In August of 1742, a crowd of 50,000 gathered in Cambuslang, Scotland, for an outdoor communion service amidst the revivals of religion then erupting all throughout the Western world. The setting was the Great Awakening, which burst on the scene in 1735 with the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the conversion of George Whitefield at Oxford.
Yet the broader context of the revivals was the practice of intense communion “seasons” by Scottish Presbyterians, as well as the Puritans of England and New England, throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and indeed which persist to the present day in the Highlands and on the Isle of Lewis. Revivals in Scotland were frequent in older times, and, as the Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology says, “(they) were usually associated with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” These occasions typically began with preparatory preaching services Thursday through Saturday nights. The messages were cross-centered, Christ-focused, and soul-searching. Sunday morning communion was administered and Sunday and Monday evenings thanksgiving services followed.
The theological context of intensive communion seasons is the understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a sacramental meal, which as such, has signifying and sealing functions. The latter of these means that communicants “seal” their covenant with Christ at the Table. The Supper is that place in the life of the church where Christ and His people seal, in the sense of ratify or confirm, their mutual commitments and obligations, all in the context of shared fellowship.
Consequently the Lord’s Table became that place where church members would do their business with God. It is not surprising that the “Camp Meetings,” usually associated with Methodism, grew out of the Scottish Communion season. What became an “altar call,” summoning the children of the church, the backslidden, the unconverted, and even the faithful to affirm or reaffirm their repentance and faith in Christ, originated as a call to the Table.
Our aim each year is to return to this older, more biblical practice of making the Table the center of the spiritual life of the church. We do this not by increasing the frequency of our observance, but the intensity. This has always been the preference of the Reformed Church when choosing between observing the Lord’s Supper more often or with greater care. Careful has gotten the nod, we think rightly, over frequent.
We would like this season of cross-centered, Christ-focused, soul-searching meetings to become a regular feature of our congregational life. More than that, we are praying that it will become a means of reviving our church, and reviving our community.
We’ve made it easy for families by providing meals each evening, 5:30–6:30. We’ve scheduled the services for mid-August, before the distractions of football season, in order to minimize conflicts and maximize participation.