Book: What Happens in Holy Communion?

Michael Welker. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000. 192 pp. $18.00. To order, call 1-800-253-7521 or e-mail sales@eerdmans.com.

Welker is professor of systematic theology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. This book arose from pondering not only perplexing theological questions about the Lord’s Supper but also practical ones drawn from the author’s own participation in the sacrament. Why were some celebrations of the Supper so oppressive while others left him comforted, strengthened, and filled with hope? What does it mean to speak of the Supper “rightly understood and rightly celebrated?”

Drawing on biblical texts and documents of the twentieth-century ecumenical conversations on the Lord’s Supper, each of the book’s twelve chapters is a partial answer to the question What happens in Holy Communion? Welker discusses such concerns as What do we mean by the presence of Christ in the sacrament? What does it mean to proclaim the Lord’s death? What is the relation of the Lord’s Supper to the Jewish Passover? How are we in communion with Christ and with each other? What does it mean to partake of the Supper in a “worthy” manner? What is the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s Supper? Welker also shows that the answers to these questions have implications for such practical concerns as Who presides? Who participates? How often should the church celebrate the sacrament? How should the bread and wine be served? Is it permissible to celebrate with elements other than bread and wine? Each chapter ends with a brief concluding summary of the preceding discussion.

The book offers an overview of the current ecumenical convergence and remaining differences in our understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper. Pastors will find this a resource for preaching and teaching about the sacrament. Even readers who take issue with some of Welker’s conclusions will find his book a welcome stimulus and helpful tool for thinking about how the shape of our celebrations of the sacrament might better reflect and express our theology.

John D. Paarlberg is Minister for Social Witness and Worship for the Reformed Church in America.