Published in BT, 2008
Coming from the Midlands, the first time I was invited out for ‘supper’ I expected a cup of Horlicks and a small bowl of porridge. Only on arrival did I realise that a full-blown dinner had been prepared, and from then on, being invited out for Supper is a major treat. You know that you will enjoy the company, the food and the drink, and go home happy and satisfied. And if this is what friends are able to offer one another, then can you imagine being invited for the first time to … wait for it … The Lord’s Supper?
What kind of banquet should we expect? If our friends can satisfy our hunger and offer good company, how much more would the Lord be able to offer? The Scriptural pictures of God’s Kingdom are often banquets around the meal table. We might expect a fatted calf to be killed, gallons of first class red wine to be flowing, and baskets full of leftovers to be gathered. A veritable feast that would leave you satisfied, perhaps a little bloated, and maybe rather sleepy. The Lord’s Supper would clearly be a gastronomic foretaste of heaven.
And then you walk into a Baptist church… and what are you given? A thimble full of fake wine and a piece of diced bread, like you might feed to the birds. If any friend of yours invited you to Supper and lay such a feast before you, you might wonder what you had done wrong.
But this is the Lord’s Supper and, so we are told, these elements are ‘symbolic’! True. But the bread and wine are not symbols of real bread and real wine! They are not symbols of symbols! If diced bread and a sip of wine are symbols, then what kind of God do they symbolise? Surely the message they convey is that God is rather a ‘stinge-bag’.
The bread and the wine are supposed to represent in some way, the body and blood of Christ. The church has not always celebrated the Lord’s Supper this way. There was a time when individual worshippers would provide the bread and the wine, the ‘elements’ as we call them, or ‘oblations’. Oblation is from the Latin verb for ‘offering’, and this offering of one’s own bread and wine is what was originally meant by the ‘offertory’, long before the invention of collection plates and gift aid envelopes.
For instance, wealthy members of the congregation would bring decent wine. The poorest would bring cheap wine or even water. But all would then be poured into a single container before being blessed and redistributed to the congregation, who become one by drinking from a single cup comprised of many offerings. This practice was a deeply political act, and made profound and powerful statements about human identity and how Christ is embodied through the church.
Nice theory perhaps, but how on earth can we ever incorporate this into our Sunday morning worship without major disruption to the patterns we currently work by and the culture we are happy with? Well if there is no room in worship for such disruption, perhaps we should ask ourselves what on earth we are doing.
“Behold I stand at the door and knock: if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Rev 3: 20)