Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 18, 2010

Value the Sacrament

Whenever I teach Bible Information Class, the adult instruction course that prepares people for membership in our church, I conduct a little experiment during the lesson on the Lord’s Supper.  Near the end of the lesson, I ask the participants a question along these lines:  “Considering what you have learned about Holy Communion in this lesson, how often do you think we should celebrate it?”  Without fail, every participant who has been new to the Lutheran Church (and therefore has no preconceived ideas about what the “norm” should be) has said either “every Sunday” or even “every service.”

When I was a student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, we were never specifically told how often we should celebrate the Lord’s Supper in our congregations.  The only comment I recall that dealt with frequency in general was given in a dogmatics (doctrine) class.  Our professor rightly noted that since the Lord’s Supper offers such great blessings, it makes sense that we offer it frequently.

Notice that in both of the aforementioned situations — Bible Information Class, and the Seminary’s dogmatics course — the discussion about frequency flowed out of a consideration of the blessings of Holy Communion.  Past church practice is, of course, useful to consider, but at the end of the day, Scripture’s description of the Supper’s blessings is our best guide for determining frequency.  At the congregation I serve, members began to ask me if we could increase the frequency of the Sacrament within a few years of my arrival.  This led to an eight-week Sunday morning Bible study on the Lord’s Supper.   The study eventually led to our current practice to offer Holy Communion nearly every Sunday and festival, with just a few occasions throughout the year when the Sacrament is not celebrated for a practical or logistical reason.

The church body I am a part of, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), has not always valued the Sacraments to the same degree that we have valued the Word of God.  The WELS finds its roots in Pietism, a 17th and 18th-century movement that, among other things, downplayed the value of the Lord’s Supper among Lutherans.  Old habits die hard, and it has taken nearly all of our synod’s 160-year history to adjust our thinking. 

The issue of Communion frequency once again came my attention in the current edition of Worship the Lord, a four-page bi-monthly newsletter about Lutheran worship for WELS pastors, published by the WELS Commission on Worship.  Pastor Jon Buchholz, one of the pastors at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Tempe, Arizona, and the WELS Arizona-California District President, wrote an article for the latest edition of Worship the Lord titled, “Accuracy: Urban Legends in Our Churches?”  Pastor Buchholz’s article dealt with several popular but inaccurate assumptions about Lutheran worship.  Among them was the myth that celebrating Holy Communion less frequently makes it more special.  Due to the length of the article, some sections of the article were shortened, and the complete version made available online.  The article’s segment on communion frequency was one of the sections shortened for the printed version; it is quoted in full below, along with a link to the complete on-line edition. 

There was a certain irony reading these strong words from the current WELS Arizona-California District President.  In the mid-1950’s, the first WELS Arizona-California District President, Pastor E. Arnold Sitz, wrote an essay with words quite critical of that day’s high-church liturgical movement.  Among his criticisms were also comments suggesting that the Lord’s Supper had less value when compared to the Word and to Baptism.

[Many “high church” advocates] insist that the climax of the service can be nothing other than Holy Communion or, as they prefer to term it, the Eucharist, which in itself already gives a biased slant toward Roman Catholic terminology and toward Roman sacramentarianism, from which Luther set us free.  Sad to say, they are losing sight of the position Luther rightly took that the Word is central; also of the stand of Luther that of the two sacraments, Baptism outranks Communion.

-E. Arnold Sitz, quoted in “The Formation and Flow of Worship Attitudes in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” by James Tiefel, in Not Unto Us: A Celebration of the Ministry of Kurt J. Eggert, pages 158-159.

Those I know who knew Pastor Sitz have always spoken highly of him in a number of different areas, and I don’t doubt for a moment that his service to our district in its early years was valued and valuable.  But this quotation shows that threads of pietistic thinking regarding the Lord’s Supper could be found in our synodical fabric even 100 years into our history.

(Note added 3-20-2010: Please make sure to check out the discussion that follows this post.  Pastor Peter Prange, the grandson of E. Arnold Sitz, offers comments that shed additional light on what Sitz was referring to).

Now jump forward to the first-ever WELS National Worship Conference in July 1996.  The conference’s keynote address was delivered by David Valleskey, then President of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and professor of New Testament and pastoral theology (specifically, evangelism).  President Valleskey had been in the WELS Arizona-California District for quite some time during his many years of service as the pastor of Apostles Lutheran Church in San Jose.  In his 1996 worship conference essay, later published in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, President Valleskey describes a view of the Lord’s Supper that gives it equal value to the Word of God — in response to students who were not initially inclined to give it equal value.

