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Celebrating the Lord’s Supper

Without giving a great importance to the way in which we celebrate the supper, we can question our practices and wonder if they are satisfying. It isn’t a matter of multiplying rituals, but of finding suggestions in what happens elsewhere.

Translation Canon Tony Dickinson

In 1990, while I was in Canada for a conference, I found myself one Sunday in transit through Montréal. I turned up for the service at one of the French-speaking protestant churches in the city. Did it belong to the United Church or to the Presbyterian Church, two Churches which are both part of the “Reformed” family? I don’t remember. There weren’t many of us, about thirty; the service consisted of a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which struck me by the way it was organised and how it progressed.

At the invitation of the officiating minister, we got up to stand around the table, as is done in a large number of parishes. An elder distributed the bread; instead of eating immediately the piece we had received, each of us kept it in our hand. Then the minister said the words which Jesus had uttered, according to the apostle Paul, “This is my body which is for you, do this in memory of me”. And all of us ate together, at the same time, the bread we had been given. Next a small individual cup of wine was handed over to each of us. The minister said the phrase reported by Paul: “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this in remembrance of me.” And we all drank together, at the same time, from our own little cup.

This way of doing things, which was at the same time close to and different from our own, seemed to me happy and fraternal. It contrasted sharply with the usual conduct of the Lord’s Supper, where we consume a mouthful of bread and a gulp of wine one after another, each in turn, in a queue, which is hardly convivial. At ordinary meals, when there are several people at table, we wait, as a matter of elementary politeness, for everyone to be served before we start eating. Those who criticise the use in some parishes of individual cups often claim that the large cup has a more communal character. This always amazes me: the communal sign would be to drink and eat jointly, simultaneously, and not the one after the other.

For my part, I do not accord a great deal of importance to the sacraments. They hold a very secondary place in my faith, my piety and my theology. If I had to do without, I would experience neither regret nor lack. A service with no sermon frustrates me and gives me a feeling of emptiness; a service without the Lord’s Supper not at all. Oecolampadius, the Reformer of Bâle, used to say that one takes communion for others not for oneself. I recognise myself absolutely in this remark. I share in the Lord’s Supper in no way through inner personal need, but because I mean to mark my solidarity with the congregation and do not wish to give the impression of dissociating myself from it.

The celebration in Montréal (which it would undoubtedly be difficult to transpose for a larger attendance) pleased me because it put the accent on the link between those who had together heard and received the Gospel that had been preached: it matched pretty well my own way of understanding and practising the Lord’s Supper. Anyone who sees in the sacrament the sharing in a supernatural mystery or the encounter with Christ in a sort of tête-à-tête will doubtless prefer other types of celebrations. In the Reformed Churches several understandings and several practices of the Lord’s Supper are possible and legitimate. We must be conscious of their relativity, and beware of absolutising, of canonising and imposing one of them. Which does not in any way forbid our expressing and explaining our preferences.

André Gounelle

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a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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