Pattern: Breaking Bread and Preaching Until Midnight?
One of the things that is distinctive about worship in my religious tribe is that we eat the Lord’s Supper every Sunday morning (and on Sunday evenings for any who are “providentially hindered” Sunday mornings). Most churches have communion on a more infrequent schedule-- often once a month or once a quarter. Some (even some in my church) suggest that having communion every Sunday makes it less special and more apt to be done by rote or remote control. I’m sure that is true to a point, and we have to make effort not to fall into auto-pilot mode when the trays are passed.
The text to which we normally point to “prove” that communion must be done every Sunday is Acts 20:7 (our reading for today), “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” Every week has a first day, so if we are to follow the New Testament pattern, we should have communion every first day. We do know there was a collection every first day, at least at Corinth during the time Paul was raising funds for needy saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:2).
But Acts 20:7 doesn’t work too well as a pattern. This text takes place in the middle of the Luke’s travelogue as he describes what Paul and his fellow wanders did on their mission trip. Paul certainly didn’t go through Troas on every first day of the week. On the Sunday that he did go there, the church was meeting together to “break bread.” What we know for sure is that one time when Paul was passing through Troas, the church met to break bread. And we don’t know for sure what exactly Luke means by “breaking bread.” In Acts 2:42, “breaking of bread” seems to imply communion, but in Acts 2:46, they “broke bread” daily, referring to common meals together. In Acts 20:7, the church met on the first day of the week “to break bread” but they didn’t get around to “breaking bread” until after Paul preached to midnight and Eutychus was raised to life after falling out of a window… because Paul preached to midnight. Maybe Luke was using Jewish time here so that the first day of the week began Saturday at sundown. Or maybe the church met to eat communion on Sunday night but didn’t get around to it until early Monday morning? Or were they gathered just to eat a meal together and that’s when Paul met with them? It COULD be a lot of things. That’s why Acts 20:7 doesn’t really make a good pattern. We certainly don’t take it as a pattern for how long sermons must be!
So what about eating communion on every first day of the week? I’m 100% all for it. Why? Not because of Acts 20:7. At the center of Christianity is the cross. Jesus died on the cross for us; he calls us to the cross to die for each other. The church is the community that is shaped by the cross and should be shaped like a cross. If indeed the cross is who we are and what we are called to be, then it should be central to our worship. And what better way to keep the cross at the center of our worship and our corporate life than to remember it and participate in it in precisely the way Jesus teaches us—through the Lord’s Supper?
BTW, there are many Christian groups that have communion one a month, once a quarter, and even once a year. But they take up a collection every week! Does that say something about priorities… or am I just being snippy?