I wonder if we as a church body appreciate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as we should, even though we’ve come a distance from the Pietistic idea that we shouldn’t receive the Sacrament more than four times a year.  In the pastoral theology course I teach at the Seminary, each year when we come to the chapter on worship I ask, “What is the high point of the service?”  I’ve taught at the Seminary for twelve years and each of those twelve years I’ve asked that question of both sections of the Middler Class—24 times in all.  Without exception, the answer has been, “The high point of the service is the sermon.”  When I ask, “Why?”, the answer usually has something to do with the amount of time the pastor has to spend in preparing the sermon.  But should one put the sermon above the rest of the lessons for the day?  Should one elevate the sermon above the Sacrament?  Are they not both high points—Word and Sacrament?  By that I’m not implying that one must celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday.  But when the Sacrament is observed, is it not on an equal plane with the reading and preaching of the Word?

-“What Does It Mean To Be Evangelical Lutheran in Worship?” by David J. Valleskey, printed in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, 94:2 (Spring 1997), p. 88

As an aside, someone might be critical of the comment, “I’m not implying that one must celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday.”  I believe that this comment was directed not at those who would value a weekly celebration of the Sacrament, but those who appear rigidly legalistic in their quest for weekly communion, or those who go too far in the opposite direction and place higher value on the Sacrament when compared to the Word.  Because the Sacrament is pure gospel, we will serve our people best if the our attitudes toward and instruction about the Sacrament is evangelical (gospel-centered) rather than legalistic (law-centered).  A pastor ought not foist the practice on his congregation, but instruct them of the Supper’s benefits, and then allow the people to request increased frequency.

Now we come to today.  Here is what Pastor Buchholz said in the March 2010 edition of Worship the Lord:

Myth: Celebrating Communion infrequently makes it more special.

Reality: Infrequent Communion is a departure from Lutheran practice that originated with pietism.

Even a cursory read of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 reveals the high regard the reformers had for the Sacrament of the Altar:

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. … Because the Mass is for the purpose of giving the Sacrament, we have Communion every holy day, and if anyone desires the sacrament, we also offer it on other days, when it is given to all who ask for it.  (AC XXIV, 1, 34)

I grew up in a church which subscribed to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, but Communion was celebrated only once a month, on “Communion Sunday.”  Why this departure from the practice detailed in the Augsburg Confession?

Every-Sunday Communion was the practice of the reformers and the Evangelical Lutheran Church throughout the Age of Orthodoxy that spanned two centuries.  The change to infrequent Communion came with Pietism in the 1700s.  Pietism’s emphasis on subjective experience and other well-intended efforts to increase devotion and piety brought outcomes that were often destructive of orthodox Lutheran theology and practice.  The pietistic movement downplayed the role of the church, the clergy, and the sacraments.  Where Luther had pointed people to the Sacrament for forgiveness, pietists pointed people to “the cross” and to their own inner wrestlings and feelings for the assurance of their forgiveness.

Communion was downplayed to the point where it was not uncommon to offer the Sacrament only once every three months or so.  Luther himself had said that he couldn’t fathom how anyone could commune fewer than four times per year and remain a Christian, so four times per year became an accepted but unintended norm.  This practice continued in some circles into the twentieth century.

As we continue to struggle to shake off the residuals of pietism, there is a hopeful trend toward more frequent celebration of the Sacrament.  I hope that the practice described by the Augsburg Confession will again become the norm.  Contrary to the notion that infrequent Communion makes it more special, the experience of this burdened sinner can testify that the more Communion is received, the more it is desired.  We celebrate Communion as a special and precious gift, not by reserving it on the shelf for infrequent occasions but by receiving it often for the forgiveness of our sins and the consolation of our souls.

-“Accuracy: Urban Legends in Our Churches?” by Jon Buchholz, Worship the Lord, No. 41 (March 2010)

The threads of pietism still exist within WELS and in American Lutheranism in general.  But I am grateful to see prominent voices in our synod speaking in a way that views the Sacrament on an equal level as the Word, and that the concept of weekly communion is not perceived as a fringe idea, but is now an encouragement that comes from voices within our synod’s leadership.

If you’d like to read the complete versions of the aforementioned articles, click these links:

 

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Responses

  1. Good post, Johnold. One other aspect:

    A pastor ought not foist the practice on his congregation, but instruct them of the Supper’s benefits, and then allow the people to request increased frequency.

