The Reason We Gather

There are many things I love about my faith tradition, the Churches of Christ. And the thing I love the most is this:

The reason you go to church to participate in the Lord's Supper.

You don't go to church to worship or to hear a sermon. You go to church to celebrate the Lord's Supper. You go to church to remember The Story. You go to church to ritually reenact the story, to step into it, participate in it, make it your own. This is your Passover meal. You go to church to remind each other, this is his body. This is his blood. Broken and poured out. For you.

In the Churches of Christ we take our cue from Acts 20.7:
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 
The reason for the assembly on the first day of the week wasn't to hear Paul preach or to worship. The reason the early church gathered was "to break bread," the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

So, if you have to delete something from Sunday morning services you can safely delete the sermon. You can also safely delete the worship. But the one thing you can't remove is the Lord's Supper. Because the Lord's Supper is the reason you have gathered.

That's how we see it in the Churches of Christ. We are called to church to celebrate the Lord's Supper, to remind each other in ritual and word--"do this in memory of me"--of Jesus's life, death and resurrection. That is the central function of the Christian assembly.

In this the Churches of Christ are similar to Catholics. You go to Mass to celebrate the Eucharist. In the Catholic Mass the singing is minimal, the homily is short. The focus of the experience is on the Eucharist. That is why you have come. Which is very similar in theological impulse to the Churches of Christ.

To be sure, though, in the Churches of Christ our worship service and sermons can get out-sized. But the Lord's Supper is never skipped on Sunday. Any given Sunday, sermons will get shortened. Fewer songs will get sung. All done to accommodate the Lord's Supper. Any given Sunday you do what you have to do in worship planning to get the service down to the allotted time, but you cannot skip the Lord's Supper in the Churches of Christ.

Because the Lord's Supper is the reason we gather.

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15 thoughts on “The Reason We Gather”

  1. We only celebrate the Lord's Supper every 5th Sunday. I'm really beginning to wonder why gather at all. It seems to me that I am helping hold up a structure that is desperately trying to hold to our legalist past. The only reason I know of to go to church is because we are supposed to.

  2. I believe the Episcopal Church beautifully keeps its worship balanced. Besides the weekly Eucharist, its preaching, overall, is Biblical, relevant, and artistically prepared and presented. I have attended the Episcopal Church numerous times over the past thirty years; and I also go on line most weeks to hear the sermons from Washington National Cathedral. I would dare to say they believe that the spoken word should be spoken well. I believe most Evangelical Churches could learn from them how to keep their sermons from simply being running commentaries which they label as Expository.

  3. At my Church of Christ, we have been having a serious discussion lately about the Lord's Supper and just how important it is. It started with the question: Why is the podium is off to the side of the room? It would make sense for it to be front and center, but it's not. The Lord's Table is there. Why? Because that is what is central to our gathering. Unfortunately, I don't think many people realize this, which is why we've been talking about the significance of what happens. John Mark Hicks wrote an excellent book on the subject, "Come to the Table." (I wasn't at the Pepperdine Lectures this year, but I believe this was one of the subject matters.)

    It needs to be talked about. Some of my relatives attend a large Church of Christ in the Bible Belt. While they still observe it weekly, they have made some changes in order to "streamline" that part of the service. It takes too much time when you have a few thousand people. Understandable...but is that a bad thing? I fear that if we lose our understanding of the Lord's Supper, it can become a rote ritual or tradition that we do just because we've always done it. (Not to mention, as Hicks points out, we already have lost a lot of the communal, celebratory table fellowship and replaced it with a time of individual, sorrowful focus on our sins.)

  4. It does get streamlined in the CoC. So two points of clarification.

    1. I'm not saying the CoC does the Lord's Supper well. Often it doesn't. What I'm reflecting on is the theological impulse that the Lord's Supper is the reason for gathering.

    2. But that's not quite right. It's the reason for gathering on Sunday mornings. In this we differ from the Catholic tradition where the Eucharist is the reason for gathering at every gathering. Even at weddings. In this I believe the Catholic church is the more consistent witness.

  5. I gather (at secondhand - I live in the UK) that the Churches of Christ are still struggling with a history of eucharistic practice that is individualistic and introspective, penitential and sombre - i.e., a practice that lacks communal Easter/eschatological festivity and joy. Is that your experience? But I'll tell you what - coming from the Reformed tradition, man, do I envy weekly Communion (Calvin himself strongly argued the case for it in Geneva, but the City Council, silly buggers, said Non!).

  6. What Kim Fabricius said. Totally envious of weekly Communion. If I have my story correct, Calvin wanted it every week in Geneva, but the city leaders determined that since people only came out twice a year it would be an impossible task to get them to come out fifty-two times. The once-a-month was a compromise with the understanding that the laity would be educated to see the wisdom of having it every Sunday. Well that's been a five-century long failure of education and, worse, resulted in a popular piety among Reformed folk that significantly shaped the spirituality of American Evangelicalism. Could weekly Communion be the primary agent in the reform of the church?

