On many different occasions, and some recently, I have been asked about how I conceive or conduct the Lord’s supper as a home meal. Others who are doing something similar have wanted to compare their practices with my own. I have never explicitly addressed this on my blog but now is an opportune moment.
The Lord’s supper as a meal is not a weekly event for me but it is fairly common. In my small group, several of my classes and other occasions I have led or participated in group meals as the “Lord’s supper.”
Why do this? Well, first the Lord’s supper is a supper, that is, it is an evening meal (the meaning of deipnon). Second, I think the supper was intended for smaller groups. The Jerusalem church, though 3000 strong on the day of Pentecost, met to “break bread” in their homes in small groups. Third, the supper as a group meal engenders intimacy among its participants. There we experience fellowship at the most basic level through eating together; there we show hospitality toward each other; and there we experience grace around the table.
When I lead the Lord’s meal, I have a fairly general outline of how the meal will proceed. This is not rigid but I think ritual is important or else the meal will lose focus and degenerate into a generality that cannot carry the weight of the moment. Nevertheless, the meal varies in order, Scripture texts, and meditation. But here is the general order in which I lead the meals (by the way, the food is already on the table as we sit down).
1. Lighting of candles. I like two central candles on the table to symbolize the light of creation and the light of new creation. We give honor and praise to the Father and Son in this way as we remember that the Holy Spirit (the flame of love) illuminates us and brings us into the presence of the Father and Son.
2. Each participant has a small candle in front of their plate. I ask each, in turn, to light their candle (the lighter is passed around) and give thanks for something that God is doing in their lives. We begin with our basic response to the light of God, that is, we give thanks.
3. I offer a meditation on the Lord’s Supper using a text of Scripture. This may range from the traditional texts like 1 Corinthians 11 or Luke 22. But I don’t limit myself to them. Other texts also come into play such as Psalms of thanksgiving (like Psalm 116, 107, 118) and other texts that carry the meaning of the meal within them or through application.
4. Breaking of the Bread. I use a whole loaf that is large enough for every person at the table to take a substantial piece (not just a pinch). I take the bread in my hands and talk about the meaning of the bread. The bread is from the earth that nourishes our bodies but the bread is also a means of experiencing the new creation through as the raised, living body of Christ. We eat this bread for both physical and spiritual nourishment. I then break the bread and offer a prayer of thanksgiving, and then distribute it. I give it to the people on either side of me and they break off a piece and pass it down to those around the table. As each one gives the bread to the other, they say: “This is the body of Christ which is given for you.” We all eat the bread.
5. We begin eating and drinking what is available on the table.
6. At some point at the beginning of our eating (after we all have food on our plates), I will remind the participants of the two candles and that by the presence of the Spirit, the living Christ is the host of this table. If we have some ongoing intimacy as a group (that is, this is not the first time we ever met or a special occasion), I will ask each to share something that is happening in their life in their walk with God (struggles, triumphs, etc.). This is a community meal. At the end of the sharing, we pray for each other.
7. Towards the middle of the meal, I will remind the table that this is the communion of the saints, which includes the saints around the world at present but also the communion of the saints who now inhabit the heavens with God. I begin by recalling the presence of Sheila, Dad and Joshua at the table with us, and ask each to remember one who is already in the heavens but present at the table with us even now. We remember that we commune with the saints as well as with God.
8. In connection with this remembrance, I ask each to share a name for whom we might pray. Depending on time, they may explain why the name, but usually I just ask for names without explanation. This is for a time of intercession. We pray over the names, and I don’t usually list the names again in the prayer but simply acknowledge that God has heard and we call up God to act.
9. In this context, I will share or ask another to share another scripture. One of my favorites at this point is Psalm 116. It is a thanksgiving Psalm that reminds us that we cannot repay God’s goodness except to lift up the cup of thanksgiving and celebrate a meal with God (the Psalm is written in the context of a thanksgiving sacrifice).
10. Towards the end of the meal, I take the pitcher that is filled with the fruit of the vine and talk about the “cup” we are about to drink. I remind us that this is the blood of Christ which is poured out for us for the remission of our sins. In this moment we experience reconciliation with God–we are forgiven. But I also remind us that the “cup” is something we share with Christ, that is, we share the cup of suffering as persons who follow Jesus to the cross. We are reminded that we are disciples committed to follow Jesus daily, even to a cross.
11. Pouring the Cup. I take the pitcher and pour some into a cup (something like a wine class perhaps) for the person sitting next to me. As I pour, I say, this is the blood of Christ for you and invite them to share the cup of Jesus. In turn, they pour the cup for the person next to them and around the table till all have their cups filled. Someone then prays over the cup, giving thanks for what God has done in Jesus. And we drink together as we say “Thank you, Jesus.” Many times we cling our glasses together in a toast.
11. As each pours the cup for the other, I ask that they affirm that person for something in their life. In what way do they see Jesus in this person who sits at the table with them? For what do they give thanks for them and acknowledge their communion in Christ? In this way, we share an intimacy with each other and express our gratitude for each other as we express our gratitude to God.
13. As we drink and conclude the meal, I don’t want the cup to simply end with a sip. Rather, as we drink and continue to drink (and finish eating as the case may be), I ask each person in turn to share one word (with an explanation) that is prominent in their heart and mind at that moment. What are they experiencing? We share a word that expresses our heart.
14. Sometimes dessert is offered as a taste of the eschaton–as a present foretaste of coming joy.
15. As the meal winds down and we conclude eating, I end the meal with some kind of benediction. It could be a prayer, a blessing, a Scripture reading.
This is a method; it is certainly not a standard or the method. I think the meal can be conducted in any number of ways. However, I do think several things are important:
- Scripture (the Word) to Open the Meal
- Bread and Fruit of the Vine
- Communion of the Saints
- Intercession for the Saints
- Expressions of Gratitude
- Benediction as Closure
Perhaps some might find this helpful. For whatever its value, there it is! :-)