As I begin to write this I am feeling a bit like I am walking on sacred ground. In the Protestant tradition we only have two sacraments: communion and baptism. I have been thinking a great deal about the role of both. As I mentioned before communion is on the top of my mind because I just finished reading a book about it by Robert Letham. It was fantastic!
First, what I am not going to do. I am not going to argue for the merits of the Reformed version (read Calvin’s) of communion. I will leave that to the places where it has been dealt with in full. If you want to know the differences between Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed understandings check out Letham’s text or the Westminster Confession of Faith.
So, what’s the big deal? We take communion once a month in our church and it’s a nice ceremony with saltine crumbs and a thimble of grape juice. This is the consistent mode of taking communion in any church I have been in. I have witnessed Catholic mass and also Lutheran communion. There really doesn’t seem to be much difference in “how” we go about doing it. There are obvious differences in why and what it means.
So, it’s a nice ceremony. The Elders always look good in their suits and the men and women who serve communion are very solemn. It’s nice.
But, is communion supposed to be nice? Is it supposed to be so solemn? Isn’t it supposed to be “communion” with the risen Jesus? If so, then so much of this ceremony seems to be a little askew from what it must really be.
Sitting in my chair I realized how individualistic communion is currently. Think about the first “supper”. The disciples and Jesus hanging out in an intimate setting, one of the boys even reclining on his chest. They were in a circle. They could see each other. They could smell each other’s nasty feet. I have been in a setting with college guys many times like this. My poor wife wouldn’t even go into our basement until I lit a match to “de-man” after Bible study.
I think that communion needs to be let loose. We need to realize what is really happening. We are coming into, entering into, the very presence of the risen Jesus. We take the “bread” and drink the “wine” and in so doing are united with Christ in community with other brothers and sisters in the body. I can’t see who is joining with me with Christ.
It’s me and Jesus.
This is not communion, not in its fullest sense.
In this culture we need to re-engage with the mystery, beauty, glory, and awe that communion necessarily is. We must elevate this sacrament back to its high, honorable, and lofty place.
It is mystical.
It is awe inspiring.
It is fearsome.
It is physically, emotionally, spiritually uniting with our Jesus.
Why don’t we use real bread? It’s inconvenient.
Why don’t we use real wine? It might be offensive.
Was the crucifixion convenient? Was Jesus blood spilled not offensive?
The “supper” is to bring us together to experience community with one another and with Christ. I think we need to move back into a mode of doing communion where we actually see each other. Where we rise and go to the front together. Where those under discipline can’t hid in their chair. Where the one outside the faith feels being left out. Where those in relationship with Jesus physically rise and stand shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and sisters.
Our covenant children watching and experiencing the longing to rise too.
The weight of glory as we together break bread and drink the wine. We would touch the broken bread. We would smell aroma of the wine and feel the warmth in our bellies as the wine hits.
In a culture that sees through the bull it is time that we return and embrace together the beauty and holiness of communion.
Think about it this way: What must communion have been like in the first century when the faithful were accused of being cannibals (eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus) and of practicing incest (for they were ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’) in the midst of their love feasts? Our communion doesn’t inspire this kind of response from a watching world.
I pray that we will embrace communion: the uniting of ourselves as the body of Christ with our head, the risen Jesus.