‘The Lord’s Supper may be on its way to becoming a monthly rite, but an arbitrary designation of the first Sunday of the month as “communion Sunday” indicates its institutional rather than ecclesial function’. So writes Joseph Small (Director of Theology Worship and Education Ministries for the PCUSA) in his delightful essay on the church of word and sacrament.
Small also properly warns against the practice of thinking of the Supper exclusively in terms of the Last Supper, arguing that this both sponsors a gloomy exercise in silent introspection and – more tragically – betrays a failure to understand the Supper in terms of the Emmaus experience wherein the community feasts and drinks with the risen Christ in whose presence we come to know and love him more fully. Small recalls that by celebrating the Supper each Lord’s Day, the early church were ‘not commemorating the tragic death of a hero or mourning the premature death of an inspiring teacher’ but were ‘gathering in the presence of the risen, living Christ to be joined to him in his death and resurrection and to be fed by him’. How can a community engage in something akin to a funeral for one who is more alive that we are, for Christ is life in se?
But here, in bread and wine, in eating and drinking together, the community of Jesus receives nourishment for the way of discipleship in the love of God and neighbour. ‘If congregations experience the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of Jesus’ death, a re-creation of the Last Supper, it is little wonder that they do it infrequently and that when they do they are vaguely puzzled or dissatisfied by it all’. – Joseph D. Small, ‘A Church of the Word and Sacrament’ in Christian Worship in Reformed Churches Past and Present (ed. Lukas Vischer; Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 320, 321.