Communion Weekend

Some time back, I posted about our traditional Communion weekend. Over the next few days, the congregations in our area will have morning and evening services. Each one of the days over this spell emphasises some different aspect of preaching. I'll re-post the older blogpost here, and each day from now until next Monday, I'll let you know what texts were preached on.

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This account, written by our friend, Dr David Murray, who is now a lecturer in Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan is to be found on the website, The Westminster Presbyterian. I have added some comments here and there.

The Scottish Communion Season

David Murray
One of the major results of the Scottish Reformation was an intense carefulness in the administration of the Lord's Supper. I will take you through the Scottish Communion Season day by day, from Thursday to Monday. And, to simplify matters, I will give you one word by which to remember the significance of each day.
Thursday: Humiliation
Thursday is the day of humiliation. In parts of the Scottish Highlands, almost everything, including schools and shops, closes down on Communion Thursday. This is made possible by the various denominations in an area having their Communion Seasons at the same time. Farms and crofts lie silent, and fishing boats are tied up, sometimes for the whole five days of a Communion Season.
This was so in the past, but is no longer. Although the services have remained as they used to be, very few businesses close for the day.
This time of quiet and rest from regular work gives people time to search their lives and souls with a view to confession of sin. There are two church services on Thursday - morning and evening - which focus on Psalms and Scriptures related to conviction of sin, contrition and repentance. Sermons usually aim to induce a spiritual sensitivity in the hearers, to bring God's people to see their spiritual need, and to start the Communion Season low, in the dust - the necessary place to be before any spiritual blessing comes to us. God brings us low before He raises us up again.
Thursday is also known as the "Fast Day." Now of course, some people do fast from food in order to give themselves more time to examine their souls and search out their sins. There is certainly a fairly widespread "fasting" from exposure to the news media. Being from the more "pagan" south of Scotland, I made a real blunder at my first Scottish Communion season in the Scottish Highlands when I asked on the Thursday where the nearest shop was so that I could buy a newspaper. Shock and horror spread all around the room - this "heathen" southerner wanting to read a newspaper on the Communion Thursday! I was soon educated about the need to come apart from the world for one whole day to examine my soul for sin rather than get distracted by the sins of the world. So, the whole of Thursday, in private and in public worship, is focused towards humiliation.
A typical text may be, 'Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted' (Matthew 5: 4), or 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 5:3). The minister would concentrate on what true mourning over our sins is, or what true poverty in spirit is. These sermons (as the article says) are to cause us to see our sin, so that we may appreciate Christ and His sacrifice all the more.
Friday: Examination
Friday is the day of examination. In a way, Thursday involves self-examination as well. However, on the Thursday we look for sin to confess, whereas on Friday we look for marks of grace to encourage us. We might say that the Christians are "killed" on a Thursday, and then raised again on the Friday. "For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole" (Job 5:18). The painful experience of humiliation is followed, hopefully, by a skilful spiritual physician pouring balm into the soul to encourage the humble soul that despite all the sins that are present in the heart, "There, look, there's a little mark of grace. And look, you have this mark as well, don't despair."
As on the Thursday, there are also two services on the Friday. The evening service is a normal worship service at which the minister preaches on one of the marks of grace - love to the brethren, hope, patience in tribulation, prayer, etc. The aim is to encourage God's trembling people to profess faith by sitting at His table, as well as to discourage the unconverted from taking such an unwarranted privilege to themselves.
The Friday morning service is usually one of the high points of the Communion Season. It is called "The Ceisd" (pronounced Kaysch), and is Gaelic for "The Question." Why is it called "The Question"? Well, let me begin by explaining that there are usually three ministers in the pulpit - the local minister and two visiting ministers who have been invited to assist with the numerous services of the season. At the Question meeting, after singing and prayer the senior visiting minister stands up and asks one of the local elders for a "text." One of the elders then stands up and reads out a verse of Scripture. The text may be from any part of the Bible but is always related to Christian experience. Some examples might be, "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1), or "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious" (1 Peter 2:7). The elder then asks a question along these lines: "Would the brethren explain how they have experienced this verse either in their conversion or in their Christian life?" More specifically, he might say, "Would the brethren give a testimony as to how they were brought alive spiritually?" or, "Would the brethren explain how Christ is precious to them?" The Question is really targeted at bringing out the marks of true Christian experience, and of conversion especially.
When the elder sits down, the senior minister, without any prior notice or preparation, "opens the Question," that is, he gives an explanation of the text in its context. This is a real test for a minister, and a time of much silent prayer! It was not unknown for "mischievous" elders to pick a text from an obscure minor prophet in order to "test" the minister! Usually the minister speaks about the text for about ten to fifteen minutes and then sits down - usually greatly relieved. At that point, the local minister asks one of the older Christian men in the congregation, or one of the men visiting from other congregations, to stand up and, "speak to the Question." He then speaks for about five minutes, and ideally no more than ten minutes, and tells of how the Lord brought him spiritually alive, or how the Lord was precious to him, etc. Then another person would be asked in the same way. Depending on how long each man spoke, you would normally hear maybe six to ten men speak, one after another.
