Monday, June 13, 2011


It was the Third Sunday of Easter that I was scheduled to be the “guest preacher” filling in for a vacationing friend. I knew well that the Gospel for that day would be about the experience of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, and I looked forward to developing yet another sermon on that wondrous story.

All of a sudden I had the chilling recollection that at the church where I’d be preaching this Emmaus-based sermon Communion was celebrated only on the first Sunday of every month—and this would be the second Sunday—so no Eucharist that day. Uh-oh! That’s going to be a problem.

How could I preach a sermon about an event that was so obviously related to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper without celebrating it? Some scholars even suggest that the language of the biblical text has some liturgical flavor to it, and may have reflected early Christian practice of the sacrament. So how could there be a sermon about the Emmaus event without communion?

To put it another way, When the Gospel is about Christ being recognized in the breaking of bread, how could we not have Communion?

I fussed about it for a while, and then picked up the phone to call the pastor for whom I was substituting that day. He and I have long agreed about weekly communion, and have been equally frustrated in not convincing elders, so he was more than amenable to my suggestion. “Put your request and the reasons in an email to me,” he suggested, “and I’ll send it to my Worship Committee chair. They’ll take care of it.” I did, he did, and they did. Communion was served on the Third Sunday in Easter, and the connection was made between the Gospel story and the sacrament.

It caused me to think back on the times I’ve preached on “Communion Sundays” and the text was not so obviously related to the sacrament. Even so, there always was a connection, and I’d point to it somewhere in the course of the sermon. The proclamation of the Gospel is not simply in the reading and exposition of Scripture, but also takes place in the rituals of the Lord’s Supper (and Baptism, too, but that’s another discussion). Word and Sacrament are simply two different ways of presenting, proclaiming, announcing and declaring the presence of the risen Lord in our midst, one in words, the other in actions.

The connection was easy to see on those Sundays designated for celebrating the Lord’s Supper, but the truth be known, it is also there on every Lord’s Day, no matter what the text or topic. The reason is that the Gospel proclamation is always that Christ Crucified is Christ Risen, and we are invited to meet him at the Table he has set for us.

When I was fussing in my own thoughts about what to do if the folks at the church where I would guest-preach refused to have Communion, I conspired with myself to shape the sermon to show how empty worship is without it. I’d make is clear that, at least on this occasion, not coming to the Table was a huge mistake.

Perhaps that’s what we should be doing every Sunday—making the connection between Word and Sacrament, even when there is nothing there to connect with. Maybe then the people in the pews would wake up to the fact that something critical is missing, that we are shutting down the worship service before we’ve finished worshipping.

Certainly when the Eucharist is scheduled, the preacher ought to use at least a paragraph’s worth of words to link up biblical text with sacramental experience, what is said with what is done.

How often does your church celebrate Communion? Is the sacrament referenced in the sermon? Is the Lord’s Supper ever interpreted in the course of a sermon?

1 comment:

  1. Don, I had that same experience this year- preaching on a text so obviously Eucharistic and yet staring down an empty communion table. In our congregation, we celebrate the Lord's Supper on first and third Sundays as well as all of Advent and Lent. I was reluctant to ask the Session for yet another Sunday, though in retrospect, I wish I had. I appreciate that our session is ahead of the curve regarding frequency of celebrating the Eucharist, but I, too, long for every Sunday. Calvin thought it appropriate to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day, but they did chase him out of Geneva! Sometimes I use words to make the connection between Word and Sacrament- or sometimes the hymn does that.
    I'm not sure just yet how to get from here- frequent celebration of the Eucharist- to there- weekly celebration.


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