Adjective: Beyond what is needed, not necessary.
“Is it superfluous if, say, a church organist takes communion at both the early and at the late service? Is that too much of a good thing?”
Answer: That depends…
When you climb mountains, at higher altitudes you often begin to feel nauseous. Most of us would deal with that queasy stomach by not eating or drinking. This is not an option for anyone who aspires to stand on the summit of a mountain. One of my most vivid memories from climbing Mount Rainier is of my friend Jon.
Jon is a strong and healthy man and was in much better condition than I for this climb. However, as we passed 10,000 feet, the altitude began to affect him. His stomach felt queasy. He kept pushing upward, hoping that the nausea would pass, and he kept his stomach empty just to be safe.
The nausea did not go away. At base camp, he tried to eat and drink, but it only came back up. All that evening and into the night, he forced food down and the altitude sickness forced it right back up. While the rest of us grabbed a few hours of rest, Jon lay awake fighting with his own body.
Just after midnight, we roped up for the seven-hour push to the top. If we could summit by 7 am, we could be back down to our cars that evening. Exhausted and hungry, Jon took his spot somewhere in front of me. We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and passed through Cathedral Gap. Through the night, Jon kept stopping to rest.
After pushing across another glacier, the rock feature called Disappointment Cleaver lived up to its name. Julie, our leader and guide, made the call. She would not let Jon continue with us. Summiting would require fuel his body didn’t have. “I’m sorry,” Julie said, “you don’t have any food in your stomach. This climb demands too much: weather, rock and ice falls, mental focus… Without food you become a liability to yourself and the entire team.”
Many people feel queasy at those altitudes. We don’t feel like drinking, we see and feel no need for eating. Those who want to summit know they have to eat —know they need that sustenance, know the importance of food for such a taxing journey. We nibble and sip almost constantly; calories out, calories in.
“Is it superfluous for the organist to have communion at early and at late service?”
That’s how the question was phrased.
…That depends on Who’s ‘doing the doing’ in this supper.
If it is a work that we do, an offering that we make to God because of sins we’ve committed, then “yes.” Yes, it may be superfluous for a Christian church organist who made an offering for her sins 90 minutes earlier to make another such offering again now (or maybe it’s not enough?).
On the other hand, if the Lord’s Supper is food prepared by God for the sinner’s guilty soul, divine sustenance for an arduous journey, righteous calories in on account of the all of the unrighteous calories burned, then “no,” it is not superfluous at all.
The high mountains can be dangerous places. Weather can change at any minute, temperatures can plummet, snow and rock can fall at any time, and one single inattentive moment can have life-changing repercussions. Survival must always be on the mind. Climbers need food and drink to be ready to face these dangers.
God’s people live in an environment even more hostile than this. Our enemy the devil is constantly prowling and seeking whom he may devour. Life can change forever with a trip to the store or a routine test result from the doctor. When we fail to watch and pray — even for a moment — we fall into temptation.
The night that He was betrayed, the Lamb of God took the bread and wine of the ancient Passover meal and offered His people sustenance for the journey, food for the soul, nourishment — His body, His blood, for the forgiveness of all our sins.
No, this food is never superfluous. It is the nourishment our Lord God knew we’d need.
Thy holy body into death was given,
Life to win for us in heaven.
No greater love than this to Thee could bind us;
May this feast thereof remind us!
O Lord, have mercy!
Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee
That Thy blood should bless and sustain me.
All our debt Thou hast paid;
Peace with God once more is made:
O Lord, have mercy!
(ELH 327, v.2)
Reverend Tony Pittenger
Bethany Lutheran Church & School
Port Orchard, WA