I have been present at many emotion-charged Friday mornings when godly men wept openly as they described, again without any preparation, of how the Lord had dealt with them and brought them to a knowledge of themselves and of the Saviour. And the aim of it all is to help and encourage those who are present and wondering, "Am I a Christian or not?" The men are usually incredibly honest. It is not a time to "show-off." It is a time to bare the soul and speak of the struggles and the difficulties of Christian experience as well as the blessings and privileges. And many, many Christians can point back to a Friday morning of a Communion Season as a time when they received assurance of faith through listening to these testimonies.
In the old days, in the nineteenth century, these meetings went on for three and four hours, with sometimes up to forty men being called. Our meetings usually last about two hours, but the time usually flies by - as it does when you experience the foretaste of heaven that is present in true Christian fellowship. At the end, the visiting minister "closes the Question" by summing up what had been said, and if necessary, gently and diplomatically correct anything said amiss that might discourage or mislead.
The 'Question meeting' is now much shorter, with around 6 or so men speaking. As was said (above), they will take whatever text has been given and will try and show how the text applies in their own lives. Last Friday, the text we had was, '... Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory' (1 Peter 1:8). The men who stood were asked to tell how - though never having seen Christ in the flesh - they loved Him, and how this 'joy unspeakable' came into their lives when they were first saved, and how they are aware of it in the years since then. 
Saturday: Preparation
Saturday is the day of Preparation. Of course, Thursday and Friday are preparatory as well. However, these two days look within, for sin to confess and grace to encourage. Saturday prepares Christians for the Lord's Supper by turning their attention outwards, usually to the person of Christ. The morning service might be on one of the Gospel accounts of Christ graciously dealing with sinners. There is a twofold purpose in this. Firstly, the devotional tone of the sermons seeks to excite the affections of those who are preparing to sit at the Lord's Table. Secondly, tender words of encouragement are directed towards those who may be considering sitting at the Lord's Table for the first time.
One Saturday service that was particularly blessed to me was preached by the writer of this article. He preached on '... behold the half was not told me' (1 Kings 10:7) - what the Queen of Sheba said when she had seen the glory of King Solomon, and especially when she had seen 'his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the Lord' (verse 5). As the article says, the Saturday seeks to draw our hearts and minds towards Christ.
After the Saturday morning service, those intending to sit at the Lord's Table are asked to remain behind. The minister of the congregation then comes to the front pew to lead the congregation in prayer. This is often a sweet time for the Shepherd and his sheep as they reflect with thankfulness on the Great Shepherd's faithful keeping of them since they last sat together at the Lord's Table. Thoughts often turn to dear friends whose place at the table below is now empty.
I always do find these few minutes very special. Our own minister's prayer for his 'flock' is so warm and tender. I am always moved by this time together.
After this prayer, each member of the congregation comes forward to shake the minister's hand and receive from him a "token" giving them a warrant to sit at the Lord's Table the next day. These small tokens are a laminated card or even, if very old, made of lead. Usually the name of the congregation is on the token, together with a phrase or verse of Scripture. The distribution of tokens to members of the congregation, and to visiting members of other congregations, seeks to protect the Lord's Table from those who have no right to be there. On the Sabbath morning, elders stand beside the Communion table and collect these tokens from the communicants as they come forward to sit down.
The Session
At this point it would be helpful, perhaps, to explain how a person becomes entitled to receive a Communion token. No one can sit at the Lord's table in our Scottish Highland Presbyterian churches without first of all going before the Session and giving a credible profession of faith.
After each Communion Season service, the minister intimates that the Session is willing to meet with anyone wishing to profess faith in the Saviour for the first time. And so, after each service, the elders gather with the minister to see if anyone will come to profess faith and seek permission to sit at the Lord's Table. This is always a time of great expectation and anxious anticipation, as the minister and elders wait to see if all their labours of past months have borne any visible fruit. Sometimes no one comes, and we have to submit to the Lord and patiently labour on. At other times--O! such blessed times--two, three, or even more might come trembling, one after another, to the Session room, to profess faith and seek admission to the Lord's table.
Although some are able to give eloquent testimony of their conversion, that is the exception. Usually, at this emotionally-charged time, people are very nervous and often tearful. It is obviously difficult for people to sit in front of the elders and describe their spiritual journey. A sensitive pastor and his elders will ask appropriate questions to help the person describe their experience of God's grace. Sometimes even that fails to produce many words. However, usually the person is well known to the elders. They know his or her life and have seen the evidence of God's sovereign grace in their life. Although it is sometimes a bit of an ordeal, many can testify to the blessing and freedom they experienced when witnessing to God's grace in this loving and supportive environment. This practice also has a sifting effect by deterring those who have no experience of God's saving grace in their lives. I count it one of the greatest privileges in the world to listen to trembling souls speak publicly for the first time of the Lord's goodness and mercy towards them.