    The corrolary to this is that the majority in a congregation ought not to deny the practice when there exists a minority that desires the Sacrament more frequently.

    As I’ve always emphasized to my members, we are obligating no one by offering the Sacrament every Sunday. Commune if you wish. Abstain if you wish. But if you wish to abstain, you have no right to foist your wishes on those who desire the comfort of the Sacrament. And so we will offer it every Sunday, not by majority vote, but out of Christian love.

    It’s been one year since we started offering Communion every Sunday, and 98% of the congregation kneels at the rail on a weekly basis. Such is the power of the Word.

  2. Johnold:

    Thanks for your post. It’s an important discussion.

    I would caution you, however, not to misread or misunderstand the point that my Grandpa Sitz was attempting to make in his essay. His fundamental concern was the elevation of the celebration of the “Eucharist” above the preaching of the Word, as if the Service of the Word is an inadequate proclamation of the gospel. Sadly, there are those today – as in his day – who suggest that you really haven’t worshipped unless the Eucharist has also been celebrated. This is to elevate the celebration of Holy Communion over the Word.

    But it’s the Word, of course, that makes Communion what it is in the first place! “It is not the eating and drinking that does such things, but the words ‘Given’ and ‘poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words are the main thing in this sacrament, along with the eating and drinking. And whoever believes these words has what they plainly say, the forgiveness of sins.”

    Though I have been unable to track down his Luther reference that “Baptism outranks Communion,” I have no doubt that Luther probably said or wrote this, since my grandfather was a Luther scholar. Luther was, no doubt, reacting to the same thing to which my Grandpa Sitz was reacting: Roman sacramentarianism.

    I do find where Luther extols the office of preaching over the office of the distributing the sacraments: “The office of preaching, however, which is the highest and chief of all, was not regarded so highly [by Rome]. In a word, a priest was a man who could say the mass, even though he could not preach a word and was an unlearned ass” (AE 46:221). “Whoever has the office of preaching imposed on him has the highest office in Christendom imposed on him. Afterwards he may also baptize, celebrate mass, and exercise pastoral care; or, if he does not wish to do so, he may confine himself to preaching and leave baptizing and other lower offices to others – as Christ and the apostles did” (AE 39:314). Perhaps this was the Luther quote to which my Grandpa Sitz was referring, as Luther does seem to suggest that there is the office of baptizing and then “lower offices” than that. Both Sitz and Luther, of course, would no doubt have in mind the words of Paul to the Corinthians: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Co 1:17).

    I know for a fact that Sitz would not disparage a frequent and evangelical use of the Sacrament, but he saw inherent dangers in the type of argumentation used to “push” a more frequent celebration of Holy Communion. I’m sure that Sitz would agree wholeheartedly with Luther’s approach in his Preface to the Small Catechism: “You must not make any law about this, as the pope does. Only set forth clearly the benefit and harm, the need and use, the danger and the blessing, connected with this Sacrament. Then the people will come on their own without you forcing them. But if they do not come, let them go their way and tell them that such people belong to the devil who do not regard or feel their great need and God’s gracious help.”

    Then, if I may add a personal concern/comment about any discussion about Communion frequency: Why is it that it’s always a discussion about “every Sunday” celebration, as if Communion can only be celebrated on Sunday. While the congregations I’ve served have not chosen to practice an “every Sunday” celebration of the Sacrament, I’ve made it clear in my preaching and teaching that the Sacrament of Holy Communion is available on any day and at any hour. Let’s not make Communion something that can only be celebrated on Sundays as part of the so-called “Divine Service.” If I have a Christian under my spiritual care who desires Holy Communion every day, then they get it every day. And just because we don’t happen to celebrate it corporately on some given Sunday, that doesn’t make it impossible for someone to receive it that day.

  3. Pete,

    It’s good of you to defend your grandpa. As is often the case, in reacting to an error, perhaps he overstated the case in the opposite direction.

    I agree that the Service of the Word on Sunday is not an “inadequate” proclamation of the Gospel, as if the gospel preached were less effective than the Gospel eaten and drunk. It’s the same Gospel. It’s the same Christ. It’s the same benefit.

    At the same time, I would argue that to withhold the Sacrament at the regular service of the Church (do you not like the term “Divine Service”?) is not helpful, both for what it teaches and for what it hinders.

