Eating with Jesus: Only Once a Week?

We pray for daily bread, and we eat daily meals. Yet, some restrict the Lord’s Supper—the meal where we eat at the table of the Lord—to only and exclusively the first day of the week, Sunday. This restriction is a rather unique dimension of Churches of Christ. Is eating with Jesus (Matthew 26:29) restricted to only Sunday?

I think this exclusive approach is misguided. I will offer a few brief reasons. I have no intent to fully air the point here but only offer another approach, which I regard as more rooted in the story of God.

  1. Jesus himself instituted this meal as a continuation of and fulfillment of Israel’s Passover. When Jesus instituted it, it was not on a Sunday but most likely on a Thursday (though some say Wednesday). It seems rather strange that we can only do what Jesus did on Thursday when it is Sunday.
  2. The Passover celebration itself extended beyond a single day. It involved a whole week of feasting at the table of God. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread was a daily meal with God from Sabbath to Sabbath (Leviticus 23:6-8). Israel ate their feast daily throughout a whole week of celebration. It was not limited to a single day. Israel, which is renewed in the church, knew ate with God during whole weeks of celebrations.
  3. Israel ate with God regularly, even daily, throughout its history through its sacrificial system. For example, the “fellowship” (well-being or peace offerings), whether as thanksgiving offerings or vow offerings, were offered regularly, sometimes daily (Leviticus 3 & 7). Whenever anyone had a thanksgiving to offer or a vow to make, they offered a fellowship offering, which involved eating with God at the table. They were also part of the weeklong celebrations of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Tabernacles, and Feast of Pentecost (Harvest) as daily meals with God in the community of faith. When talking about the Lord’s table, Paul advised the church to “consider the people of Israel” (1 Corinthians 10:18).
  4. On the day of Pentecost when God poured out the Spirit upon the church for the renewal of Israel (as Joel 2 promised), they continued in the apostle’s teaching and in fellowship, particularly in the breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42). The Jerusalem church broke bread daily (Acts 2:46); it was not simply a weekly event nor only for Sunday.
  5. When Paul guides the church in Corinth in how to eat with God at the Lord’s table in 1 Corinthians 11, he does not specify any particular time but simply says “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26). He does not say, “as often as you do this every Sunday.” His language is “whenever you do this…” (the same meaning as the only other time this language appears in Revelation 11:6).
  6. When we break bread at the table of the Lord, we eat with Jesus who hosts the table, and we commune with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. Eating with God is a grand privilege, and there is nothing inappropriate with eating a daily meal with God.

Some restrict eating with God to Sunday because they read Acts 20:7-12 as an exclusive example that prescribes a weekly breaking of bread.

  1. On one hand, I strongly favor weekly communion. The intersection of the first day of the week, breaking bread (eating with Jesus), and the resurrection is a significant one. The first day of the week is the day of our deliverance because it is the day God raised Jesus from the dead by the Spirit. The same reason the church gathers every first day of the week is the same reason it should want to eat with Jesus every first day of the week. Eating with the living Jesus who hosts the table of the Lord is a celebration of the resurrection, and if that is so, why omit the divine ordinance God has given to the church to celebrate it when we gather on the first day of every week?
  2. On the other hand, the fact that the early church ate with Jesus every first day of the week does not mean this is the only day the church can eat with Jesus. Indeed, the Jerusalem church ate with Jesus every day (Acts 2:46).
  3. The prescriptive and restrictive use of Acts 20:7 assumes (a) the church did this every Sunday [which is not stated], (b) that action excludes any other time [this assumes that what it does not include it must exclude], (c) there are no other texts that indicate other times as well as Sunday [though Acts 2:46, in the same book of the Bible, notes another time], (d) implies a command to eat only and every first day of the week [though no such command appears anywhere in the New Testament], and (e) a hermeneutic that since Jesus commanded us to eat the Lord’s Supper Scripture must tell us exactly when to do so [thus dictating what Scripture must tell us, and if it must tell us, then we will find it].
  4. Acts 20:7 is descriptive rather than prescriptive; it is not a law. It describes what the church in Troas did but not necessarily what it had to do. It provides a good model which has theological import (the coordination of the first day of the week, resurrection, and breaking bread just like Luke 24), but it does not exclude other times when we might eat with Jesus.

The church participates in the story of Israel. Just as Israel, from its opening day assembly in Exodus 24:9-11 (“day of assembly in Deut 9:10), ate with God weekly and daily, so the church may also eat with Jesus weekly and daily.

One of my great joys is to eat with Jesus in the company of my students, home guests, and assemblies. I think we should eat with Jesus at least every week, and I enjoy it more often than that.

 



7 Responses to “Eating with Jesus: Only Once a Week?”

  1.   Charles Stelding Says:

    John Mark, thanks so much for your work on understanding the Lord’s Supper.