After hearing the person's testimony, the Session briefly reviews what was said while the applicant waits in another room. When the Session is satisfied that the person has a credible profession of faith--that their walk matches their words--he or she is called in and the minister intimates the Session's acceptance. A senior elder is asked to pray, the person is given a token, and receives the right hand of fellowship from the elders, together with a few whispered words of encouragement.
Word soon spreads that someone has "come forward" and this heightens the joy of the Communion Sabbath when the new communicant member will sit with God's people for the first time. This is also a time of many tears and much love as the new member is embraced and welcomed into the family of God.
Prayer Meeting
But let us return to the Saturday of Preparation. We've noted that there is a morning service. Early Saturday evening there is usually a Prayer Meeting led by one of the elders. As is the common practice in Scotland, the names of several male communicant members are selected and called out to lead the congregation in prayer. The prayers look back with thankfulness for the Communion Season thus far, and seek blessing on the ministers and the coming Sabbath services. Prayer is also made for those who might be under particular attack of the devil and especially for those who may be sitting at the Lord's Table for the first time.
After the Prayer Meeting, the minister and elders set out the Communion table and prepare the bread and wine. Then they gather around the table to pray for the flock and beseech Heaven for the Lord's presence on the morrow.
Sabbath: Commemoration
The Sabbath morning service is divided into three parts. First of all, there is the main sermon. As the Saturday sermon expounded Christ's person, this sermon expounds an aspect of Christ's atoning work. 
For example, our text last Sunday was from Zechariah 13:7: 'Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts'. This text speaks of the the sword of God's justice being brought to bear on the Son, His 'fellow', during these hours of darkness on the cross of Calvary.
Secondly, there is the "fencing" of the Lord's Table. The minister will speak briefly, from a discriminating text in order to encourage the poor in spirit to take their places at the Lord's Table and to dissuade the ungodly from sitting at the table and bringing judgment on themselves. Like a fence, the aim is to keep out those who shouldn't be there and keep in those who should. It is concluded by reading from Galatians 5:16-26. Thirdly, there is the Lord's Supper itself. As the congregation sings Psalm 118:15-26, the table is prepared and the communicants come forward, give their tokens to the elders, and sit down. The minister reads the warrant in 1 Corinthians 11:23-28, gives thanks, and then gives a brief Christ-centred address based on, say, the Song of Solomon or the Psalms, which describe the communion between the Lord and His people. The elements are then distributed by the elders in total silence. What a sacred time this is! After everyone is served, the minister gives one last brief address to encourage the believer to go out and live for Christ, and to impress on those who stayed away from the table their need and the Lord's provision for them. We then rise from the table singing Psalm 103:1-5.
The Sabbath evening service is characterized by unashamed evangelistic preaching to the unconverted--you must be born again, repent and believe the Gospel, death and judgment, hell, or other such themes. There is usually a great air of excitement and anticipation of God being present to save souls. God's people have been brought close to the Lord through the Communion Season, their spirits are revived, and they are anxious for their loved ones to enjoy what they've enjoyed. Many unconverted people come to these services and, throughout the years, many have been converted on such occasions.
After the evening service, the young people are invited to the manse where they are physically fed with many goodies, and then gather to hear the visiting ministers give their testimonies or speak about a spiritual experience they have had. The young people love these evenings. My sons call them, "The Children's Communion!" In fact the whole Communion Season is suffused with fellowship. After every service, morning and evening, God's people gather in various houses in small and large groups to discuss the sermons and share their Christian experiences.
Monday: Thanksgiving
On Monday, there is sometimes a service in the morning, but certainly one in the evening, when God's people gather to give thanks to God for all His mercies over the Communion Season. The minister will preach on themes of thanksgiving and the appropriate response to God's goodness.
Tuesday: Revival
The Communion Season officially ends on the Monday evening. However, the effects continue on to the Tuesday. And the effect is usually that of reviving the spirits of God's people. They have enjoyed a spiritual feast, and are ready to face the world again with renewed faith and rekindled longing for the everlasting, heavenly communion table and communion season. Also the minister is revived. He has enjoyed the fellowship and ministry of fellow ministers, and, hopefully, he has seen some of his beloved flock profess faith for the first time. Finally, such Communion seasons have, in the past, been associated with widespread outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon communities, leading to the revival of true Christianity. O, when will we see such days again?
Indeed, when will we? And yet, we have such blessings, and we mustn't grumble at our 'day of small things'. Our God is great, and having enjoyed a wonderful weekend of hearing God's Word being preached, and of being in fellowship with the Lord's people in our own home and others', we had tonight (Wednesday) yet another time of blessed fellowship with brothers and sisters after our midweek meeting.

