The Blessings of Weekly Communion

My church has “forever” had communion every Sunday, but at alternate services. Early service for the 1st and 3rd Sundays, and late service for the 2nd and 4th Sundays. So people who wanted every-Sunday communion could do it by simply alternating which service they attend each week.

I’m pleased that as of Easter Sunday 2011, we moved to communion in every Service. We spent a year working with the congregation talking about the change (We are Lutherans .. we don’t like change!), which included using CPH’s book, The Blessings of Weekly Communion.

I can say that after several months, the congregation has fully accepted the practice and we are all enjoying the benefits of communion offered at every service.

Here is the article written by our pastor from our April 2011 church newsletter; mailed out to all congregation members prior to the change. I thought it well written to describe the reasons for making the change, and perhaps useful for other congregations who are interested in moving towards every Sunday communion.

 


 

Your Pastors and Elders have been studying the biblical wisdom of having Holy Communion at every Sunday and Wednesday service for well over a year now. During this time the Board of Elders and Pastors have read and discussed a very persuasive book entitled, “The Blessings of Weekly Communion” filled with convincing reasons why we should restore this practice of every service, every Sunday Communion.

To appreciate the Sacrament of the Altar, and desire it regularly, you first have to understand what it is, and why Christ wants us to receive “often”.  Far too many regular church-goers don’t understand. They think that they are doing God a service by coming to church. While they’re willing to do this for an hour or so each week, they’re unsure whether they want to commit to the longer Communion worship format each week. They feel like we are asking them to “up” their commitment to the Lord by asking them to stay in church twenty minutes longer every other Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.

But attending church is not a service we perform for God’s benefit. It’s the other way around. God is doing us a far greater service when we come to church. For God has gifts that He wants to give to us in the divine service. Gifts found only in His Word and Sacraments. God’s reason for wanting you in worship is so that you can freely receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. For worship is where God gives us these gifts in His Word and Sacraments.

Long ago, Jesus Christ won forgiveness and peace with God for us by His cross. Then Jesus Christ gave us eternal victory over our enemies sin, death, and the devil by His resurrection. We call this good news — the Gospel. Christians gather weekly to hear this Gospel preached to us, and to receive this very same Gospel visibly, tangibly, and personally by receiving Christ’s body and blood. God wants to give us a double portion of His love and grace for us in Christ in worship centered on His preached Word and distributed Supper of forgiveness.

As Christians we gather weekly in the confidence that Christ is present among us in His Word and Sacrament. For these, along with Holy Baptism, are the means of grace by which Christ has chosen to save us. Just as we come to church in order to hear about what Christ accomplished for us by His obedient suffering and death, so we come to receive with our lips that same Christ who comes to us in His own true body and blood.

Like the sermon, the sacrament is the way that Christians shed their sins, receive God’s mercy and Christ’s forgiveness. Do we have to receive the Sacrament of the Altar weekly? Of course not. But should the church make the Lord’s Supper available for those who do desire it that frequently? Yes. When you realize that the Lord’s Supper is God’s gift to His people in Christ to strengthen faith, to forgive sinners, to turn hearts back to God, and to bring us Jesus — making it available every Sunday and every Wednesday really seems like a “no brainer”.

Luther and the Lutherans after him thought so too. In our Lutheran Confessions, which all Lutheran Pastors and Congregations are sworn to uphold, we learn that during the Reformation Era and after, it was the practice of every Lutheran congregation to celebrate the Lord’s Supper at every service on every Sunday because of the extremely high importance that Lutherans have historically placed on the Gospel comfort that Holy Communion provides. The early Lutherans understood that as sinners Christians are constantly in need of what the Lord wants to give us in the Lord’s supper.