    It seems that Pliny’s letter to Trajan about the Christians meeting on “a fixed day” confirms your idea of a time when Christians met to worship and eat together at an especially appointed time.

    Also “Every Lord’s day (Κατὰ κυριακὴν δὲ κυρίου) do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” (Didache 14:1) As you are well aware, there is some discussion of the meaning of κατὰ κυριακὴν κυρίου) whether it means weekly Sundays or Easter Sunday.

    Ignatius to the Magnesians (9:1) also confirms the early Christian tradition of the “observance of the Lord’s day” in contrast to the Sabbath: “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day (κατὰ κυριακὴν), on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death- whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master”. But Ignatius does not mention here the Christian supper.

    These very early traditions are descriptive and do not imply that the Lord’s Supper was not celebrated at other times.

  2.   Dr. Jerry T. Thornthwaite Says:

    Please see my article and respond to me. Essentially, I am saying Christ was telling us when we take food or drink in, we remember Christ and his sacrifice. It is like tying a string around your finger. I have been accused from the conservative side that I am introducing a new theology, but I was just reporting what Jesus said. We tend to cheapen that if we only remember this once a week.

    citation:
    Christ’s Attitude of Sacrifice
    Thornthwaite, Jerry T. Gospel Advocate 146 (2004-06-01): 20.

    Sent from my iPhone

    On Sep 8, 2017, at 5:10 PM, Tom and Debbie Boothe wrote:

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I think memory is part of it. Acts of remembrance should not be limited to the first day of the week.

      At the same time, I think there is more happening than memory or what is going on inside our head. There is spiritual communion with the risen Christ who hosts and sits at the table with us by the Spirit.

  3.   Terrell Lee Says:

    John Mark,
    Excellent in every way!
    Jesus assigned a meaning to bread and wine that must have made it impossible for early Christians to partake on Sunday or Tuesday or Friday or any another day without “remembering.” Thanks.

  4.   Dan Says:

    You make the claim near the beginning of the article, “This restriction is a rather unique dimension of Churches of Christ”. Most Churches of Christ I know take the Lord Supper every week. While the majority of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians that our family knows, works with, or our kids go to school with, only take communion quarterly. There is one case where it is every 2 months (6 times a year). In all cases, it is exclusively on Sunday.

    When compared across denominations (at least the ones I’m familiar with) what you are proposing would actually make the Churches of Christ EVEN MORE unique among the broader Christian community, increasing the frequency to multiple times per week. I already get a lot of questions from friends about it losing it’s significance when it’s done every week. Of course, there are a lot of changes going on within the contemporary wings of the major denominations, and although I try, I’m not always up to date with the latest trends.
    Thanks,
    Dan

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      It is true that many free church traditions (Baptists, for example) only participate in the Lord’s Supper on a monthly or quarterly basis, many historic churches (Roman Catholics, Eastern Churches, Lutheran, Anglican, etc.) are weekly and most of them encourage more frequent celebrations as well. Even John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists, encouraged communion three-five times a week (as was his own personal practice). Some Methodists churches have resumed this practice, and some Presbyterian churches have as well (especially weekly communion).

      Does frequency reduce its value? It can but so can infrequency. We don’t typically think the sermon has lost value because it is frequent, or that the Lord’s Prayer loses value because we say it frequently, or that giving weekly loses its value because it is done frequently.

      I think has more to do with the meaning invested in the moment rather than the frequency. For example, for most free churches the meaning is purely memoralistic (typically, we think remember the death of Jesus). But in the more frequent communities, typically the meaning is more “eating with the living Christ and enjoying the spiritual nourishment God provides in that moment.” If it is eating with the living Christ and there is a strong communal emphasis on the relationship between believers, then it seems to me that increased frequency is would be a good thing.

      Thanks for your question!

  5.   Dwight Says:

    John, this is very good. Here are my thoughts:
    1. We don’t generally partake of the Lord’s Supper as a meal, thus robbing the supper aspect and communal aspect. I mean we wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving meal with everyone lined up in chairs and the Lord’s Supper is pretty much a Thanksgiving meal.
    2. Doing it everyday to me would rob some of the specialness, after all we don’t do the Thanksgiving meal every day, but on Thanksgiving day. We connect the day to the meal, etc.
    3. However we need to remember Jesus daily. And having the elements of the Lord’s Supper nearby is not a bad way to do that. Technically having the Lord’s Supper on any other day isn’t the Lord’s Supper, much like eating turkey and dressing on any other day isn’t Thanksgiving. But the Jews would have had wine and they would have had bread available on a daily basis.
    4. The Law of Exclusion would have us not only restricting us from the elements of the Lord’s Supper, but also the memory of Christ on all other days if we are to follow that logic to its full extent. And perhaps this logic is what keep some people from seeing God in their lives on days other than when they are in assembly, if we only partake of Christ on Sunday.

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