This account will give you some idea of why I haven't been around for some days! They are such busy days, but such happy, blessed days too. I pray that souls may have come to Christ for the first time over this weekend, and that those of us who have been Christ's for some time will be drawn ever closer to Him.
He is 'altogether lovely'. Why would anyone wish to stay away from Him.
"For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36)

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And so to today:

This morning, Rev  K MacDonald preached on Isaiah 6: 3-5.

 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

The sermon spoke of God's essential (in essence) holiness, and how all He was and all He did was saturated with, and stemmed from His holiness. His holiness is seen especially at Calvary, in how He dealt with His beloved Son when our Saviour was 'made sin for us'. The minister quoted Charnock, an English Puritan, who said of the Father's dealings with His Son at Calvary: "It was as if His affection and love for His own holiness went above His love for His own Son.". (When we think of the immeasurable love He had for His Son, we get some idea of the extent of His love for His own holiness). 
And so, the question is ... What ought our reaction be when we think of His holiness and our own sin? We daren't be indifferent to His holiness, nor to our sin. We ought to hate our sin, and love holiness Personified... 

Tonight's sermon, preached by Rev Gavin Beers, was taken from Romans 2: 1-3

1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
 2But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
 3And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

We heard a searching sermon on Judging others; on Condemning ourselves; and on The judgement of God.

In dealing with the judgement of God, Rev Beers stressed that there is only one answer, considering we are all going to stand at the judgement seat of Christ. Christ! Christ is the only answer, our only hope. For, if we are in Christ, then
"There is therefore now no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus".

Tomorrow (Friday) morning's meeting will take the form of a Question meeting (see in David Murray's notes, above). I shall try and find the time to let y'all know all about it.


  1. Have a wonderful weekend in Ness.....may the Bridegroom presence Himself at the feast!

    1. Wish you were here, a Dhomhnaill! Was thinking of you this morning - just not the same without you :)

    2. A genuine question, having read your long post with interest: is it only men who are able to reply to The Question during the church service, and if so, why? I'm not being challenging, just curious.

    3. Hi Linda, yes it's just men who speak to the text, or 'question'. It would be because of the Bible teaching that women are to remain silent in church, and only the men are to speak. (1 Corinthians 14: 34)
      A :)


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