It’s unfortunate that in the years following the Reformation that this church practice of offering the Sacrament of the Altar in every service faded away and was forgotten. Pietism and other spiritual movements within Christianity lessened the importance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the Lutheran Church. When these lower views of the Sacrament became dominant, it lessened the frequency of a Christian’s desire to receive the Sacrament. People even became afraid of the Sacrament which God had intended only to bring abundant comfort and reassurance to believers. At this, the Lutheran Church’s lowest theological point, the Sacrament was only celebrated four times a year so that members did not run what they considered the great risk of receiving it unworthily. This happened as strict spiritual preparation for the Lord’s Supper became more important than the Gospel intent of the Lord’s Supper. Over time our Biblical understanding of the Lord’s Supper as Gospel, and the frequency of its use have made a comeback in Lutheran congregations.

Most of the arguments against the practice of every Sunday, every service Communion are really not biblical objections at all, but rather utilitarian concerns such as: “Won’t it take too long?” Others will worry that it will take away from the specialness of the Lord’s Supper. However, we preach the Gospel every Sunday without any similar concern or objection. Others will fear that it will turn into a form of legalism by making members feel that they must come forward to the altar every time the Lord’s Supper is offered. However, we want it to be abundantly clear that our congregation is only making the Sacrament available to those who may desire it on a given Sunday, without making any judgments about those who will continue to prefer taking it less often. Finally, there are some logistic concerns that we need to work out. We are concerned that the service not run too long. We are also concerned with how to continue to fit in the children’s message. We ask for your love, your prayers, and your patience as we work through these details to get them right.

I am thankful to serve a congregation in our more secular times which still recognizes the biblical importance of the Lord’s Supper and treasures its Gospel reassurance. I hope you are thankful to belong to such a church.

God’s Steward of the Mysteries of God,
Pastor Mark Elliott
St John Lutheran Church
Champaign, IL

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He’s responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.


Comments

The Blessings of Weekly Communion — 29 Comments

  1. Concerning the logistics, I’m curious how this worked out with the Altar Guild in Pastor Elliot’s congregation. Maybe his congregation is a lot bigger than ours so there’s no shortage of Altar Guild members? Currently our congregation has trouble finding enough bodies to set up for communion and clean up afterwards twice monthly. We’d need at least to double our current Altar Guild membership (there are currently only three of us plus the flower arranger) to have every-Sunday communion. Our pastor wants it, but I’ve pointed out that he needs to get the Altar Guild behind him early on because every-Sunday communion would more than double our work load. I know I couldn’t do it every Sunday for four months a year, because I have out-of-town family commitments at least once a month.

    To me, being on Altar Guild is a privilege and a labor of love, but it’s a considerable time investment (luckily, I’m retired) as well as a commitment to getting to all the communion services in the months we’re on duty. Because of the time investment, most don’t feel they can handle it, especially the majority of women in our congregation who are employed full-time or have young children at home or both (which means they have two or three full-time jobs–been there, done that!). We have only a few women who are retired but still have their health, and a couple of us are getting perilously close to the upper end of that age group!

  2. @cattail #2

    Cattail: I’m an elder at the congregation. We have an average of 550 at all three services (2 on Sunday, one on Wednesday). The elders at our church are responsible for setting up and cleaning up communion; the altar guild takes care of washing the linens. Therefore there isn’t much extra for the altar guild to do with this change. Typically the first-service elders set up prior to the service, then after the service they set up for second service as well.

  3. I am a member of St. John Lutheran, in Champaign, Illinois, and feel truly blessed to have Pastors and Elders who felt persuaded to restore the practice of providing Holy Communion at all services.

    I am personally very grateful for this more frequent opportunity to go to The Lord’s Table, and while reflecting on the precious cost of this Holy Meal, receive the Holy Sacrament in faith for the salvation of my soul.

  4. Norm, Thanks for this post. Going to a church which offers weekly communion has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

  5. I’m an elder at my congregation and I think this is a great idea. Norm – how does St. John “do” Communion? Wafer and shot glass, common cup, intinction? I think I could get buy off on the reasons, but the objections would be logistics. Or, rather the excuses would be.

  6. @SKPeterson #8

    SK: We do wafer, shot glass, and chalice. I’d love to work towards lessening the shot glass, but you work on one thing at a time. There were a lot of objections initially, but with the elders taking the bulk of the extra work there weren’t any real reasons that stood up. I think it’s that change thing .. or lack of wanting to change. The longest lasting objection was the extra time, and how that would impact sunday school (and presumably getting home to watch the game after late service). After 8+ months people have gotten used to it.

