Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Lord's Lunch

Taking a break from a national church committee meeting, we were in the restaurant of a hotel near O’Hare Airport. As we took our places, the waitperson arrived to pass out menus and take our beverage orders. It was only a few minutes later that the drinks arrived, and then the meal was served. One person received an extra he had requested: a dinner roll.

He stood at his place with the bread in his hands, raised his eyes upwards and said, “Praise to You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, You bring forth food for all to eat.”* Whereupon he broke the bread, took a piece for himself to eat, and passed the rest around the table. It was a simple blessing, but it had a powerful impact on us.

The committee was the General Assembly’s Special Committee to Study the Nature, Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper (1974-1978). As you would imagine, we spent hour upon hour discussing the Lord’s Supper inside and out. We talked about theological constructs, philosophical background, historical practices, and a whole host of metaphors and images—all in an effort to more fully appreciate the mystery of the Sacrament.

From time to time, when we wanted to find handy ways of describing the Eucharist, we tried making comparisons. Maybe we could better comprehend the Lord’s Supper if we could point to some other meal that it was like. For example, the Lord’s Supper is like a wedding banquet. Or maybe like a celebration of one’s life at a birthday party. Or let’s say it’s like a memorial dinner. And so forth.

Each comparison has something to offer, flagging one or two insights, but none is adequate in itself, and all fail utterly in one or another regard.

What I began to realize, as did others, was that maybe we had the wrong end frontwards in our efforts to understand the full significance of the Lord’s Supper. It was not only that the Lord’s Supper was like other specific celebrative meals, but that all meals, every meal every day should be thought of as being like the Lord’s Supper.

What we celebrated in that Chicago restaurant so long ago was the “Lord’s Lunch”, a clear reflection of the Lord’s Supper. As one member of the group pointed out, we were “eating and drinking with Jesus” at that lunch much as we do at the Table in church on Sunday.

Yet it is because we gather at the Lord’s Table on Sunday that we know to “eat and drink with Jesus” at every other meal. As our eyes are open and we recognize Christ at the Table in church, so we are more aware of his presence with us at all times.

Several results follow from this insight. For one thing we are more conscious of the relationships we have around meals: with family, friends, business associates, or even strangers. The relationships cease to be incidental and casual, because Christ is recognized to be present. Now, the simple act of breaking bread and sharing it signals the sharing of Christ.

We also become more pointedly aware of the importance of food in life, and the tragedy of its lack in so many places. When Christ is present at our meals, we are nourished and encouraged to find ways to share what God provides with others. Hunger then becomes a moral issue, and the Lord’s Supper and all meals strengthen us to respond in generosity and faith.

Saying a prayer at the beginning of a common meal is nothing new. But connecting it directly to the Lord’s Supper may be a fresh thought for many. Adding a simple gesture of breaking and sharing a piece of bread strengthens the connection.

The relationship of the Lord’s Supper to our daily meals is weakened greatly, however, by spasmodic and irregular celebration of the Sacrament. To share the Holy Meal only occasionally is to discount its importance, and deny its centrality in Christian life and faith.

Do you say a prayer before every meal? Including those eaten in public? Do you ever use a gesture such as sharing broken bread around the table? How often do you celebrate the Lord’s Supper in your church?

*Based on Jewish and early Christian prayers. See The Book of Common Worship (1993), p. 595.


  1. Love the gesture of literally breaking bread together. Will have to remember that. We do say a prayer before meals in our home, and occasionally out of the house. I have a book of prayers collected by a church we used to go to that has a grace a day. We started using it when the kids were little and grace before dinner was getting too rote. Now as teenagers they take turns reading (as they have since they could read) and enjoy choosing a prayer that is meaningful for the day. I like to think it makes us all a little more mindful for that moment.

  2. As a Roman Catholic who's spiritual practice revolves around Eucharist, I am ever so grateful for your insights and the gift of reminding me to bring the Lord's Supper into my everyday life. Thank you.


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