Feast of Meanings – Theology of the Eucharist (Part 5)

The Eucharist as Dinner Theatre

The Eucharist is the gospel in sight, smell, and taste. The gospel is proclaimed so we know what the elements mean. The drama of the gospel comes alive as we feed on the Christ who saved us by his death, resurrection, and ascension. We are spectators and participants in the Eucharistic drama where Christ is spiritually presented to us and we in turn fellowship with him. But what can we do to heighten our gratitude, to increase our unity, and to maximize the experience of grace?[1] I have one suggestion: make a real meal of it!

It was because of the type of abuses that occurred in Corinth that the “meal” became separated from the liturgical celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. However, it seems clear that in the beginning the early Christian agapē or “love feast” was combined with the Eucharistic celebration. According to Robert Jewett: “The purely symbolic meal of modern Christianity, restricted to a bit of bread and a sip of wine or juice, is tacitly presupposed for the early church, an assumption so preposterous that it is never articulated or acknowledged.”[2] Bo Reicke demonstrated that the early Eucharistic meals took place in the context of a common meal through to the fourth century (see Jude 12, “These people are blemishes at your love feasts”, Ignatius, Ep. Smyr. 8.2, “It is not permissible either to baptize or to hold a love feast without the bishop”).[3]

I want to suggest a return to the love feast for our Eucharist. A proper meal with real bread and real wine, which climaxes in a Eucharistic celebration.[4] This may not be practical in a church of several hundred people. In which case, I must wonder if the best place for a love feast is a cell group, a home Bible study meeting, or a small fellowship of families that meet on a regular week night to study the scriptures, pray, worship, and hold a love feast. I’ve seen churches that hold alternative services in which the meal is the main part of the service and is accompanied by testimonies, prayer, teaching, and Eucharist. We might retain the usual practice of having the Eucharist when the whole church meets, but we should strive to bring back the love feast into our Eucharistic worship.

As to how often one should celebrate the Eucharist we are given no clear instruction in scripture.[5] One gets the impression from Acts 2:26 (“Every day they continued to meet together … [and] broke bread in their homes and ate together”) that it was a daily occurrence, though in Acts 20:7 (“On the first day of the week we came together to break bread”) I suspect that it was weekly. The Reformed worship manuals counsel to do it “frequently”. What “frequently” entails is a matter of conscience and preference. I would prefer weekly, in the setting of a love feast in a home group, but perhaps monthly in a Sunday worship service. The common complaint I hear is that holding the Lord’s Supper too frequently can make the event stale, robotic, repetitive and boring. However, that is only true if we put little to no preparation into it. If we prepare our Eucharistic celebration with the same planning and effort that we use to prepare worship and sermons, then we can make the Eucharist the penultimate climax of the sermon, second only to the preaching of the Word.


[1] From a Baptist perspective see Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, eds. Matthew R. Crawford and Thomas R. Schreiner (NACSBT 10; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2010), 364-90.

[2] Robert Jewett, “Tenement Churches and Pauline Love Feasts,” Quarterly Review 14 (1994): 44.

[3] Bo Reicke, Diakonie, Festfreude und Zelos (Uppsala: Lundequist, 1951), 21-149.

[4] If we are going to use real water in baptism because Jesus was baptized in water, then we should use real bread and wine in communion. Valid baptism needs water, proper Eucharist requires bread and wine.

[5] Cf. Calvin, Institutes IV.17.44-46.

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  • NF

    Many thanks for your series of posts on the Eucharist. I have thoroughly enjoyed them.
    In this last one, you articulate a good Protestant Reformed view when you say at the end: “second only to the preaching of the Word”. But why not the Eucharist be the actual climax of the worship service? Why can’t it be more than a response to the preached word, but what the preached word was leading the people toward? Many thanks for your ideas on that.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • NF

    Many thanks for your series of posts on the Eucharist. I have thoroughly enjoyed them.
    In this last one, you articulate a good Protestant Reformed view when you say at the end: “second only to the preaching of the Word”. But why not the Eucharist be the actual climax of the worship service? Why can’t it be more than a response to the preached word, but what the preached word was leading the people toward? Many thanks for your ideas on that.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

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  • Ryan Mahoney

    This series has been a refreshing read, and this post in particular gives some series food for thought regarding our Eucharistic practice.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • Ryan Mahoney

    This series has been a refreshing read, and this post in particular gives some series food for thought regarding our Eucharistic practice.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • Mike Wells

    can you pop in series links

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • Mike Wells

    can you pop in series links

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • http://sdowens.wordpress.com/ S. Daniel Owens

    Dr. Bird, I just wanted you to be aware that I am currently reviewing “Paul and the Gospels” over at http://www.dburnett.com. Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • http://sdowens.wordpress.com/ S. Daniel Owens

    Dr. Bird, I just wanted you to be aware that I am currently reviewing “Paul and the Gospels” over at http://www.dburnett.com. Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

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