    It teaches (I know, because I learned it over the course of many years) that, since the Word preached is just as much “Christ” as is the Word received in the Sacrament, we don’t need the Sacrament. We get all the same benefits on SotW Sundays. While perhaps unintentional, this fosters the “superfluous Sacrament” mentality (pure Pietism) throughout the congregation. Not good or helpful.

    And it hinders the reception of the Sacrament by those who desire it more often. You say that anyone can receive the Sacrament at any time. First of all, not every troubled soul has the gumption to approach the pastor for private communion. It’s not impossible for them to receive it, but it’s also highly unlikely that they will. It’s awkward and unnatural to celebrate the community’s meal without the community present. It makes an individual feel kinda strange to be so seemingly alone in his/her desire for the Sacrament. The horizontal aspect of “communion” is gone.

    It’s unnatural, because as Luther says in SA II:II, “It is not right (even if otherwise done properly) to use the Sacrament that belongs to the community of the Church for one’s own private devotion. It is wrong to toy with the Sacrament without God’s Word and apart from the community of the Church.” Shut-in calls are different. They couldn’t meet with the community of the Church, and so the Church’s meal is brought to them. But if a poor soul is forced to approach the pastor privately because the community of the Church saw no need for the Supper on a given Sunday, well, that just seems wrong, doesn’t it?

    The Confessors were content to “cut back” the celebration of the Sacrament from every day to Sundays, although they never restricted it to Sundays. They offered it to all who wished for it. That’s the key phrase. They offered it. Your quote from Luther’s Preface was about not forcing people to attend the Lord’s Supper. Offering it is just what the Church does because of who she is.

  4. Dear Pastor Prange:

    Thank you for your response. I figured that you might offer a comment, since “Morton Grove, IL,” shows up on the blog traffic feed occasionally!

    If you have access to Sitz’s complete essay, cited in the essay on WELS worship in the Eggert Festschrift, I would be very happy to see the larger context of his comments — and, for that matter, to read the whole thing! There are two short sections mentioned in Prof. Tiefel’s essay (pp. 155, 158-159). You are right: it is hard to make a fair assessment of meaning based on such short quotations. Perhaps he overstated his case, and/or perhaps I read too much into his words. I will echo what I wrote earlier, that I have heard nothing but very positive and praiseworthy comments from those who knew him directly. I hope that my comments didn’t seem disparaging, as that’s not what I meant.

    That said, I am not so sure that I like the phrasing that suggests that the Word outweighs the sacraments. That the Word proclaims the institution and nature of the sacraments and gives them their power cannot be disputed. If that’s what he meant, then I can hardly disagree. But I fear that the cited statement will be understood to mean that the value of the Sacrament is less than the Word, and that the value of the Supper is less than Baptism. But gospel is gospel. I lean toward the way Pres. Valleskey stated the point, that the gospel in Word and Sacrament should be described as being on an equal plane.

    I’m also not so sure that 1 Corinthians 1:17 ought to be cited to support the impression that the Word outranks the Sacraments. My understanding is that Paul borrows a Hebrew idiom that essentially means, “God sent me not so much to baptize as to preach.” As a missionary, Paul’s first task was always to preach to the people before him. More significantly, he was responding to those who attached undue significance to the pastor who baptized them. That context must be considered, lest 1 Corinthians 1:17 become a sedes doctrinae for elevating one Means of Grace over another.

    I see that Pastor Rydecki has replied with his own response (above) while I was typing this response. The Book of Concord was open on my desk to the very same passage in the Smalcald Articles that he cites in his response. (Ironically, that was part of the section of the Confessions that I read in my personal devotional time just yesterday). I won’t repeat his full argument again in my own words, but I will state my agreement with his points. The Lord’s Supper is a communal activity, and as such it is meant to be celebrated with the gathered congregation, legitimate exceptions notwithstanding.

  5. Great quote from Hermann Sasse that came to mind as I read the comments here:

    “The Sacrament and the Sermon belong together, and it is always a sign of the decay of the church if one is emphasized at the expense of the other.”

    (I don’t have the page number in front of me, but it’s from Sasse’s book about the Marburg Colloquy, “This is My Body.” I know it’s in the introduction of the work, so it’s on one of the first pages.)

    I think the Sasse quote speaks well to both sides in this discussion (Word and Sacrament). We dare not let either the Sermon nor the Sacrament become Everest while the other is a mere foothill. Both are the powerful, efficacious Gospel, both are the place where the Spirit has determined to work. Emphasizing one to the expense of the other takes us to Rome and Geneva, there lies the loss of the Word AND the Sacrament.

