Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Lord’s Supper: Re-enactment or Representation?

Lord’s Supper: Re-enactment or Representation?

What we do when we come to the Lord’s Supper is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper. A re-enactment is an acting out of a past event.  Police stage a re-enactment of a crime, with someone of the same race and gender, height and hair colour, following the exact route of a victim in the hope that this will stimulate memories and bring forward possible witnesses.  Those who stage battle re-enactments dress up in the period costumes of the armies and use replica weapons of that age to refight a particular battle.

But we do not need to re-enact the Lord’s Supper.  We do not need to replicate the time, (evening), the place, (an upper room), the cup, (with or without handles, wooden, clay or metal?), the seating, (reclining at a low table), the kind of wine, ( what was its ABV, from what kind of grape was it made?)

We do not re-enact the Last Supper but we seek to represent the Last Supper, and the N.T. practice of the Lord’s Supper, in biblical simplicity.  We strip back the non-essentials to focus on what is vital, the bread and wine given to God’s people as a means of grace.

This emphasis on biblical simplicity means that a Roman Catholic High Mass fails in its representation of what Jesus instituted, adding as it does its vestments, its bells, its incense,  and its semi-magical incantations.

But we should also ask whether the traditional Scottish communion season equally fails to represent the Lord’s Supper in biblical simplicity, with its infrequency, its protracted five days of services, its fast day, its visiting minister presiding at the table, its numerous visitors who in the past could number hundreds and swamp the local fellowship, its “tickets” or communion tokens allowing a believer to participate, and its thanksgiving service following the day of communion. Even in its present somewhat abbreviated form this does not present the Lord’s Supper in biblical simplicity.

Both the High Mass and the Presbyterian communion season depart from biblical simplicity, but they are wrong in different ways. 

The High Mass is essentially wrong; the various additions are unbiblical and can never be justified in any circumstances.  It is wrong in essence as it turns a memorial into a sacrifice.

The Presbyterian communion season is circumstantially wrong; the various aspects of the communion season are not wrong in themselves, but they are unnecessary and perhaps detrimental to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. 

It is not wrong to have a day of fasting and spiritual introspection, but it is not necessary to do so before communion.  It is not wrong to have visiting preachers and if they preach to have them preside at the Lord’s Supper, but it is not either necessary or beneficial to replace the regular pastor with visiting ministers at the Supper.  It is not wrong to bring vast numbers together from various churches to hear the Word, (Christian conferences), but it detracts from the celebration of unity in Christ of the local fellowship. It is never wrong to have a service of thanksgiving, but it is not a necessary conclusion to the Lord’s Supper to do so on the day following.

This is not to deny that these communion seasons could be accompanied with blessing, after all despite the additions, the Word and Sacrament, both means of grace, were set forth.  It is however to raise the question of whether our traditional additions were an unfortunate example of us being wiser than God and thinking that we somehow needed to supplement the simple celebration of the Lord’s Supper for “real” blessing to occur.

The Scottish communion season is now passing.  Fewer churches see the need or the benefit of these biannual or quarterly celebrations.  There is a movement for more frequent and simpler celebrations of the Lord’s Supper.  Who knows, we eventually may return to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a weekly aspect of our normal service, following the pattern that Calvin wished to see in the churches of Geneva: whenever the Word is preached, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.  In this way the centrality of the cross, Christ’s work of atonement received by faith alone, our union with Christ and with his people, and the anticipation of his coming again will be constantly kept before the people of God.

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