Very few Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations celebrate the eucharist (Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper) every week. The Rev. Tom Trinidad’s in Colorado Springs is one of them. And he believes all the rest should join him.
Trinidad, who is vice moderator of the 220th General Assembly, led a workshop March 15 here at the sixth and final formal celebration unveiling the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God. Citing numerous biblical texts ― Acts 20:7-12; I Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 2:42-47; Acts 10:39-41 ― he argued that frequent celebrations of the eucharist were the norm for the early Christian church and are a hallmark of Reformed theology.
“The [16th century] Reformers desired to return to original Christianity so they returned to the original sources,” Trinidad said in his workshop entitled “Joyful and Frequent Celebrations of the Lord’s Supper.”
“They looked at Justin, the first century historian and theologian, and learned that Justin believed the eucharist was celebrated weekly in the ‘primitive’ church. John Calvin was convinced that the eucharist should be weekly.”
Calvin, Trinidad said, called the eucharist “a seal upon the Word of God.”
But Calvin was unable to convince the Geneva Council, Trinidad said. “They rejected his position and settled on once a month, arguing that weekly celebration of the eucharist ‘was too Catholic.’”
That view has prevailed over the ensuing centuries, with some Reformed churches even celebrating the eucharist only quarterly.
But there is a growing movement in the PC(USA) ― sometimes called “sacramental theology” ― “to overcome the historic misunderstandings of the eucharist and to celebrate it more frequently,” Trinidad said, “and Glory to God helps.”
For instance, there are more than double the number of communion hymns and liturgical songs in Glory to God than in the previous PC(USA) hymnal, published in 1990.
A careful reading of scripture reveals that breaking bread was “as important as teaching, preaching, prayer and Scripture reading,” Trinidad argued. “Imagine taking any of those elements out of Sunday worship!” he said. “We wouldn’t stand for it.”
We know it was a regular routine for the early church to celebrate the eucharist frequently, Trinidad continued, “because they didn’t have to describe it [in Scripture] ― it was just known to all the believers.”
On hindrance to frequent celebration of the eucharist, Trinidad said, is that the church has focused too much one one of the two models for the eucharistic celebration ― the Last Supper ― at the expense of the other model, Jesus’ meal with the disciples at the conclusion of the Emmaus road walk.
“Too often the Last Supper is the model that sparks our imagination,” he said. “But the Easter evening supper is more imaginative ― Jesus talks, they break bread and they recognize him. When he then disappears they realize that he was revealed to them in breaking of bread. That’s the paradigm of what’s going on in the eucharist.”
That’s why Calvin insisted, Trinidad said, “that every time you open the Word you need to eat the meal.” It is at the table, the vice moderator concluded, “that Christ is present and serves us … welcomes and transforms us … teaches and heals us … reveals God’s presence and provides food for our journey … creates community with God and with each other … and encounters us if we take the time.”