Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Pastoral Concern re: Administering the Lord's Supper

The pastor is called, among other things, to administer the Lord's Supper to the congregation.  In this role, he stands in the stead of Christ.  He speaks Jesus' words.  He becomes Jesus' hands, as it were, in giving Jesus' body and blood to the Lord's redeemed people.

But what about the pastor's reception of the Lord's Supper?  Here, there are three basic options.
1)  The pastor receives Holy Communion from an elder.
2)  The pastor administers the Lord's Supper to himself.
3)  The pastor refrains from receiving the Lord's Supper until he is able to receive it from another pastor at a different setting, such as a pastors' conference or when he is on vacation.  (This practice was not uncommon not so long ago.)

As with any ceremony, the pastor should be teaching God's people about Jesus and his salvation.  So, what lesson does the pastor want to teach?

The last of the three options can be dismissed immediately.  The pastor needs the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins as much as anyone else in the congregation.  Though he has been called to a sacred office, that does not make him sacred.  Denying himself the Lord's Supper is foolish, undesirable, and unsalutary. 

So that leaves us with the first two options.  What is the pastor hoping to teach with each?

By receiving Holy Communion from an elder, the pastor is showing that he is just as much a miserable, wretched sinner as anyone else is.  He kneels at the railing like every other member of the congregation to partake in the sacred meal and receive sacred blessings.  His actions highlight the unity he shares with the congregation he serves.

By administering Holy Communion to himself, the pastor is highlighting that he is acting in the stead of Jesus Christ.  As Jesus first administered the Lord's Supper to the apostles on Maundy Thursday, so the pastor does.  Jesus, no doubt, participated in the Passover meal.  Matthew 26:29 suggests that Jesus also drank of the cup with the apostles when he passed the communal cup around to them.  As the master of the ceremony, Jesus would have administered this meal to himself along with his guests.  Of course, Jesus does not manifest himself as the master of ceremonies anymore.  He has called ministers to speak and to act in his stead.  By administering first to himself, the pastor highlights that office.

Now, doing one does not automatically deny the other; that is to say, the pastor who kneels at the altar does not deny he acts in the stead of Christ when he administers the Lord's Supper nor does the pastor who administers to himself deny that he is united with the congregation as a wretched sinner.  But the question still remains: Which of the two ceremonies makes a better confession or teaches a better lesson?

I suppose a pastor's setting may influence his answer.  But it seems to me that the pastor does well to highlight the office he is in--that he speaks and acts in the stead of Christ to administer the gifts of Christ to Christ's redeemed people.  That office is already highlighted as the pastor speaks the absolution, reads the lessons (especially the gospel), preaches the sermon, and proclaims the benediction.  It seems consistent that the pastor's office is also demonstrated in how he administers Christ's body and blood.

Of course, this ceremony is not a matter of good versus evil.  But it certainly can be debated if one is better than the other.  I tend to think that option 2 is better.

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