Posted by: chuckbumgardner | June 24, 2014

Considerations on the Lord’s Supper (Part 2): Meal or Not?

Lords-Supper_555

I imagine that when Christians think of the Lord’s Supper today, they usually think of it as an observance involving only the cup and the bread. That is, apart from one’s particular view of the Lord’s Supper (real/symbolic presence, etc.), it is understood not to involve a full meal (as we usually think of a “supper”), but a symbol of a meal. If our normal meals consisted of the amount of nourishment that we ingest when we observe the Lord’s Supper, we would become quickly malnourished!

One of the questions that John Taylor addresses in his interesting essay “The Meal Is the Message” is whether the early church thought of “the Lord’s Supper” as consisting merely of the cup and bread. He argues in the negative on this point, contending instead,

It is not simply the so-called “elements” of the bread and the cup but the entire meal, and the unified and loving way in which it took place, which were intended to have symbolic value as a memorial to and proclamation of Jesus, to interpret his death for both insiders and outsiders. But this richly symbolic meal has been largely replaced in ecclesial and liturgical practice by a symbol of a meal. (1)

The loaf and the cup, he avers, were certainly “framing and defining elements” of the meal, but the meal itself (which included the bread and cup) was what was considered “the Lord’s Supper.” “The Lord’s meal was a meal” (6). Supporting this point, Taylor notes that “When the Fathers use the expression “the Lord’s Supper” they are either commenting on, or quoting [1 Corinthians 11:20], as describing a full meal” (6). And clearly, in the central passage 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, “the Lord’s Supper” is contrasted with “one’s own supper” (vv. 20-21), the following description of which indicates a full meal; the contrast seems not to be between a symbolic meal and a full one, but between the Lord’s supper and one’s own supper.

Certainly, the loaf and the cup were invested with particular significance; this is plain. What Taylor argues, however, is that this significance is properly understood within the context of a full meal. He further bolsters his point by contending that the bread and cup were not “joined . . . as a single event separable from the rest of the common meal,” but were taken at different times, the bread during the meal and the cup at its conclusion (7).

Given the significance of table fellowship in Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, one can see how Taylor’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper would connect with what we read in the NT about Jesus’ own ministry and the practices of the NT church.

At the conclusion of his essay, Taylor makes a thought-provoking point. Writing within a Baptist context, he notes that Baptists have objected to sprinkling because (among other reasons) it diminishes the ordinance’s rich symbolism (“whether of burial . . . or of complete cleansing” [12]). He wonders aloud if something similar has occurred with the Lord’s Supper:

Could we, along with the vast majority of the Christian tradition, have done exactly the same thing with the Lord’s Supper? Instead of a richly symbolic common meal, which has its meaning as a meal, which is a proclamation event as a meal, we consume a mere symbol of a meal, a symbol of a symbol, and in the process of transferring the event to its typical liturgical setting, its intended ecclesial and missional functions have been neglected. (12)

 

Part 1   Part 3   Part 4

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Responses

  1. Interesting. Used on Sharper Iron here

  2. […] Part 2   Part 3 […]

  3. […] Part 1  Part 2 […]

  4. […] At Orchard Keeper: Considerations on the Lord’s Supper (Part 2): Meal or Not? […]

  5. […] 1   Part 2   Part […]

  6. The communion ritual (and it is merely that) has always seemed a strange, “scary” Catholic ritual with the focus on should we even be eligible to take the little insignificant tokens in our less than “worthy” state. The sterile piece of “plastic bread” and miniscule “plastic cup” lead to an altered universe from what the magnificent passage in 1 Cor. 11: is alluding to.

    First, this is not symbolic of passover, this original “last supper” was on the night prior to Passover. Secondly, key points in view here are A. “renewing our covenant”. It says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, this DO as oft as you drink it in remembrance of me. Is he saying “drink this as oft as you drink this?” Of course not. He is saying this DO (renew the covenant) as often as you drink this cup. Now the symbolic has meaning. We are in a conscious and intentional way committing again to the believers side of a covenant. A covenant cannot be made by only one party, it involves at least two. God will always keep His side, we are being asked to renew our side by examining where we are and simply making sure we have allowed no sludge to build up in our spiritual engine through bitterness, unforgivness, or callous unconcern for the body of Christ. So Christ is saying, “Discern my body”.

    B. discerning or recognizing the body of Christ. Not the body of the dead messiah, but of the body of Christ, the local church or fellowship that is under the head, of the LIVING Christ. It ends the passage saying many are sick and even have died in the “body of Christ” because there is no discerning of the body. No active love, concern, recognition, no culture of honor in the assembly. None weeping with those who weep, etc.

    So, I believe a much more meaningful way to observe this is to have a real loving dinner, a feast of love. A time to relax with the body of Christ, to touch base, to “discern” what are the needs, pains, hurts. Where has there been competitiveness, where has there been a blind eye to needs. This is fitting of the spirit of the last supper. What does not fit is a deadly ritual with many fearing whether they are taking the meaningless tokens “worthily”, and most in an insular bubble never considering what “discerning the body” even means other than a maudlin, shallow sadness that Jesus died. Then getting up from the pew and carrying all the bitterness and unforgivness home with us.


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