in mind that these seekers and catechumens were being offered small group classes that explained Christian beliefs and told them what the Eucharist was about. This was no secret society.
In a way, we still do this today. We “fence the table,” which means we announce that the table is for baptized - or in some churches confirmed - believers. We then are able to offer a blessing to all who will not be receiving. Adults take classes before baptism and children who are baptized later take confirmation classes.
In practical terms, I’ve found the communion to be something that interests people. Eating and drinking are fundamental parts of human life. Observing people who are eating and drinking at God’s Table is beautiful to most people. Explaining what we are doing and why is a chance to share the gospel. Paul even said that we are proclaiming the Gospel every time we take the bread and cup (I Corinthians 11:26).
While the Holy Communion service might not be quite as simple as a prayer, praise, and preaching service, it doesn’t have to add hours of time. It may only add a few minutes overall. But in terms of our witness, it adds an invitation to receive Christ himself.
The Biblical Record
There are quite a few biblical reasons to hold weekly communion, where it is possible to do so.
First, Jesus rose again on Sunday, the first day of the week. Every Sunday is a mini-Easter. At the inn at Emmaus, the Risen Christ reveals himself to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. Of course, this was after he had shown them how the Christ was prophesied in the Scriptures. This same risen Christ reveals himself to us every Sunday in the breaking of bread.
When we receive the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist, we are refreshed for the upcoming week. We gather on Sunday to see the good things God has done and is doing, and we are sent out into the world to love and serve him. The communion is our holy food and drink, a way of resting in God’s presence. Time stands still and we are fed.
Second, the earliest churches gathered on Sundays, and they “broke bread” when they did (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2). They believed that communion was a participation in Christ himself (I Corinthians 10:16) and so their worship included communion in order for people to be with Christ in that unique way.
Third, Jesus himself instituted the Lord’s Supper. He said to do this often (I Corinthians 11:25). I think we have it on the highest authority that the holy meal is to be a regular occurrence.
The Holy Communion has been held weekly on Sundays by most churches in most place from the earliest recorded history of the Church. It has followed the service of the Word, and the two services (Word and Sacrament), have been an integrated whole.
Weekly communion is the centre of my spiritual life. I have experienced Christ there, been fed by him, and have gone away full. I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
Does it become mundane? Yes. Mundane is good. Mundane means that Jesus has entered into the regular, normal, everyday human part of my life. But it is also profound. Jesus has made himself present to me in the breaking of the bread. I feel that I could not leave behind weekly Eucharist. I feel like I would starve to death!
As a priest and pastor, I have observed and talked with a lot of people about their experience of weekly communion. Some have shared with me that they received communion as a child, but no one ever explained it to them. It was seen as a religious ritual with no meaning. But with the proper reverence and with Gospel-centered teaching about the Eucharist, their love of communion comes alive.
Often a church member will be visiting family or on vacation and will attend a non-eucharistic church on a Sunday or two. And often they will tell me how strange it seemed to pray, sing, hear a sermon, and then… go home. Someone once told me it is like sitting down to dinner, saying grace, talking for a few minutes, and then standing up and walking away without ever eating.
Weekly Sunday communion is our holy meal. Taste and see that the Lord is good!
Greg Goebel on Anglican Pastor