I’m not trying to sound crass, here, but Communion often feels like a memorial service for a deceased loved one. I remember growing up in my (wonderful, life-giving, Christ-shaping, God-exalting) church back at home in Hawaii. The Lord’s Supper came once a quarter, and up front would be a table covered with a large cloth. When it came time to receive Communion, the church leaders would come forward. I remember a lot of them wearing black suits. Two gentlemen would ceremonially lift and fold the table’s cloth, revealing the elements beneath. The suited men stood reverently in a line, hands folded in front, as the pastor would talk seriously and somberly about what we were about to do.
All of these actions and visuals screamed, “funeral.” The men looked like pallbearers. The table, covered, looked like a casket. The spoken voice sounded like a preacher conducting a graveside liturgy. “Jesus has died,” we proclaimed with our ritual. If we’re honest, many of our churches give off this air when we celebrate the Supper.
All of this is certainly appropriate. We meditate on the body and blood of Christ. We think on His death. We remember the agony of the crucifixion. The Spirit reveals to us our sin. But I’m becoming more convinced that we’re lop-sided. The “why’s” are outlined well in John Jefferson Davis’ great book, Worship and the Reality of God, in the fourth chapter, “The Eucharist.”
The Lord’s Supper is just as much feast as it is funeral. 1 Corinthians 11:26 summarizes the tension: “You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Revelation 19 tells us that a huge celebration—The Wedding Feast of the Lamb—is to come for all who know and love Christ. Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25 pictures the End as a wedding banquet. Interestingly, Matthew places this parable in close proximity to the account of the Last Supper (Matthew 26). In the Eucharist, then, we remember Christ’s death, but we actually encounter the living, risen Christ. He’s alive and reigning, and we meet Him at the Table. Luke attempts to drive this home in his recounting of Jesus' post-resurrection Emmaus journey (Luke 24:30-35, NIV):
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
The Lord’s Supper, my friends, is a feast with Jesus, the living, risen Christ.
Some people will listen to my track, “All Glory and Praise,” on Cardiphonia’s new record, Songs for the Supper, and scratch their heads. This hymn by Charles Wesley doesn’t seem at first blush to be an appropriate text for Communion, and my musical setting (fun, celebrative, even danceable) doesn’t sound fitting for the gravity of this holy ritual. But then again, maybe it is fitting for the Feast, if the all of the above is true.
“All Glory and Praise” seeks to emphasize the festal, celebrative nature of Communion. Think of it as the type of background music that might just be playing at Jesus’ wedding reception, while everyone eats their fill and drinks till they’re merry. We recorded it with a syncopated, up-beat, piano-driven, Gospel flare. I didn’t change Wesley’s hymn-text, save adding a chorus, the text of which I have longed to put in a song. It’s a traditional series of phrases that I have most often heard in Anglican liturgies:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Melodically, these lyrics are the peak of the song. They force the congregational voice into the upper range, so that you must nearly shout the proclamation. No mumblers allowed. Participants in this feast must plant their flag in the sand and joyfully, unashamedly declare their allegiance.
So, instead of scratching your head, expand your mind. Re-examine the scriptural statements tied to the Lord’s Supper. Re-engage reflection on the theology of Communion. Let’s start a revolution in our churches toward Eucharistic well-roundedness.