  6. Paul, et al:

    Be careful not to quote that section of the Smalcald Articles in an attempt to prove a concept that it was never intended to address. In the section you quote, Luther is, as you know, addessing the false practice of private masses celebrated only by the priests, which practice was an extension of the abomination of sacrifice of the mass. Luther is certainly not addressing the idea of an honest celebration of Holy Communion that is in accord with Jesus’ institution, an institution, BTW, that took place in a rather private setting and not on a Sunday morning, wouldn’t you agree? 🙂

    But to the point of Johnold’s original post, I couldn’t agree more with his (and Valleskey’s and Sasse’s) basic premise that Word and Sacrament belong on the same plane of “importance.” They proclaim the same forgiveness of sins.

    In my first post, I mostly wanted to point out that my Grandpa Sitz was expressing the same concerns that Luther himself expressed when they both observed the elevation of the Sacrament above preaching (sacramentarianism or sacramentalism). In other words, Sitz wasn’t the first man to make this assertion or issue this warning; Luther was, and Luther was no pietist.

    Personally, my greatest concern with this discussion is that we keep ourselves from saying more than the Scriptures themselves say, and that we don’t make either the Scriptures or our Confessions address some issue that they don’t actually address. We do that at our peril.

    Simply put, the frequency with which we celebrate Holy Communion in a corporate setting is not an issue that the Holy Scriptures address. If they did, then Johnold wouldn’t have had any need to bring up the discussion and we wouldn’t have had any reason to discuss it. The matter would already be settled by God himself. Since the Scriptures don’t address this, we dare not be too dogmatic one way or the other.

  7. My reference to the SC did not say or imply that private communion today (e.g. a shut-in visit) is the same as medieval private masses. In that excerpt, Luther emphasizes a point that is true regardless of the context: the Sacrament is a communal meal. The “private” context of the original institution does not negate the reality that it had — and still has — a horizontal dimension (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). I can’t speak for Pastor Rydecki, but I’m fairly sure that he meant that as well.

    Sitz’s words sounded to me like we can “rate” Baptism above Holy Communion. Again, maybe he had a context in mind, but since I don’t know that context, that’s why his words sound the way they do to me, and I don’t think my initial reaction (apart from the greater context you’ve provided) was completely out of left field. Pastor Prange, your point is well taken — since you, in particular, would know — that your grandfather may have had a particular context or quote in mind, and that background would affect one’s understanding of his words. I understand where you’re coming from, and I hope that’s likewise. I will take your take on Sitz as more likely to be the right take than my original one.

    I have often heard critics of those in favor of weekly communion describe the latter as legalists, trying to mandate a standard that Scripture doesn’t. Has that thinking existed within WELS? Maybe, but that would comprise a rather small group. The voices I know who speak highly about weekly communion in our synod (and Pastors Rydecki and Buchholz would be among them) have always argued from the standpoint of the benefit of the Sacrament. We cannot overdose on the gospel, therefore we are glad to offer it as generously as we can to our people. The driving force behind weekly communion discussions in my corner of the WELS has been a pastoral desire to serve our people with the gospel, and that is not “too dogmatic.”

    You will notice that nowhere in my post do I condemn those who offer the sacrament twice monthly or with some other frequent regularity. That “omission” was intentional, because I have not and do not condemn that. But I appreciate the fact that those who advocate and practice weekly communion are no longer viewed with instant suspicion, and that’s what I really want to see in our circles.

  8. Johnold, et al:

    You certainly don’t need to be concerned that you’ve written something upsetting to me. You haven’t. Nor did I think you were disparaging E. Arnold Sitz; I just thought you were misunderstanding the context of his concerns. He was not concerned about a too frequent use of Holy Communion; he was concerned about the elevation of Holy Communion above the Word and Baptism, as was true (and remains true) in the Roman Church. Luther expressed the EXACT same concerns, and Luther was no pietist.

    I certainly view this as a very cordial theological discussion among brothers whom I love and respect. May I also say that “discussing” these matter on a blog is difficult and far too time-consuming, so I’ll quit now.

    I certainly understand and deeply appreciate what you write about encouraging frequent use of the Sacrament. I couldn’t agree more! While neither of the congregations I’ve served have ever adopted an every Sunday communion practice, that’s not for lack of pastoral encouragement. I have managed to move my current congregation off their long-held (more than one hundred years!) practice of communion 12 times a year! Now we celebrate twice a month and on every high festival. I manage to “sneak it in” at other times, too!

    Obviously, it’s a matter of pastoral practice, and each congregation of believers is different, has a different history, etc. I would certainly not suggest that a pastor who has managed to bring his congregation to an every Sunday celebration of the Sacrament is showing a lack of pastoral wisdom or care. On the other hand, if he’s managed to make that the practice by suggesting to his flock that it’s to be “expected” of Christians, he runs the risk of spoiling the very gospel he intends to proclaim. As I mentioned before, I can’t say it any better than Luther does in his Preface to the Small Catechism.

  9. Fratres,

    Johnold, you expressed the point I was getting at with SA II:II.

    Neither do I issue any condemnations. No doubt Scripture has left the frequency of Communion as a matter of sound Christian judgment. This is not to say that it is entirely a matter of adiaphora, as little as preaching the gospel is entirely a matter of adiaphora. Both are things Christ has given his Church to do, and I think we would agree that the Church is heading for disaster if she begins to look at either as a matter of, “How often do I have to do it?”

    We have no direct command to have a sermon in our regular gatherings, and yet few would exercise their sound Christian judgment in the direction of omitting it. For that matter, we have no command in the NT to have weekly gatherings, and yet still, the Church has seen the wisdom in coming together every Lord’s Day since the beginning.

    I like what I’ve heard from leaders in our synod recently. “If we determine that something is, in and of itself, a matter of adiaphora, that is where the discussion begins among Christians, not where it ends.” It has ended for far too long at, “Scripture doesn’t require us to offer Communion every Sunday, so there’s nothing more to talk about.”

    There’s plenty more to talk about.

  10. Sorry, I couldn’t resist one additional comment. I believe I’ve found Sitz’s justification for “quoting” Luther as he did. Luther writes in Against Hanswurst (1541):”But baptism is the first and most important sacrament, without which the others are all nothing, as [the Papists] must admit” (AE 41:195).

    I obviously can’t know that this was the quotation my grandfather had in mind, but he’s simply stating what Luther in fact writes.

    Nor am I saying that Luther is correct in writing this, but he does write it. And he was no pietist.

  11. We all agree that more could be said, but it sounds like we’re on the same page. We have our different points of emphasis, but I think we’re in agreement that the Supper should be equally valued when placed alongside the Word and Baptism, and that its frequent observance is likewise valuable, without making any laws when Scripture doesn’t. Thanks for the lively and intelligent discussion!

    P.S. I’ve added a comment (in red text) to the original post to clarify that my original take on Sitz’s comments, based solely from the short references in the aforementioned essay, is not the “final say,” and that Pastor Prange’s comments need to be heard for the full story.

  12. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your lively discussion, which I just found today.

    Last Sunday, a snowstorm in my corner of the world prevented all but 12 from coming to our service. It was “communion Sunday.” (At present we commune twice monthly and on festivals, a practice I inherited upon arriving in this parish last year.) Therefore, I asked the altar guild to leave the communion on the altar, so that anyone who did not want to wait until Maundy Thursday and Easter to commune, could partake in a brief communion to be offered following our Wednesday Lenten Vespers Service. On Wednesday afternoon I sent out an email to those members from which I’ve received email addresses telling them that due to the snow last Sunday, communion will be available following vespers.

    I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised to find all but those who’d made it the previous Sunday came up to the front pews after the benediction, where we basically ran through the shut-in communion service from the 1980s vintage pastor’s paperback shut-in agenda from NPH.

    The point is, I didn’t decide for them that they didn’t need communion, even though it could be argued that the Lord hindered them by sending the snow. I let them decide. That’s in keeping with the very felicitous (in my opinion) wording in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, viz. where TLH and CW have “when there is no communion, the service continues on page xx, the Hymnary has “when there are no communicants, the service continues on page xx.”

    Last night, praise God, we had communicants.

  13. Dear Johnold, et al.

    A blessed Holy Week to you! Last fall I wrote a paper for our Colonial North Conference on “Encouraging Frequent Reception of the Holy Supper”. Having read your post and the comments that followed, I wish I would’ve had them when I was writing the paper.

    Still you might find some worth in it, especially some timely quotes from Sasse quoted by Pres. Edmund Reim in the 1948 Quartalschrift. Here’s a link and the discussion that followed, including one of the quotes that didn’t make the paper, but definitely worth our consideration.

    http://shepherdstudy.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/here-o-my-lord-i-see-you-face-to-face/

    Thanks for the great post and God’s blessings as you celebrate Christ’s victory over death, hell, and Satan this Holy Week!


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