The Holy Impracticality of the Lord’s Supper

It’s a strange thing. You grow up with something and then only in your 41st year you see the potential for what something can be.

When I say I grew up Baptist, I mean that in the truest sense. I tell people I grew up so Baptist in the 70s and 80s that even when there was no Wednesday night fellowship supper, we still felt the need to eat baked chicken, waxy green beans, and new potatoes with watered-down sweet tea.

That supper might have been partaken of more than the Lord’s Supper. This is no criticism. But I grew up with very little understanding of the Lord’s Supper. It was only done 5 or 6 times a year, and while always a “big deal” it lacked any kind of power for me. It was a memorial meal, nothing more.

I’ve no doubt there are others who cannot understand this. It has always been moving and special for them. I am more than willing to place all the blame at my own feet. I most likely spent far too much time passing notes in church and writing down the lyrics to my favorite songs. Or looking up questionable words in the Christmas hymns.

And even though I took classes in Seminary on the subject of communion and then later taught on the subject and even went to churches that celebrated it more often, I never really felt that I needed it till this past year.

One of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year was Thomas Merton’s The Seven-Storey Mountain. It’s a memoir of the writer turned monk. Yes, he’s Catholic, but hang with me here. There are a number of scenes I’ve been able to recall fairly well but one in particular stands out. Merton is on his way somewhere but before he goes to wherever he needs to go he hurries to make sure he can get to Mass and then get where he needs to be  in a hurry. I have this picture of him running down the steps after the Mass and to his destination.

Have you ever connected with a scene in a book or movie you could not understand? You wanted to, but could not. There was something in the scene swirling around in your head producing a longing…a desire to get in on something. That is how I have always felt about that scene. It’s drama for me was it’s incomprehensibility.

I knew nothing of his desire for the Lord’s Supper.

While I am not a fan of the Catholic Mass, I still see something in his desire for the meal, that I, as a Protestant should have. But I never really did desire it till now.

For about 3 years now I’ve been in various churches where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated every week. But it was not till I left vocational ministry that I began to desire it every week. And I only have a guess as to why. And even this guess has some fuzzy edges.

The Lord’s Supper is nothing like what I experience during the week.

It is altogether different. So much of my work week is governed by economic factors and money-related problems and solutions. Numbers rule. There is no mystery, no unseen power to be considered in the banking world. All is measured and quantified and then analyzed – even our customer service evaluations by Gallup – and then pored over and then we are weighed in the balance. And the customers are evaluated and then the company is also.

Maybe I was too much like a banker in ministry, I worried about numbers. And evaluated myself and others by the same far too often. I counted heads and worried or rejoiced accordingly. 

I guess it’s just far too easy for pastors and churches to fall into a philosophy of ministry that borrows a little too much from the business world. But even those churches have the Lord’s Supper…something that is so different from everything else.

There it is, a paltry meal. Just a bit of wine/juice and a bite of bread/cracker. Prayed over and then taken in faith. There is nothing practical about it. It’s so….different.

Which is why they call it holy.

It took me about 41 years to feel this way so I’ve no desire to make anyone feel guilty about their lack of mystical feelings when taking the Lord’s Supper. All I know is I was encouraged to know someone at sometime, somewhere craved the meal while I did not. I just kept taking it in faith, believing it’s sermon as much I could in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And then BAM!, I found myself in the midst of a world I did not understand and do not really like (Frodo and Sam and lembas?) and the desire to eat it every week became overwhelming. I live in a practical world and it’s impracticality became for me something holy and fulfilling.

There is nothing to admire here. Perhaps admiration should be reserved for those who faithfully obey the command to eat the bread and drink the wine and wait for a little more understanding. 

I started by calling all this strange. Maybe it’s just another part of the mystery. We trust that God is doing something gracious in us even when we cannot see it or feel it. In a world where everything has to come with excitement and fireworks, maybe the Lord’s Supper is a quiet reminder of God’s steadfast faithfulness to sinners even when we cannot grasp all that it means. And to be honest that is usually when I need it the most.

3 thoughts on “The Holy Impracticality of the Lord’s Supper

  1. Dana December 2, 2012 / 7:01 am

    Likewise…. This same phenomena happened to me when going through a crisis in my life and to this day I hurt if I miss the Lord’s Supper. It really is a means of grace.

  2. Dudley December 26, 2012 / 9:33 pm

    Love it! I’m currently studying the Eucharist. I’m intrigued by the very word. It means “to give thanks”, but all of my life I have never had that thought regarding taking the Lord’s Supper. I always thought of receiving, not giving.

    There is much more to this and I want to discover all that God has intended in giving it to us.

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