Weekly Communion: Why Not?
The practice of weekly communion crept up on me.
The churches I attended during high school and college usually offered the Lord's Supper every other Sunday. This was the case at my field work church during seminary as well.
It wasn't until we moved to Florida for my vicarage year that I had ever encountered the practice of weekly communion. As far as I knew, it was standard practice in the LCMS to break bread on first and third Sundays, or something like that - but not every week. During that year, weekly communion became my new normal.
And then we moved back to Saint Louis. Guess what my field work church was now in the process of doing? You guessed it - moving toward weekly communion.
And then I took my first call to Connecticut. Once again, I found firmly established there the growing trend among our congregations - the move toward the celebration of the Lord's Supper each Lord's Day.
Something is Missing...
It wasn't until recently that I realized how deeply ingrained in me this practice has become. I was asked to fill in as pastor at a neighboring congregation. The congregation was warm and welcoming. I led them in the liturgy, preached my sermon, said the benediction, shook hands, and then headed home. As I started the car, I sat there, sipping my lukewarm cup of church coffee. Something was missing... Something didn't feel right. And then it dawned on me. Today was a service of the Word, but there was no service of the Sacrament. The standard practice of my church body to which I was so accustomed at one time, now felt strange, awkward, dare I say... empty? Obviously all of God's grace is present when the Word of God is present. But that day I longed for the Word in all of its forms - not just the audible Word, but also the visible, tangible, sacramental Word.
I'm not writing this post as a pastor trying to convince his congregation to adopt the practice of weekly communion. Thankfully, that practice is a gift I inherited through the labor of others. However, I do hear from other pastors that leading their congregations to weekly communion is no easy feat. In conversations I've heard some of the reasons against weekly communion - in fact, in former days I'm sure I harbored a few of them. While on the surface some of these reasons seem legitimate, I'm convinced a closer look finds them wanting.
Reason #1 - "It Will Take Too Long"
I get it. Church can be long sometimes. Children begin to melt. Stomachs grumble. The nap on the couch beckons. Why add another fifteen minutes when the sermon already transgresses its bounds on a weekly basis? Brevity can be a gift, but I would approach this question by asking the following - What else were you planning on doing with the extra time it would take to share in the Lord's Supper? Whatever that thing is - whether it be football, a nap, or a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's - is it really more important than the body and blood of Christ? We make time for the things we consider important, and I would hope that the Lord's Supper is high on our list.
Reason # 2 - "If We Do It Too Often, It Will Lose It's Meaning"
At first, this one sounds very spiritual. We don't want to have the Lord's Supper too often, because if we do, we might just be going through the motions, or we'll end up taking the presence of Christ for granted. However, this approach misses the point of the Lord's Supper altogether. The sacrament is a means of grace, not a means of piety. God's grace given to us in the supper is not conjured by our sincerity. God tells us he loves us even when we take his love for granted. The interesting thing is that we don't treat any other element of worship this way. I've never heard anyone say, "You know, we shouldn't devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture each Sunday, because if we do, it might lose its meaning. We might just be going through the motions!"
I would argue that even when we take God's means of grace for granted, his Spirit is still using the Word and Sacrament to form us under the rhythms of grace. I'm not saying that we should ever approach such gifts without repentance and faith, however, I am saying that when the means of grace become familiar to us, they become the realities we live within on a weekly basis, forming us in ways that we cannot even comprehend in the moment. It's a joy to know that each Sunday the service culminates not only with the proclamation that I am justified in Christ, but also in tasting the fruits of the cross by which my justification has forever been secured.
Reason #3 - "Not Enough Volunteers"
Another objection is that it will take too many volunteer hours to set up for communion more often. Churches often invest countless volunteer hours into good things, but not all of these things are necessary. Jesus did not build his church on board meetings, activities, etc., but he does build his church on his means of grace - the Lord's Supper being one of those means. Wouldn't it be a better use of our time to invest hours into an ordinance that has the command of God behind it, whereas many of our meetings and activities, while perhaps useful, do not have a divine command, or at least not as directly as preaching, baptism, and the Lord's Supper?
Reason #4 - "We've Never Done it That Way"
This one works for just about everything. We are creatures of habit. We don't like change. And as I've heard from Baptist and Presbyterian friends, this isn't just true of Lutherans. Sometimes the switch to weekly communion may be uncomfortable or unthinkable because the practice is unfamiliar. If we were to look at the history of the church before this century and beyond our American context, we would see that weekly communion has typically been the normal practice of the church. For example, if the Reformers were to drop in on one of our Sunday services of the Word, I think they would respond to the absence of communion with, "We've never done it that way before!" Certainly there were services of the Word, but from what I can tell these were catechetical services, Matins, Vespers, and others. However, on the Lord's day and other holy days, it was the church's custom so share in the Lord's Supper.
Reason #5 - "Are People Prepared?"
I have actually never heard this concern before. Instead, it's a concern I've had. In the past I have feared that weekly communion would end up being harmful because many who approach the Lord's Table have not received good instruction on what communion is and how we should receive it. The sad truth is that in many LCMS churches (as well as other denominations), this is not much of a concern because congregations have either embraced an open communion policy, or while on paper they believe in proper preparation before communion, the table is functionally open to anyone who feels like coming up. In contrast, the Reformers had a deep, pastoral concern for proper preparation. Melanchthon writes:
"The Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness... The people are instructed more regularly and with the greatest diligence concerning the holy sacrament, to what purpose it was instituted, and how it is to be used."
Nevertheless, their concern for instruction and preparation did not prohibit the Reformers from offering communion frequently. In making the move to weekly communion, churches may also consider adding a brief portion of teaching from the Small Catechism (the children's message is an excellent spot for this), or an exhortation about the Lord's Supper before the service of the Sacrament begins. If we are intentional about the benefit of weekly communion, we can also be more intentional about preparing for the Lord's Supper, both within our weekly worship, as well as in our membership instruction classes.
Change can be difficult. Yet, some changes grow on us. We look back after months or years, and realize that what we once avoided is now our new normal. I can't imagine that anyone would look back at years and months of taking the Lord's Supper more often and say, "I really wish I didn't take communion as often as I did!" For a child of God, that would be unthinkable. So, why not approach the future with the same mindset?
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT