Lecture 07: Pastoral Care and the Lord's Supper
We are talking again in this course about pastoral care and pastoral leadership. Right now we are on the subject of care.
I. Pastoral Care Begins With Your Own Soul
We started at the beginning by saying that pastoral care, which is so essential, it is part of our identity, it is who we are as shepherds. It begins with our own soul.
A. Thomas Oden
I was reading Thomas Oden, who has done some really great work in thinking about pastoral theology. He has a chapter here on “the obligation” as he puts it, to care for one’s self, where we started. This is what he writes, he says: “Suppose one came upon a description of a vocational profile in which the hours were long, the pay was minimal, the risks were high, accomplishments largely unnoticed, and the level of conflict at times intense. Would it not seem reasonable to avoid it at all costs?” He raises a fair question. In this particular volume he quotes from the church fathers throughout. He goes back to Luther, who said, “The household sweat is great. The political sweat is greater. But the church sweat is the greatest.”
“Making a list of all of the difficulties,” ?_____(1:38.4) said, “involved is like trying to measure the ocean.” “We can engage in no sublime and greater work on earth than educating people by preaching and teaching, but no work is more difficult” says Luther, “than making other people good.” Maybe that is true.
Because we look throughout history and we see again, a number of people who did this pastoral task for a season, but then it became so weary, so difficult.
B. Barbara Brown Taylor
I think of one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor. She has written this book, perhaps you have read it, called “Leading the Church.” It is her memoir of faith. She uses different expressions. She was pastoring in Atlanta, more in the urban part. It just wore her out. As she puts it here, “I more often than not simply felt abandoned in my task, felt my mind was beginning to coast like a car out of gas.” She has a lot of vivid descriptions throughout her book, but making the point here that ministry is hard. She talks in particular about her tiredness as she puts it, that was so deep “it seeps into my bones. No matter how many new day planners I bought, none of them told me when I had done enough.” That is part of the challenge of the pastoral task, is that we never know when it is enough because in reality, it never is enough. We always feel when we leave to go home that there Is more always to be done.
The point I want to make here at the beginning of this lecture is to remind ourselves that it is vital that if we are going to this work of pastoral care, pastoral leadership, that we really pay a lot of attention to ourselves. Pay attention to our walk with the Lord where we are filled hopefully with the Spirit in fresh and vital ways, so that we can do this thing called ministry.
II. Pastoral Care and Ordinances/Sacraments
A. The nature of the term raises questions
What I want to talk about in this particular session is pastoral care when it comes to the ordinances or the sacraments. We tend to use the words in an interchangeable way. Some prefer ordinances, though ordinance does not seem to be a word at least in today’s culture that would communicate much of anything. Church history is more comfortable with a word like “sacrament” though sometimes in some circles there is a bit of a pushback from sacraments, it sounds a little bit too Catholic.
The very nature of the term “sacrament” really is I think a fair word in that it goes back to a Latin, sacrare that has the idea of setting something apart. It also has something of mystery to it. In fact, the Latin terminology goes all of the way back to the Greek term, mysterion. There is something about mystery, and maybe there is when it comes to the sacraments. There is something going on, I believe anyway, and I believe scripture affirms this. There is something going on beyond what we see in public, what we see on the surface. There is something sacramental, if you will, something in the act itself that says there is something sacred, something divine and something mysterious.
We are going to look first of all at The Lord’s Supper. Then we are going to look at baptism.
B. The Lord’s Supper
When we look at The Lord’s Supper we see it as a key part – maybe I should say a critical part – of the pastoral practice. It is not something we decide whether we want to do, or not, or delegate to someone else. It is an essential part of what we do.
There are a number of passages that affirm this. If we look in scripture we see right away in the early church, that the Lord’s Supper was an essential part of what the church did. One looks at Acts chapter 2 and verse 41 and we read here that when they gathered together, it says that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship and to the breaking of bread.” It is what they did. Acts chapter 20, verse 7, also gives us a statement about the practice of the early church. “On the first day of the week we came together” it says “to break bread.” We came together to break bread. This is part of what they did. We see this as Paul writes his letters, particularly the letter to the Corinthians in chapter 10, where he addresses their particular act of The Lord’s Supper. He says, “My dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people, judge for yourself. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks, a participation in the blood of Christ?” So he speaks to that in chapter 1
0. He then addresses as we know here in chapter 11, some of the issues that they did not get right, which we will come back to in a little bit.
So the Lord’s Supper is a core pastoral care act because it is there in scripture, Jesus instituted it, he handed it down to the church. It is the Eucharist, it is holy communion, it is The Lord’s Supper. We use different phrases to describe it. It is, again, one of the more central acts of pastoral care. What I want to underscore here, it is not a preliminary to the real thing. It is not an addendum that should be just added to a particular service.
Because this particular class is about methodology, about how we actually conduct a service, I want to get there, but I want to build a little bit of theology here. Let’s make sure we understand that it comes in the context, going all the way back to the Old Testament, of a meal. In ancient Near Eastern culture, meals were really critical. They were symbols of fellowship, of hospitality, of gathering. So the place of a meal was really important. If the Lord is going to leave the church with a way of remembering what he has done, he puts it in the context of the meal.
We also know that we can trace, because scripture does, that the Lord’s Supper goes back to The Passover. It is our Passover meal today. It is like the Passover that reminded people of the Lord’s breaking and bringing redemption. It is the same thing for us in the New Testament.
It is something of a new covenant, Jeremiah 31:31-34. It announces that we are under a new agreement. There is something that has been sealed by blood, it has been sealed by His blood. It underscores that God has done something legal, something he has signed with his blood. When we do this, when we perform this act of The Lord’s Supper, it is really important that we are mindful of the history. It didn’t just begin somewhere in the early church, but its roots go back to the Old Testament.
It goes back to Gospel passages. The table preaches the Gospel. It declares that Christ has died. It reminds us, as Paul does in Romans 6, that we died with Him. That is a fundamental act of our faith, that when we remember His death, it is a moment we remember our death in our union with Christ. When He went to the cross, we went to the cross. While it is hard for us to get our arms around this truth, there is something in our union that says that in his death we died, we died to our old man, to our old self, as Paul puts it in Romans 6.
When we partake of the bread and the cup, we are remembering His death, but we are remembering ours and we are remembering bread and wine that Jesus refers to. It all goes back to a certain intimacy we have with him because in the act, we are eating Him, we are participating with Him. He is this Living Bread.
Jesus astounded the people in John chapter 6 when this large crowd came and they were looking for a meal. He had fed them and they were looking for the next meal and Jesus turned and said something profound. You remember, He said, “If you want me to feed you, I am The Bread.” Of course they shook their heads. By the time the sermon was over, they had reduced from 5,000 and their families to 12 people because they could not comprehend what He was saying. But maybe they could. Maybe they could hear in what He was saying that there is something of intimacy He wants. He wants them to partake of Him in this very intimate act. They just wanted what he provided, but they didn’t want Him. I am saying this again to say that in the pastoral act of communion, we are inviting people to a table where they are not just taking these elements, they are taking Him and they are partaking of Him. This is how Jesus refers to it.
So in early church practice we see that it was so central to their faith that it was not an option. When I look at Acts 2:42 and I look at Acts 20, verse 7, it suggests to me that whenever we meet and gather together, we should seriously think about making sure communion is a part of it. I’m sure one can trace back in church history where the act of the first Sunday of the month or periodically began. We do know when we go back to Zwingli and others that there was a tendency to put it off as not a regular occurrence. But you cannot build an argument for that when you look at scripture. It was again, an essential part of the corporate experience.
It is also important when we think about it theologically for a moment, that The Lord’s Supper is looking in directions. We sometimes focus on looking backwards, or just simply looking into the present. We don’t so often think about looking into the future. But when you look at the act itself, it is looking back to the past as we already underscored, it is looking back to the cross. It is looking all the way back to Israel as they crossed the Red Sea and The Passover. It is looking back. It is looking to this saving point. So when we partake of communion we should think about our redemption and what He did.
We also know when we look at scripture that we should be looking into the present. We should be looking, that is, into our heart, and to our present responsibility, to do this well. We look at this and we think about where we are with God. We think about reconciliation.
But communion is also an act in which we are looking out into the future. We are looking at the time that there will be a supper in heaven. It will be much better, I am sure, than the supper we have with a little wafer and a little cup. It looks forward to the day there will be this consummation. There will be this end-time banquet. So communion is a time to enter into – if I could put it this way – a kind of an eschatological consciousness. Only to say, when we think theologically, it then informs us how we should conduct, how we should do this. It is really important when we do pastoral care and the act itself, that we are intentional to say to people, “You need to look backwards. You need to look present. And you need to look future.”
Just a little bit about The Lord’s Supper in history. Let’s focus on that part for a moment. The practice is not without its controversy. When we look back throughout church history, communion has had its controversy. It is because there have been different views.
There are some that argue that Christ is present in some unique way in which grace is conveyed. Catholics, for example, there is this long term, transubstantiation. “This is my body” is taken literally. It is understood as a kind of strict literalism. So the elements become the body and the blood of Christ, which disregards I believe a proper interpretation of scripture; that begins to make almost something magic here.
The Lutherans modified this a bit with what is called consubstantiation, who reacted to the irrationality of the Catholic position, yet argued that the substance of blood and body are present in and under the bread and the wine. In this case, the elements undergo no transformation, but Christ is somehow in them.
Because of these views in church history, there was this over-reaction, I think it might be fair to say. Some might say there was a proper reaction. I would tend to say there was an over-reaction with someone like Zwingli, who saw in the elements something purely symbolic, who reacted to this Catholic presence and this idea of “This is my body” rather to say, “These elements only represent the body of Christ.” So the Supper is simply a symbol. So we use language like “memorial, commemoration” of this act. They are a recognition really of Christ’s absence, not his presence. It has historically been the position of many Evangelicals.
Some would say, and I would agree, that Zwingli in his view over-reacted and reduced the elements to really simply empty symbols, simply to mental recollection, if you will. I suspect this is why historically and in that swing, that reaction, communion became not a central part of worship. It really became an addendum, not a weekly occurrence, whenever the saints gathered together, but maybe once a month. In some cases I think you can go back to church history to find that some churches in their over-reaction, celebrated communion annually, or maybe quarterly, which again underscored the fact that “It is something good to remember here and there, but it is not an essential part of worship.”
This historically is my own personal experience. I grew up as a kid where communion was always the first Sunday of the month. I was not too excited about church as a kid. It was a Baptist church and not the most brilliant pastor or someone I remember looking forward to hearing. So church was kind of a laborious experience for me. Communion just meant the service went 15 more minutes. It felt agonizing at times. It did not seem to connect to anything. It was simply an addition to something that didn’t happen the other three Sundays of the month. I think some of this again goes back to this over-reaction, goes back to Zwingli.
Therefore I have to ask this question. I would look at other traditions and find that communion, The Lord’s Supper, was a central part of worship. I would ask myself, “Why is it such a secondary part for me?” Again, it goes back to church history, to theology, to understandings of what it represents. I found somewhere a happy medium for me, and that is in the position that Calvin took, something different than Luther, which he called “suprasubstantiation” which is again, a more moderate position between Luther over here and Zwingli over here. In which he argues that there is something of the presence of Christ, not in the symbol. Catch what I’m going to say here, not in the symbols themselves, but in the very act of communion. God uses these symbols to come to us. They mediate his presence. Something of God’s future steps into the present. In this observance there is this mystical union.
I think it was J.I. Packer, when he wrote his book on the Holy Spirit, talked about the Spirit’s primary work is to mediate the presence of Christ. If that is true, then in the act of communion you could make the case that this is where the Holy Spirit in some of his greatest work in our lives, is actively doing something. He is mediating the presence of Christ in a way that is different than in other spiritual experiences we have.
As I recall, Calvin goes back to something Paul wrote to underscore his point, and it goes back to 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 16, in which Paul refers to communion in I think a very interesting way. He refers to the bread and the cup as a koinonia, as a fellowship. This is what he says, actually he is raising a question: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving, for which we give thanks, a participation, that is a koinonia, a fellowship in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the blood of Christ?” The question is, what in the world is he talking about, a participation? Maybe it goes back to this term, koinonia, something that speaks of something common, something that in this moment, in this act there is something we should experience, we should anticipate with Christ. There is a receiving of grace, if you will, not of the saving kind, as let’s say Catholics would view it, but of an empowering kind. Which fits with Dallas Willard’s point that the greatest saints are not th
ose who need the least grace, but those who consume the most grace. I really like that.
Let’s put this together. What are we saying? We are saying that when I come to the table, I should not just be remembering something past. I should not be looking for something magical in the elements themselves. But it seems like in this moment, in this act, I should be celebrating something very intimate and very deep. I should be maybe slowing down enough to just say, “God, in this act itself, there is this koinonia going on with this bread and with this cup and with You that suggests something very intimate should come out of this.” I am guessing as I describe it this way, most people may not identify, they may just look at it as a mere remembrance, as something just added on. I wonder how many of us partake of communion and almost miss the opportunity to have a profound spiritual experience because it seems to fit with 1 Corinthians 10:16 where again there is this description or this word, translated here as “participation.” Sort of like a tryst, if you will, a lover’s rendezvous where Christ meets u
s in the act, where we – I put it this way – are invited to chase his presence.
Maybe it underscores where Paul in 1Corinthians 11:27 makes this comment: “…shall be guilty of the body and blood” where he is admonishing people who are not using taking the table with seriousness. There is again something he is hinting at that is very serious in the act itself, which I think again goes back to Calvin. The point is, we sin against the presence. That is some theology that we need to start with.
Now that we maybe get a little bit more clarity, let’s talk about the practice itself. How do we do this pastoral care in the work of communion? I have really underscored this, but I am going to say it again. We first of all need to treat it with reverence and with holiness. It is a part of the worship service. It is a significant act of worship. It is an aspect of worship that is again, not optional, not interruptive, not an addendum. When we do it, we should make sure we have given it the dignity it deserves.
Secondly, we need to guard it that it not become stiff or cold or formal, or joyous, which often is the case with the Lord’s Supper. We are anticipating in the act. We are celebrating our resurrection. Sometimes I have been in some communion services where we find almost the most morbid music. We find that the more we can almost beat ourselves with guilt and sadness, the more meaningful the service. I do not think the Lord ever intended for it to be this. So it must not be stiff and it must not be cold or formal or morbid.
Here is a third thing about the practice. It should be done in community. The admonition, “Do this in remembrance” is written to the community. It is communal as opposed to something personal or private. Communion is not an independent affair. It is the affirmation when we gather that we are part of a body. We have been incorporated. We have been sealed by the Spirit. We are seated with Christ. We are together in this. There is a reason it is called communion. It is communal. We come as the family of God to partake. It is a rehearsal of our gathering in heaven. It is something we do together. This is why Paul is so severe in 1 Corinthians 11. He is looking at something in this case where there was a violation of the community, of the unity, so he dealt severely with them.
Again, thinking about practice, here is a fourth point. It should be done in the context always of gratitude. This is the Eucharist. We should put aside all of our wants and our desires and maybe our complaints in this act, in this moment, to say, I’m indebted to God’s grace. I need to be grateful in that there needs to be something of thankfulness. That is so healing and so helpful.
Fifth, in this practice we should take the time to explain the table every time. We don’t want to be redundant, we don’t want to be rote, we don’t want to just go off the same script. But we need to take a moment to say, In this act let’s remember what this bread is, it signifies His body that was hung on a cross, that was broken. It reminds us of our own brokenness. It reminds us in the very chewing that something has been broken for us. In fact, in the symbol, the bread itself; for bread to be of any use to us, it must be broken, must be masticated. In the act itself I believe Jesus uses this, in the act of chewing and brokenness, to remind us of His brokenness, remind us of our brokenness. To remind us also not of just a broken body, but a broken heart. So it is very symbolic. There is great power in it. Then the cup, we need to take a moment to explain again the cup. The cup represents his blood, it was shed for us. Again, the cup represents in the wine or the grape juice, grapes that were crushed. T
he giving of juice is the giving of life, even in the symbol itself. Just to remind us that when we take this cup, we are remembering that there was a crushing, if you will, of the Lord to give us life.
So we explain the table. We remind people. We linger over the moment. I know as a pastor I would often say to people, “I want you to look at these elements before you partake of them. I want you to see the symbol. I want you to think about what they represent. Just take some time. Remember the sacrifice.”
Six, looking back, we invite people to look more present. We invite people to search their hearts. We have come to present ourselves as an offering ourselves. It is not just remembering an offering. In this moment we offer ourselves to God. So we are invited to do some examination as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 11:28. We should take some time to ponder, to think about our motives, to think about the course of our lives. In times past, this pastoral counsel was often done just shortly before communion. People would sometimes talk to the pastor, they would get their lives right. In the 1600s the bell would toll, reminding people to take time for self-examination. If any had any scruple of conscience, need for reconciliation or were dull of conscience, they were to meet with the minister before the table. There was to be an obedience.
What do we examine? We should examine first of all to see if there is any sin. Now we are all going to find sin, but is there any sin that we have unconfessed. Is there any sin that we are continuing to yield to. However, I should underscore this, it again is done in the context of community. We don’t come just as individuals, as we have talked about. We come to the table together with the community. It is not so much about our interior, it is about the community and its interior. We come to the table to remember ourselves and where we are; but we also come to think about the body and the health of the Body of Christ, and our relationship to the Body of Christ.
We are determined to keep short accounts with people. We must examine ourselves. Let’s not forget, in 1 Corinthians 11 what Paul was addressing was not so much their personal sin, he was addressing their communal sin.
Let me tell a story to underscore my point. Some years ago, when I was in my second pastorate, I was in The Netherlands. I was playing tennis one day and in the court next to me was a man from India. It was Easter. I remember, I invited him to come to church. I said, “You know, it’s Easter and I don’t know where you are at spiritually or your interests, but I’m a pastor and you are invited.” To my surprise, he came. In fact, he came every Sunday after that for the next two or three years. I would often share with him. He was a Hindu, as it turned out. He saw Christ as another God he could add to his list. He was all about seeking Jesus and having Jesus, he just didn’t want to let go of his other gods. But that is another story. In his coming to church every week, when it came to communion, he always partook of it. It would drive my elders crazy, which always was strange to me. I thought, Are these guys like communion police? They would call me up, “Paul took communion today, he is drinking judgment to hims
elf.” As I reminded them, let’s go back to the text in 1 Corinthians 11. It was about what was happening with the community. The place of examination was how they were treating one another. It doesn’t bypass the need to look at ourselves, but they often quoted from a text that really wasn’t so much about ourselves.
So we need to make sure that when we administer it, we do it in this context of examination; but the point again I want to underscore is that examination, while it starts here, it really needs to move quickly to examining here. Was it proper for Paul or any unbeliever to take of communion? We will talk about that in a moment. What I think we sometimes lost in looking at one another is, we weren’t looking at the body as the table calls us to do.
I want to say one more thing. Here is the seventh thing. It is also important that we administer it with a certain creativity and order, not chaos. By chaos, let me just say, we need to make sure we give it the time, that it is not rushed, that it is not delayed. In all that I have just said, it requires taking the kind of time to understand the elements, what am I holding? Taking the time to look at myself, look at the community. Therefore things in a service need to be put in their proper order to give time for it. Administer with creativity means that we don’t do it with thoughtless predictability. Maybe on a particular Sunday we may encourage everyone who is physically able to just before we take of the cup, to kneel. Maybe sometimes we might say, “On this Sunday I would like you all to come forward.” Sometimes we may encourage the body – this is back to activity again and I have done this and I’ve found this to be really meaningful – to say, “I want us all here in this service to get in groups of 8-
10. Designate someone to get the elements. Then I want you to serve one another. Then I would like to ask someone in the group to be willing to lead in the taking and in the prayer before it.”
So sometimes we will do it in groups. Sometimes we might just give a whole service to it. One of the reasons I am really all for chairs versus pews is it gives you a lot of creative options in moving things around. There are some services we have done where we have put the communion table in the center of the room and we’ve put the chairs in a large circle. We have done this symbolically to say, The table is at the center this morning. It should always in one sense be the center. So I preach and it forces me to think in a different way, how I preach, how I connect with people as maybe I’m walking around the table, but I’m always kind of pointing back to the table. And at a certain point then we invite people to come to the table. Again, the point I am making is that instead of something rote, in a certain sense we never know how we are going to do communion. We are going to hopefully make it something not just thoughtlessly predictable, sometimes maybe even changing the elements. I know this adds more work
. Sometimes we find a certain convenience just with the little wafer and the little cup. Sometimes we just had a whole cup and people come and dip the bread. Sometimes we have had large pieces of bread by intention, to just say, “I want you to take awhile to chew on this, think on this, ponder on this. I’ve given you a larger cup because I don’t want you to drink it all down at once. I want you to sip.”
Let’s remember, the very first communion was at the end of a meal. I take it, it was just a natural part of the flow. They maybe passed the bread around another time. They passed the wine around and maybe as Jesus instituted this, he invited people just to linger and hold the bread, think about it. I wonder if in our sort of convenience consumerism culture, we have just turned it into this small, little wafer and this little cup. We can do it quickly and be on our way. We miss the reflection part. Sometimes we have done it in the center. Certainly we have done this on Good Friday. Sometimes it is an application running right out of the sermon. Sometimes we do it at the beginning of the service. People really don’t know what we are going to do and that is okay.
That leads to some practical questions. In our next session we will talk about some of the questions that come up with communion.