It is not difficult to understand why Calvin desired weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Even if the Scriptures and the writings of the early church did not indicate that this was the established practice of the apostolic church, his understanding of the nature of the sacraments naturally entailed frequent communion. As Michael Horton explains, “One’s view of the nature of the Supper plays no small part in determining frequency” (Horton, “At Least Weekly,”156). It should come as no surprise that those who view the Lord’s Supper primarily as a matter of subjective mental recollection would see no need to celebrate it frequently. On the other hand, those like Calvin, who see the Lord’s Supper as a real and effectual means of grace, understandably desire to celebrate it as often as possible.
When we understand what the Lord’s Supper actually is and why God instituted it for us, then we do not view is as some kind of tedious add-on to the regular worship service of the church. Instead, we begin to see it with joy as an integral and necessary part of the worship of the new covenant communion. When we begin to understand the true nature and purpose of the Lord’s Supper, we wonder why any Christian wouldn’t want to receive all that God offers in it every time the church gathers for worship.
The Lord’s Supper is aid by the apostle Paul to be the communion of the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). Here we encounter the central mystery of the Lord’s Supper and probably the main reason why Calvin desired communion to be celebrated at least weekly. In the Lord’s Supper, we truly commune with Jesus Christ. Our union and communion with him is strengthened and nourished as we partake of his body and blood in the sacrament. In a singularly unique way, the life of the true Vine is communicated to the branches in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Why would any Christian not want this communion with Christ to be a part of every worship service?
According to Scripture, the Lord’s Supper is also a proclamation of the death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26). This is the same message that Paul says is the heart of his gospel message (1 Cor. 2:1-3). Is the church not called to proclaim the death of Christ? Do believers not need to be continually reminded of this message, to hear this gospel? The heart of the preached word is Jesus Christ and him crucified. The heart of the visible word is the same—the death of Christ (perhaps Paul has in mind the Lord’s Supper in Gal. 3:1 when he says, “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified)? If the Lord’s Supper truly is the proclamation of Christ’s death, as Paul says it is, why would any Christian not want this proclamation to be a part of every gathering for worship?
The apostle Paul also tells us that the Lord’s Supper signifies the oneness of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17). According to Paul, “We, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” When Christians gather to partake of the same bread and wine, there is no Jew or Gentile, there is no rich or poor, there is no male or female. All are one because all partake of the one body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. If the faithful teaching of this truth accompanies the frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper, it inhibits division because it repeatedly and forcefully emphasizes the sinfulness of worshipping with an unforgiving heart (cf. Matt. 5:23-24). In fact, it is not beyond possibility that the infrequent observance and corresponding devaluing of this sacrament has contributed to the ongoing division and strife in the modern church. Again, we have to ask why any Christian would not want such a sign of Christian unity to be a part of the regular worship of the church.
Jesus Christ commands that the Lord’s Supper be observed in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19; cf 1 Cor. 11:24). This does not mean that the Lord’s Supper is merely a time for subjective mental recollection. It is a memorial of the saving acts of Jesus Christ by which he inaugurated the new covenant. In the Lord’s Supper, we do not merely recollect these great acts of redemption. We unite ourselves with the new covenant community for which they were accomplished. If the Lord’s Supper is truly to be observed in remembrance of Christ’s mighty saving acts, why would any Christian not want this remembrance to be a part of every Christian worship service?
Keith Mathison, Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, 293-295.
In the light of such a compelling and positive argument to keep the audible and visible Word always together, again, I’m waiting to hear a compelling and positive argument to keep them separate most of the time.