Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion?

WHAT PRESBYTERIANS BELIEVE

Understanding what happens at the Table

by Tom Trinidad | Presbyterians Today
People at a table with Bibles, bread and wine

Getty Images

Presbyterians have had diverse theologies of the Lord’s Supper — or Holy Communion. Just having to use that “or” is evidence of our diversity. What’s the difference between the two? In short, “Lord’s Supper” emphasizes God’s action, while “Holy Communion” acknowledges ours.

Our diversity surrounding the Table has the potential to divide or unite the community of faith. This isn’t new. Paul witnessed it in the Corinthian churches. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warns the church not to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (or “eucharist,” as he might have called it, see verse 30) too lightly. Whatever diversity might exist, Paul reminds the church of God’s powerful presence. He draws on his Jewish tradition, grounding the experience of the Lord’s Supper on the wilderness journey of the Israelites being delivered from Egypt to the Land of Promise.

What does this passage say to us today when we break the bread and share the cup? First, we recognize that the sacrament is God’s nourishment for us on the path of salvation. With baptism as the starting line for us, rather than the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites, we are walking to our “land of promise” and ultimate deliverance, following our new Moses — Jesus Christ. At the Table, we receive spiritual food to sustain our spiritual journey.

Second, we remember with Paul that God is not only present in providence but also in power. God does not simply dot the way with cairns of bread. God walks with us, converses with us, calling us to greater faithfulness, just as Jesus walked the road to Emmaus — teaching, feeding and ultimately revealing his resurrected presence.

Third, the sacrament serves as a witness to the world around us. When people of all abilities, races, sexual/gender identities and socio-economic means gather at Christ’s Table, we experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, and the watching world catches a vision of it. It’s not a perfect or easy communion to effect. Paul spends time here and in other chapters sorting through various challenges of being radically inclusive. Still, Jesus brought us to this Table for this purpose.

The 2020 pandemic created a lot of questions about Communion, including whether Communion is possible online. From the human side, Paul obviously assumes a corporate (bodily) assembly. From the Spirit’s side, Paul understands that God’s grace in Christ can be made available at any time and in any place. The diversity in theology and practice among our churches is bound to continue. However the breaking of the bread and sharing the cup manifests itself today, let us heed Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Tom Trinidad is a teaching elder in the PC(USA). His study interests include sacramental theology, social justice and neuropsychology.

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