Taste and see that the Lord is good
If there is a central spiritual practice of Christianity it is the celebration of communion. Christ established a church, and in drawing that community together he promised to be with it until the end of the age, and to feed it and care for it. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is his presence to us and where he feeds and cares for us. From the earliest days of the ancient church, the center of Christian worship has been this sacramental meal.
Yet, Presbyterians have had a somewhat checkered history with communion, although an increasingly positive one in recent years. After lay people in the medieval church had become ac-customed to communing but once a year, and had to be dragged to do that, John Calvin in his reformation of the church, proposed that it again be a weekly celebration. Unfortunately, bad habits die hard, and the Reformed churches did not take him up on this. In the Scottish Presbyterian Church, communion was but four times a year, largely coinciding with the quarterly market days that Highlanders came into town. At least there was a season of preparation before each celebration of communion, and when celebrating the meal, members came to the table and took from a common loaf and drank from a common cup. As Presbyterianism came to North America, over time, unfortunately, infrequency merged with a view that the sacrament was just a memorial, and that communion should not be celebrated too often, lest it "lose its meaning," as if our ability to imagine were what gave it mean-ing, and not the Lord who instituted it. Then, a hundred years ago (and really no earlier), the common cup and common loaf also were lost. Caught up in the Temperance movement, Presbyteri-ans substituted grape juice for the wine Jesus had indicated, and in an attempt to be hygienic went to cubes of bread, and little individual glasses of juice. The visible connection with that meal in the upper room the night before the crucifixion became fainter and fainter.
But the last generation of Presbyterians has seen an important reversal of these trends. Grasping once again Calvin’s sacramen-tal theology, we have begun to reaffirm Christ’s own presence to us in this meal. We celebrate it more frequently. Indeed, Rye Presbyterian Church now celebrates communion every Sunday as Calvin wished. Every eight-thirty service is a eucharistic service, and the ten o’clock service celebrates at least once a month, with additional services on significant church holy days.
This last week, after prayer and study and discus-sion, the Session of Rye Presbyterian faithfully took an important step in regaining both the ancient and the traditional Reformed practice of communion by voting unanimously to include both wine and grape juice at communion. (If wine is used, the Book of Order re-quires that juice also be available.) They also decided that coming forward and taking the bread and dipping it in the cup (intinction) will be the common way of serv-ing communion at all services.
There is something remarkably apt in recovering this celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The church is a gathering place where God’s people come to be fed, and fed together by a com-mon Lord. Now, in communion, rather than staying unmoved and having individual servings, we come forward to receive the fullness of the Lord that has been promised to us, and we are fed by our common Lord. Christ is present to us in this meal, but this meal also symbolizes our worship – our coming forward, our receiving, our unity and community that comes from the one who feeds us spirituality. Indeed, here is the central spiritual practice of the Christian faith.
O taste and see that the Lord is good!