Recently at lunch Amy served up a delicious round of cheesy-spinach dip (yes, I eat green stuff if smothered in cheese and called “dip”). Fancy folk would dip fancy bread but we’re content with nachos. As we started eating Lydia took a chip and broke it into small pieces. She then passed a piece to everyone at the table saying, “It’s time for the Lord of the Supper. Here’s the Lord of the Supper.” We’d participated in the Lord’s Supper in church the previous Sunday so I guess it was fresh on her mind. And Amy does a tremendous job making it memorable for our children.
At any rate, I snickered as she said “Lord of the Supper.” I started to correct her that it is the “Lord’s Supper” but realized maybe I’m the one needing correction. Perhaps I’m guilty of emphasizing the Supper of the Lord rather than the Lord of the Supper.
In my humble experience churches treat the Lord’s Supper like a military funeral. Everything must be exactly placed, neatly folded, properly arranged and spit-shined. The servers must be communion-caliber men who wear a tie and have steady hands. We must fold the angelic table cover as if it were a casket flag. We handle the trays nervously, hoping there is enough juice for everyone in our section. Pass the tray and step to the right. We just want to make it through without dropping anything and making a scene.
The congregation grows deathly silent as a dirge echoes in the background. This is the Lord’s Supper, after all, and is to be treated reverently as we would a corpse. We bow our heads hoping to avoid any jostling that would jeopardize the juice. We peek up to see how far along the procession is. We wonder why so-and-so is taking the elements knowing what we do about them. We piously frown on those kids who know better than to peep during this solemn occasion. I hope the crackers aren’t stale again. I wonder what I’ll get for lunch. We’d better hurry or I won’t get anything.
The men return to their stations, about face and pray the same thing they did last quarter. We crunch down our cracker crumb, throw back our shot glass and “Whew!” we did it. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, the smiles return and muscles relax. Another day in the life of Communion Sunday.
This is somewhat an exaggerated caricature, of course. But in principle we tend to emphasize the ceremony more than the honoree, appearance more than reality. It’s more about the Supper of the Lord (all its pomp and particulars) than the Lord of the Supper (all his mangled body and emptied blood).
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t suggest a willy-nilly approach to communion. There must be order. But a wedding has as much order as a funeral. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of and participation in the Crucified Lord and his people. It’s not a wake for poor, dead Jesus.
When we ingest the elements we, as it were, receive Christ and his work again to ourselves. By faith, we make Christ and his death a part of us from the inside out. It courses through our veins and satisfies our deepest hunger. We receive his broken body and spilled blood to ourselves so that God doesn’t take ours instead. The cup of God’s wrath is now our cup of blessing (1 Cor 10.16). We can drink it without being killed because it killed Jesus. We declare the death of our sin without having to die for our sin.
The Supper of the Lord doesn’t save us but the Lord of the Supper does. And he said “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6.55-56). By taking the elements we say “Yes!” again to Christ’s death and redeeming work on our behalf. We testify that we live always and forever on the substance of the cross. We should celebrate communion as death-row inmates celebrate their pardons. We will not die but live! Praise to the King!
I grow convinced that the NT Lord’s Supper was just that: a meal (1 Cor 11.21)! Our modern individualized cracker crumbs and juice shots don’t sustain the body as the gospel does the Body. But that’s for another day.
For now, I can’t wait until the elements come my way. When they do I will adopt Lydia’s interpretation: “Here’s the Lord of the Supper!” He is Lord indeed and I will again taste and see that He is good (Ps 34.8a).