On Lord's Supper Preaching, Sitting at Tables for the Lord's Supper, and Trinitarian Prayer Endings

Q. My pastor is reluctant to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently because he doesn’t want to preach more sermons about the Lord’s Supper. Is this practice necessary?
—Michigan

A. The impulse to preach on the Lord’s Supper comes from the Reformation concern that people participate in the Lord’s Supper with understanding.

But not every sermon at Lord’s Supper services needs to be explicitly and primarily about the Lord’s Supper—especially when the Lord’s Supper is also discussed in church education classes. Rather, sermons simply need to proclaim the same gospel the Lord’s Supper does. The sacrament seals the Word proclaimed. This means that if a sermon can’t be preached before the Lord’s Supper, it probably shouldn’t be preached!

The Lord’s Supper is a diamond with many facets. It is a feast of thanksgiving, memory, and hope. It is a celebration of covenant renewal, forgiveness, unity, and solidarity. It addresses sin, points to salvation, and grounds us for service. Seen in this way, every gospel sermon could end with brief section that begins, “As we will celebrate in this supper. . . .” This strategy may not only make more frequent celebrations of the Lord’ Supper possible, but also open up new dimensions of its meaning for your congregation.

Q. Is it true that some Reformed churches have celebrated the Lord’s Supper seated at tables?
—Indiana

A. Yes. This practice was especially common in the history of Dutch churches and in some early American “sacramental seasons” (the predecessor of nineteenth-century revival meetings). In Dutch congregations, this practice led to the construction of long communion tables which would seat over twenty-five people on each side. In larger congregations, this method of reception would take quite a bit of time, as several groups came forward.

This practice focuses on the Lord’s Supper as a meal to be celebrated rather than a sacrifice to be offered, and stresses the connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Old Testament Passover meal. In many congregations, some version of this practice could be an especially appropriate way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday.

Q. I notice that books of liturgical prayers use trinitarian endings to prayers much more often than I’ve ever heard them in worship. What is the point?
—New York

A. All of us live with an implicit understanding of how we relate to God in worship and prayer. One student recently quipped that she grew up thinking that worship was offered “to God through the minister and in the power of the music.” That’s not far from the theological vision many churches convey.

Other congregations implicitly convey the idea that we worship “in the power of the Spirit” but that Jesus is merely one of many mediators who helps worship “get through” to God. Still others convey the idea that we worship God “through Jesus” all right, but unwittingly suggest that we do so “in the power of our own spiritual disciplines.” And still others stress God’s immanence and human potential, conveying that the very idea of a mediator is off-putting and humiliating.

The point of prayer “through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit” is that we align ourselves with the One who suffered for us on the cross and rose again to conquer evil, and that we trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to make our prayer effective. It is a theology of grace, not works—all conveyed in the short phrase that ends a prayer.

So consider ending your prayers with the words “through Jesus Christ, in power of the Holy Spirit, we pray” or “in the strong name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.”

Of course, no prayer ending by itself can straighten out our theology of worship. But when offered with thoughtful, joyful intentionality, it can be a wonderful marker of our commitment to a New Testament theology of prayer and worship.

 

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Any questions?

We hope you find Q&A stimulating. We also hope that you’ll join in the dialogue. Send your questions about worship to Reformed Worship Q&A by mail (2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE Grand Rapids, MI 49560), fax (616-224-0803), or e-mail (info@reformedworship.org). You can also e-mail John directly (cicwdir@calvin.edu).

John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.