  7. I have been pursuing every service Communion at my congregation. The reasons (excuses?) have ranged from ‘difficulty in finding enough Altar Guild members’ to ‘it would make Communion too commonplace.’ I was flabbergasted by that last one. How could receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior ever be commonplace?

    I like the idea of joint responsibility between Altar Guild and the Elders.

  8. A Lutheran congregation that moves to offering the Lord’s Supper (while forcing no one to receive it every time) will be very blessed and strengthened.

    QUOTATIONS FROM OUR LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS (THE BOOK OF CONCORD) ON THE AVAILABILITY OF THE LORD’S SUPPER IN THE DIVINE SERVICE OF LUTHERANS
    1] Falsely are our [Lutheran] churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Cor. 14, 2. 9, but it has also been so ordained by man’s law. 5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us. […] 34] Now, forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold one communion every holy-day, and, if any desire the Sacrament, also on other days, when it is given to such as ask for it. 35} And this custom is not new in the Church;

    + The Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV,1-9, 34-35 +
    At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.
    + Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV,1 +

    *The Roman Catholic standard was and is every day celebration of Mass, which Lutherans reduced down to every Sunday.

    HAS THE LUTHERAN CHURCH-MISSOURI SYNOD SAID ANYTHING ON THE SUBJECT? YES, THE 1995 CONVENTION OF THE LCMS PASSED THE FOLLOWING RESOLUTION:
    To Encourage Every Sunday Communion RESOLUTION 2-08A
    Overture 2-51 (CW, pp.149-150)
    Whereas, the opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day was a reality cherished by Luther and set forth clearly with high esteem by our Lutheran Confessions (Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession and of the Apology); and
    Whereas, our synod’s 1983 CTCR document on the Lord’s Supper (p.28) and our Synod’s 1986 [1991] translation of Luther’s Catechism both remind us that the Scriptures place the Lord’s Supper at the center of worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20,23), and not as an appendage or an occasional extra; therefore be it
    RESOLVED, That The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in convention encourage its pastors and congregations to study the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to every Sunday communion with a view toward recovering the opportunity for receiving the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day. Action: Adopted.

  9. One benefit of not having weekly communion is that the sermon is longer on days without it.

    The post states a similar objection as utilitarian, but this is a quite a bit more than that. The service has a set limit of time that people are used to sitting through. It seems most congregations are primarily interested in getting out “on time.” So, if there is a baptism, confirmation, or any other special event, and since a proper liturgical church never cuts out a portion of the liturgy – the sermon gets hacked to make up time. This happens even more so when communion becomes part of the weekly liturgy.

    Since the Word is the primary means of grace, and most people get their largest helping of both law and gospel during the sermon – cutting the sermon to allow for other events can neglect people’s needs. Communion is gospel. People need law too. Holding communion every service definitely feeds people more gospel, but this doesn’t help them if they need the law.

    I’m all for it so long as the end of service is what gets extended as necessary without mincing up the sermon or replacing exposition of God’s law. Typically in my experience this doesn’t happen. What is our main thing? What is it that we don’t want anyone leaving without? The gospel – but the gospel has no effect on people who have first not been broken by the law. Yet the law is the first thing we want to cut.

  10. My congregation, St. Matthew-Bonne Terre, went to every-Sunday Communion a couple of years ago. I had “planted the seeds” for a few years, and then I led an in-depth Bible class series on the subject. “The Blessings of Weekly Communion” was one of the resources that I used. Then we “field-tested” doing every-Sunday Communion for a couple of months, from about Palm Sunday through Trinity Sunday. Meanwhile, I also visited all of the members to talk with them about this and get their feedback. By the time we got to end of our “test-run,” everyone was on board, no objections, and it didn’t even need to come up for a vote. We just kept it going, and the move has been well-received.

    Similar story a couple of years earlier on our move from TLH to LSB. Be patient, be positive, teach, go gradually, build consensus–same approach.

