Starting Out: Consider beginning with a gradual phase in the Lord’s Supper as a weekly fellowship meal. For instance, celebrate it initially at your Sunday evening service. Then try it once a month on Sunday mornings. Perhaps make the meal optional at first; serve the elements as usual followed by a meal in the fellowship hall for those who wish to participate. Go slowly. Allow people to get excited about it and tell others. Moreover, unless people are thoroughly persuaded of the Scriptural basis for celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly as a fellowship meal, there will be resistance to having to go to the trouble of preparing and bringing food each week. Be sure people understand the holy nature of the meal. It is not just an inconvenient lunch. It is a sacred, covenant meal before the Lord with His children.

The Elements: One cup and one loaf should be visibly present to the congregation, symbolic of our unity in Christ. A pile of pre-broken crackers and pre-poured tiny cups pictures individualism and disunity. The entire congregation should partake of the one cup and one loaf. For example, the Anglicans have done this for centuries without obvious harm to their health. [1]However, another option is to pour from the same container into smaller cups, or to dip one’s bread into the common cup.

The Lord’s Prayer: Feasting at Christ’s coming may even be reflected in the Lord’s Prayer. Immediately after the “kingdom come” request is “Give us each day our daily bread” (Lk 11:2-3). The Greek here is difficult; it reads something like, “the bread of us belonging to the coming day give us today” (the NASV marginal note reads, “bread for the coming day”).  Tomorrow’s bread today? Jesus may have been teaching us to ask that the bread of the coming kingdom banquet be given to us today: “Let your kingdom come — Let the feast begin today!” Renowned theologian Athanasius of Alexandria explained it as “the bread of the world to come.”[2]

Integration: The bread and wine were given in the context of an actual dinner. Be careful not to separate partaking of the elements from the meal too much, as if the Lord’s Supper is the cup and loaf and everything else is just lunch. First get the meal completely ready, then distribute the elements to mark the beginning of the meal. One approach is to point out the significance of the elements and lead in prayer as usual. Then, ask heads of household to come up and take the elements back for their families. As each family finishes they can go ahead through the serving line to enjoy the banquet aspect of the holy meal. This is a freedom issue; do what works best for your church.

Leaven: Should the bread be unleavened and the fruit of the vine alcoholic? The Jews ate unleavened bread in the Passover to symbolize the quickness with which God brought them out of Egypt. No doubt Jesus used unleavened bread in the original Last Supper. However, nothing is said in the New Testament about Gentile churches using unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. Though sometimes in the New Testament yeast is associated with evil (1Co 5:6-8), it is also used to represent God’s kingdom (Mt 13:33). The real symbolism lies with the bread as a representation of Jesus’ body, leavened or not.

Regarding the cup, it is clear from 1 Corinthians 11 that actual wine was used in the Lord’s Supper, because some had become drunk. However, no clear theological reason is ever given in the New Testament for it being alcoholic (but consider Ge 27:28, Isa 25:6-9, and Ro 14:21). Jesus simply called it the fruit of the vine. The object lesson is that red wine looks like blood. As with leavened or unleavened bread, the use of wine or grape juice would seem to be a matter of freedom for each local church to decide with spiritual sensitivity for one another.

Unbelievers: Most churches restrict access to the elements in some way. For example, the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 holds baptism to be the prerequisite for the privileges of the Lord’s Supper. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper as it was celebrated in the New Testament as a full meal may change one’s perspective somewhat on the presence of unbelievers. By all means point out that the bread and wine are for believers only. The Lord’s Supper, as a sacred, covenant meal, has significance only to believers. Yet to nonbelievers present it is merely another meal. Unbelieving adults and our own children too young to believe get hungry just like believers do; so invite them to enjoy the feast along with you. Love them to the Lord! The danger in taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner applies only to believers (1Co 11:27-32). In short, elements no, meal yes.

Where’s the Beef? It appears that from the mid-third century (A.D. 250) onward the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper were separated from the meal. However, even though the two were separated, the church continued to practice both until sometime after Constantine (who died in A.D. 337). Finally the love feast fizzled out. Perhaps the love feast would have continued on down to the present had the original apostolic tradition of keeping the two together not been broken. Then during the Protestant Reformation the central altar so prominent in Catholicism was replaced by the pulpit and the centrality of the preached Word. Thus in many Protestant churches the weekly observance of communion was discontinued.

Eusebius, as bishop, consecrated a church building in Tyre. In the dedication he praised the most holy altar as the center of the building. Then in the late 300s the Synod of Laodicea forbad the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in houses. Davids and Grossman offer this comment, “Once you have an altar with ‘holy food’, mixing it with the common food of a communal meal appears profane. Thus the focus on the table as altar brings about the forbidding of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in houses. The irony is that in the tabernacle and temple the central act of worship was a family meal in the presence of the deity, the temple being part slaughterhouse and part bar-b-que, as well as being the place where animal fat was burned and incense was offered.”

Logistics: Sandra Atkerson offerings the following practical ideas on logistics: Ask each family to prepare food at home and bring it to share with everyone else. Many churches have had great success with the pot luck (or pot providence) method. The Lord’s Supper is a feast of good and bountiful food with fellowship centered around Christ, a picture of the marriage banquet of the Lamb. It is a time to give and share liberally with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Ask for how much to bring, if you were having one more family over for dinner with your family, how much of one dish would you prepare? If church were cancelled for some reason, could you satisfy your own family with what you prepared to take to the Lord’s Supper? Encourage each family to bring a main dish and a side dish. Desserts should be considered optional and brought as a third dish but never as the only dish by a family. At least enough food should be brought by every family to feed themselves and have more left over to share with others. The singles, especially those not inclined to cook, might bring drinks, peanuts, dessert, chips and dip, or a prepared deli item such as potato salad or rotisserie chicken. The congregation should see this as a giving expense, a ministry, an offering to the Lord.

Confusion is minimized at the time of serving if your dish is ready when you arrive. Cook it before you come. Consider investing in a Pyrex Portables insulated hot/cold carrier that will keep your food at the temperature at which it was prepared. Hot plates can be plugged in to keep dishes warm. Others could bring crock pots. The oven can be put on “warm” and dishes stored there. Wool blankets or beach towels work well for hot/cold insulation during transport. Coolers in the summer months are great for icing down cold dishes.

The main point to remember for food safety is to keep hot foods hot at 150 degrees and cold foods cold at 40 degrees. Once the food is out for serving, it should sit out no longer than 2-3 hours before it is refrigerated. Dispose of any food left out longer than four hours.

Parents should consider helping their children prepare plates. Little ones often have eyes bigger than their stomachs and much food can go to waste. Many churches prefer to buy smaller 12 or 16 ounce cups. Most folks tend to fill their cups full, often not drinking it all. Smaller cups make less waste. It is better to go back for refills than to throw away unwanted drink.

A word about hygiene might be appropriate — there can never be enough hand washing among friends! Be sensitive to germs. All folks going through the serving line should wash before touching all those serving utensils. Put out a pump jar of hand sanitizer right by the plates at the beginning of the line. To help with cleanup, consider using paper plates and plastic cups and forks.

[1] Perhaps this is because Anglicans use wine, which kills the germs.

[2] Frederick Godet, Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications, 1981), p. 314.