The research continues to pour in—families that share 4-5 evening meals together each week experience a significant positive impact on their health and well being. Stronger relationships, spiritual transformation, higher grades, larger vocabularies, and a reduced chance of obesity are just some of the benefits that come along with a regular dinner time.
I think we could also add that what is good for our biological family is also good for our spiritual family! That’s why as a part of Family Weekend we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The addition of middle and high schoolers into our services once a month has brought a super increase to the energy level in the room and an increase in the number of questions about why and how we celebrate the Supper. So, since you are asking, here is our take on this important celebration.
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 the Apostle Paul lays out the earliest account of the Lord’s Supper recorded in history. That’s why you will hear Paul and me reading from this text often as we celebrate:
23For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.
As I reflect on this text I see three dynamics at work—remembering, experiencing, and proclaiming. Let me offer a few thoughts on each:
Remembering—Jesus is pretty clear in verse 24 that the purpose of this celebration is to help us remember his sacrificial gift of grace poured out in his death on the cross. Why would this be so important in Jesus’ mind? The answer is painfully obvious. We humans have a strong tendency to forget. This is perhaps more evident now than anytime in history with the accessibility of worldwide information. Something absolutely terrifying, immoral, or monumental can happen and the internet blows up. But within days and additional news cycles, this earth-shattering event has been all but forgotten.
Remembering is absolutely crucial to the Christian faith, and the Jewish faith for that matter, because both are inaugurated by “relational events.” For the Israelites it is deliverance from captivity in Egypt. For Christians it is the deliverance from bondage to sin and death through the cross of Jesus Christ. In both instances God gives his people celebrations to help them remember. For Judaism it is Passover. For Christianity it is the Lord’s Supper. Subsequent to each of these events God gives laws, principles, and messages to guide the lives of his children. Without the context of the divine “relational event,” though, these teachings easily become rote, burdensome, and eventually irrelevant.
This is why Luke records in Acts 2:42 that the earliest believers devoted themselves to the “breaking of bread” on a regular basis so that their faith would be tied irrevocably to the event that gave it birth. By instituting the Lord’s Supper Jesus was saying you must remember that my body was broken and my blood spilled out for you at all costs . . . which is understandable because it cost him everything.
A quick aside . . . baptism is another celebration Jesus gives us to help us remember. The symbolism of baptism is also poignant. When we lower someone into the water, it is a picture of Christ’s death and burial. When we raise them up out of the water it is a symbol of his resurrection. Taken together, these are the two vibrant, ritual celebrations that we include each month on Family Weekends. One month we gather around the Lord’s table and the next we baptize new believers.
Experiencing—as you look more closely at the movements of the supper Jesus hosts, it becomes clear that he is creating an experience. The supper engages all of our senses. We see, touch, taste, and smell the bread and cup. We hear loving words spoken. We receive it not simply as an individual, but in communion with other brothers and sisters who have been reborn into this new family of faith.
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper our goal is to recreate an environment which not only allows us to remember what Christ has done for us, but to experience his living presence in our own lives. We believe that “remembering” combined with the tangible experience of all our senses has a mysterious capacity to open our hearts to the reality of God’s grace and love in a unique way. A deep and profound knowing comes over us. We feel closer to him. Forgiven by him. Loved by him. Accepted by him. And thankfully, saved by him.
Another aside . . . you will notice that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we serve wine along with the unleavened bread. We do this intentionally to help recreate a more authentic experience of that first supper. The cup that Jesus was about to drink was a bitter cup. While we are reflecting on his pain-full sacrifice, we believe the austere and pungent taste of wine, rather than sweet grape juice, is more faithful to the story we are seeking to remember and is helpful to many. We also realize that whenever we serve the supper under-aged children and friends who struggle with chemical addiction will be present. For this reason, we also provide non-alcoholic juice for the cup. Directions will be given in each service to guide our friends and family toward their most appropriate option.
Proclaiming—Jesus, in verse 26, points out that the symbolic nature of his last supper is a powerful, visual expression of the good news of the gospel. Our hope in this life and for the life to come is out of our hands. It is the gracious work of Jesus on the cross that makes wholeness, purpose, and peace possible in our lives. When we place our faith and trust in him, we open our hearts to the power of a love that can literally make our lives forever new. This message is our story and song and it is told and sung in the most beautiful way when we share this supper together!