  11. @Norm Fisher #9,

    It is surprising there are Lutheran churches using “shot glasses” for the Lord’s Supper. There are a number of churches who use individual communion cups, but in those cases… oh, wait.

    “Shot glass” is just a pejorative label for something that is an adiaphoron, isn’t it?

    As noted in the LCMS document:

    “17. Does it matter whether a congregation uses individual glasses or the common cup to distribute the consecrated wine?

    In the absence of a specific Scriptural mandate, either method of distribution, when performed in a reverent manner, is acceptable. Many Christians prefer the use of the common cup because of its symbolism as representative of the oneness of the body of Christ–the church–and because there is reason to believe that Christ used this method of distribution. Any decision in this area is to be marked by Christian liberty and charity.”

  12. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #11
    Should you consider stopping eating a few days a week? Having daily meals make them so commonplace.

    Yesterday (surfing UT or medical sites, don’t ask where) I read a study which said that rats forced to fast one day a week lived longer than those which had free choice on food. FWIW 🙂

  13. @Carl Vehse #16
    Any decision in this area is to be marked by Christian liberty and charity.”

    As is common these days, “charity” is required of those who prefer the traditional to those who stretch the bounds of “Christian liberty” in importing reformed practices into the Lutheran church.
    Little “cups” with their attendant nuisance in the sacristy (and often inappropriate disposal of the reliquae) have unfortunately been around for a generation, so that even the resident Perry Co. historian will defend them. 🙁

  14. Actually, if you look at the majority of peoples profiles these days, most people could afford to skip a meal. But we are comparing apples and oranges.

    I’m not a big advocate of everyone Sunday communion for a variety of reasons, and much of it has to do with people looking too much at their watches once the “sacred” one hour time limit has past. Since this is the case, non-communion services allow for the pastor to preach longer sermons, add in other necessary events like baptisms or installations. Besides that, my present congregation has had communion twice a month as long as they can remember, and there are many life long members of my congregation. What would I tell them, they’ve been wrong on this issue their whole life?? Obviously I can’t as there is no clear instruction on this issue from scripture. Complete Adiaphora.

    I’ll add one other point. While the sacrament was offered every Sunday, I’ve never seen anthing that indicated that all in attendance received it every Sunday. In fact, it may be that they received it only after a visit to the pastor for individual confession and absolution. That may explain why my home church, when I was little, had the practice that only those who were actually receiving the sacrament stayed for the whole service, and they sat in the front of the nave. Those not receiving the sacrament were excused when the communion service started.

  15. “THE SACRED ONE HOUR” is adiaphora!
    We run more whenever the situation warrants or the Pastor has a longer sermon. We don’t cancel communion over it. If anyone has walked out of church at 60 minutes, I haven’t seen it.

  16. Look, I didn’t intend to go into details here, but I get a little steamed at confessional Pastors who think “1st & 3rd” are “good enough.” [Or less]
    Maybe it worked, when 90% of your congregation could get to church every Sunday and you’d be seeing the other 10% because they were ill. I can remember when it was just about like that… 60 years ago in the country. Maybe it still is, somewhere.

    It’s not like that anywhere that you have police, fire, EMS, or hospital workers in your membership. It’s not like that because your members expect to walk into the grocery store on a Sunday morning and with their extra gallon of milk, pick up the prescription that the Doctor wrote … last week or last month.

    IF everyone did those chores on Saturday, a lot more people would at least have the option of going to church on Sunday, every Sunday. You might be lackadaisical about the importance of regularly serving the Lord’s Supper.

    But half the jobs I mentioned still have to be covered 24/7. And, why we ever thought the Supper less important than the sermon, I don’t understand. Having become accustomed to it every Sunday, every service, I don’t think it’s a good idea to do less for anyone.

  17. Why wouldn’t you want to receive communion every Sunday and every service. I think it’s just lazy if you don’t offer it. Maybe you should skip confession and absolution too since it takes so long. if you have time for announcements and children’s time but not communion…something’s wrong. – just my opinion.