  7. It is, by and large, a pretty somber, individualistic affair. Again, we don't do Eucharist well, but we do see it as the reason for assembling.

    That said, Eucharist is more an eschatological festivity at Freedom Fellowship. It was a part of one of those Eucharistic services at Freedom where "the Holy Ghost conga line" broke out. And we always eat together before those services, so an "agape meal" is always connected to Eucharist. No one takes the the Lord's Supper on an empty stomach.

    For readers who missed that post:

  8. Man, I wish more church services were thoughtfully organized this way. At a church I used to attend, it just felt like the Eucharist was plugged in and out monthly but the service was not altered much to accommodate. The real goal of the service was always to get to the sermon which was always the longest part. Don't get me wrong, the sermon was typically always good but the more I thought about it, the weirder it felt to just take the Eucahrist in passing rather than having be the focus of, or at least an integral part of, the service.

  9. Sharing communion in different settings more than one time a week was a shock to me at first in my Dallas church, but then it became less troublesome as the opportunities arose. It started with Passover celebrations once a year and sort of went from there. Robert Richardson's "Communings in the Sanctuary" is a deeply devotional collection of short reflections on the Lords Supper that were delivered in the red brick church house in Bethany, Va., during Sunday morning worship in the mid 1800's. It shows that "Be sure you DO it wasn't the only emphasis in early Disciples history and it was good.

  10. Since 1979 In the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist (which includes Holy Communion) is the normative worship service for Sundays. Morning Prayer may be used on occasion, but this is the exception and not the rule. My parish can't always afford a supply clergy, so we do arrange for Morning Prayer on some Sundays when I am off. However, there are several people who will not attend that service -- "Sundays are for Communion."

  11. It is stated that the reason that the Churches of Christ celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday is because of the scripture that says on the first day of the week everyone is to break bread. Do we have any hard evidence that this actually means a Eucharistic meal as opposed to simply some sort of "pot luck" communal meal? I know that this is the generally accepted interpretation, but I'd like to challenge that. Show me why.

  12. In fact we often take the Lord's Supper to members who are home-bound, sick, or in nursing homes because they request it due to that traditional practice they have always known even though at times no one else participates with them. I knew a dying woman once who refused any more eating or drinking but was still motivated to sip the wine and swallow the bread. You are correct when you say that we often don't do it well. However, this is an area where we can use our creativity in such a way that the communion is by far the most inspiring and moving part of the service. While visiting a C of C in Dallas some years ago, they went through a time when some older member would rise and relate to the whole congregation their most memorable Lord's Supper. His story was during the war on a foreign battle field, he and two other Christians were able to find the elements, and in the midst of the worst of external conditions, together they commemorated the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Wow! What a powerful, spiritual moment that was when he told his story in a simple cracking voice of sincerity and humility!

  13. I kinda enjoy the fact that you recognize the somewhat clumsy-ness of the Eucharist in your church. And why shouldn't it be a bit clumsy… me that seems to validate that it is not some legalistic empty tradition but rather ordinary people gathering together as a family. After all….isn't the purpose of the church is to be the believer's spiritual family. There are no specific instructions given by Christ for how often we are to do this. But Paul seems to lead me to believe its pretty much anytime we gather together. But, whether its daily, weekly, quarterly…whatever….the importance is that it still has importance. Even if we don't weekly break bread or drink juice/wine together….isn't the gathering TOGETHER always partaking in the Lords Supper? I travel back to the states a couple times a year to see my family. While there ….there is always at least one day my whole family gets together for a big supper. Its amazing. But most of the time we don't get together for a meal….but just to be together and share living. Its amazing. So….the gathering and being together is the common foundation for the "amazing".

  14. I'm very happy about this discussion. I have former pastors that believe in Communion every Sunday and I have always appreciated it. I grew up in the Methodist church, and I wholly miss the focus on communion, which in my church growing up was extremely important. We had kneeling benches at the front of the church. I loved the beauty of the building and the beauty of the service. It was rather somber, but that was one of the beautiful parts about it. As an adult who has been in several denominations (including DOC/COC) with a partial family history of Catholicism, I believe the church has missed the boat on how very few times communion is celebrated. It is part of the reason I don't care for megachurches, because it is seemingly impossible to treat it properly. It's funny to me how so many evangelical denominations who seem to be so literal in their Bible reading and practices just glaze right on over the passage that says to do this every time you meet together. And no matter how good a sermon is, or musical worship, I feel like some leadership care more about the sound of their own voices than this part of worship. I don't know when a sermon ever became the expectation instead of the Eucharist.

  15. I just wanted to say thank you for this post. As a Catholic who has become very dis-enchanted with the hierarchy, some of the issues common to "church people," and other things, it has been impossible for me to join my Sunday assembly to celebrate the Sacrament. But you are absolutely right, we gather to celebrate The Lord's Supper and all those other issues really aren't that important.

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