A number of years ago I took the opportunity to re-study the Scriptural teachings regarding our practices surrounding the Lord’s Supper. During this study, certain of Jesus’ words in particular stuck in my mind, “Do this...” and “often.” It became clear to me that His desire for us to receive this sacrament quite frequently is not merely a suggestion or guideline, not is it a command, but it is, and remains, a loving imperative from our wise and gracious Savior.
To be sure, by these words Jesus did not intend to institute a new law to bind and torture our consciences, but neither did He mean for us to regularly set aside or ignore what He would freely give us – namely, His very body and blood, and with it, forgiveness of sins, peace with God, salvation, and renewed spiritual strength.
In his Large Catechism, Luther often speaks passionately and eloquently for the most frequent reception of the Sacrament of the Altar:
“The Lord's Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strength itself and not weaken in the struggle but grow continually stronger."According to the Book of Acts the early Christians celebrated communion every day and the Church held onto that practice for many centuries, offering the Lord’s Supper daily in many churches.
“Now that we have the right interpretation and doctrine of the sacrament, there is great need also of an admonition and entreaty that so great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, may not be heedlessly passed by. What I mean is that those who claim to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently.”
“‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ These are words of precept and command, enjoining all who would be Christians to partake of the sacrament...not from compulsion, coerced by men, but to obey and please the Lord Christ. Indeed, the very words, ‘as often as you do it,’ imply that we should do it often.”
“We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefit also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it?”
“If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows [of the devil] are at every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as possible.”
Also, for the first two hundred years following the Reformation, Lutheran churches celebrated Holy Communion daily in some places, and at the very least on every Sunday in nearly all congregations.
So, for more than seventeen hundred years, every regular Sunday worship service in the Christian church, and many special services, included the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It was, as a matter of fact, only after the attacks on the Real Presence by Calvin and others, and during the Bible-denying age of Rationalism and the so-called Enlightenment, that Holy Communion was relegated to be observed sometimes only three or four times a year. How did this happen?
When Paul addresses the concerns regarding unworthy behavior of wealthier Christians at the Lord’s Supper in First Corinthians Chapter Eleven, he provides us with one of the earliest recorded versions of Christ’s institution of Holy Communion. His words, however, have also caused some confusion and misinterpretation concerning who is worthy to receive this sacrament. In the 1700’s the Pietistic Movement arose in the Lutheran Church of Scandinavia and Germany. It was a reaction to a seeming disconnection between faith and everyday life. People were attending worship, but were not living out their faith. The leaders of the Pietistic Movement called for deeper commitment and more “pious” living. Thus, when they read First Corinthians 11:28, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment unto themselves,” they said it meant if you didn’t live a pious life you were not worthy of communion and therefore would be eating and drinking damnation unto yourselves. With a threat like that hanging over them, people naturally stopped coming to Communion. How did this affect us here in America?
To be continued on Wednesday . . . .