  18. Nathan, why do you say this? Is communion a work, that MUST be done on schedule(determined by you)? Sounds a bit like that pesky law, to me. If you don’t do it weekly, you are a lazy Christian. Condemnation!

    Now, when we were visitors to the church we finally joined, we gravitated toward the non-communion services. We knew in advance that the LCMS had closed communion. As visitors it was mighty nice to have a service available where we weren’t the only ones remaining in the pews during communion. Just my 2 cents.

    My church offers communion weekly, but at differing services. I think that works very well.

  19. @Elizabeth #23

    Elizabeth, communion is not a “work” for the people; it is God’s work for us.
    Weekly communion is BOC Lutheran, and the fact that we got away from it in the days of multiple preaching points is no excuse for not doing it now, when even three churches are shepherded every Sunday by an ordained Pastor.

    [I’ve had “weekly at alternate services”; it works for those with flexible schedules. Folks with small children, not so much.]

    The point is not to “make you go”! The point is to make communion available every Sunday for those who want to go! I get a little warm on this subject because I know people who work alternate Sundays. When their turn falls on the “holy” “1st & 3rd” they are deprived of opportunity for communion for three months. [If a 5th Sunday falls wrong, it can be six months.]
    Is that reasonable?

    Don’t smugly say “Get a different job.” unless you can guarantee you/your neighbor will never need a policeman, a fireman, an EMS truck, a hospital, a pharmacist or your friendly neighborhood grocer on Sunday morning, (to name just a few). The grocery/pharmacy is the only one of those who could stay closed on Sunday, if you/your neighbors would just do your shopping and get your prescriptions filled during the week!

    Before we get “missional” shouldn’t we take care of our own?

  20. My old church in Does Moines WASHINGTON had Holy Communion every Sunday. I currently live in Green Bay WI and we don’t and I miss it! I kept hearing about time constraint but I’m not buying this! When we come to worship we shouldn’t be looking at our watches! God offers us so much in Holy Communion time shouldn’t come into consideration!

  21. Way to GO, Mark and Norm!!!

    When I had the distinct blessing to serve St. John, I was thankful enough for every Sunday – but both services now – aces! Just ACES, guys!

    To those countering with the “Divine Watch” argument – you have already surrendered to their argument if that is the reason you don’t have the Eucharist every Sunday. Nor does the argument that not seeing observable results. If anything – that that is a cause resulting from less, not more. But – that is beyond our pay grades as Pastors. None of us Weird Collar Wearers are supposed to be divining the heart of others in such a way. That is specifically the Work of the Holy Spirit, and He is not inclined to share minute-by-minute development of our flocks’ souls

    How in the Blessed Name of Jesus is MORE Jesus bad, and LESS somehow preferable? That simply boggles the mind!

    As someone else said “Good-bye Page 5.” Main Sunday Divine Worship without the Eucharist is necessarily truncated. And if the “length of sermon” is the issue, I would then ask this question of Pastors:

    Are you then offering “less,” or – less quality from the pulpit to your flock on “Communion Sunday?” Question flows right from your own words. And if you say “No, there is no difference in quality between “Communion Sundays and the “Non” – then my suggestion is that you need to study your own sermonic technique anyway, then. If you are still preaching quality Law and Gospel in your “shorter sermons, looks like you need to reconsider your “longer” sermons, not to mention having some discussions with the Watch Watchers about their worship attitude, not “play in their favor!”

    Again – Norm, Fr. Mark – good job! Excellent!

    (P.S. Helen – very good points!)

  22. @helen #20
    I haven’t seen it at my church either, Helen, and the second service on Sunday lasted for an hour and a half as there were a lot of people in attancance. No one left early and I have never heard anyone complain. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, yet I am. Also, I have never seen anyone sit out and not take communion.

  23. I am a big fan of having communion every Sunday. If there is enough time to pass around the offering plate, there is time to perform confession and absolution and distribute the sacrament. I just feel there is too much we miss out on when communion is not provided. If we err, we should err on the side of grace, and the sacrements are means of grace.

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