Doctrinal Distinctives: Communion

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I want to write a bit here about Communion. When you deconstruct everything and look at it from a new perspective, everything must be prayerfully considered that you put back into place. We have been working on several other elements of the service and giving the folks a chance to acclimatize to the changes week by week. These are big changes, not just in the structure of services but in our Christian worldview as well. It is a lot to digest.

So this last week we began a new Communion service.

We dimmed the lights as everyone sat on beanbags and slowly began to raise the volume of the soundtrack to the evening, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2. We called it the U2charist, you know, we’ve just dressed up the Lord’s Table with a little funky flair, just to keep things relevant…

Sorry, I couldn’t help it. We didn’t do that, put down the pitchforks and torches.

Though I must admit that I had never had all that much use for Communion myself.

Most of those in my circles never had a Communion service either. It was considered to be “religion”. And religion is bad because Pharisees were religious and so if you were religious then you were a Pharisee and not really saved. So, I never had all that much use for Communion because I wanted to be saved and not a religious Pharisee. Get it?

It was just a tradition and as we all knew, Jesus told the Pharisees that “by your tradition you make the Word of God of no effect”.

And so I inhabited a world with no traditions, no ties to the past, no observances and the religion of no religion. I knew more than everyone else and I felt superior that I was so spiritual that I didn’t actually need to be obedient to the commands because in some magical mystery tour way, I appropriated by faith the truth and didn’t need the outward forms.

I mean, I got it and all. I understood the body and the blood and the covenant and whatnot. I just truly felt that so long as you understood the principle, you didn’t need to actually do it. And I am not alone, not by a long shot.

The shift in mindsets can be amazing, can’t it? In the 1600’s, Communion was a four-day event. They all fasted on Thursday, the Pastor would preach a sermon about repentance on Friday, everyone confessed their sins and was questioned on Saturday and then they took Communion on Sunday. What a change from today!

We are all the product of the teaching that Communion is an ordinance to obey, to one degree or another. For most, it is something that you should do once a month or once every six months. For me, it was also one of the driest, most tortuous events in the Church, right up there with board meetings.

To be fair, there were usually those people in the service that really seemed to love Communion and basked in the glow of His love as they went through the forms. And I am not knocking you if you are one of those. I just want you to know that secretly I thought that either you were faking it or that you were a Pharisee, just so you know.

Down to business here, we all know the drill. We get our oyster cracker and teeny little cup of grape juice. The Pastor reads the same Last Supper text that he always has;

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me”.

This is the part where you eat your oyster cracker after the Pastor says, “Let us partake”. My wife always hated that part when he said that, she always asked who talks like that except the preacher during Communion? I guess they feel like it adds depth to the event. It needs it.

Then the Pastor continues,

“After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”

Then we are invited to “partake” of the teeny-tiny grape juice cup.

And then they collect the cups and you have done your bit; you have obeyed the ordinance!

Now, I am not going to wax deep on the mystery of Communion, I will leave that to better men than I to do if they feel so led. Books can, have and should be written on the subject and I can do it no justice here. I will say however that I think that we have cheapened the whole event and by our relegation of it to an ordinance and a tradition that we simply obey, we have made it of no effect.

The key for me in the changeover to the Communion that we practice now lay in the verse; “this do in remembrance of me”. I never fully understood that verse, I mean, I know His story and I am quite sure that I won’t forget it. You know, virgin birth, sinless life, loaves and fishes…?

But I don’t think that this is what Jesus meant.

I think that we do forget Him every single day. I also think that the preparation for Communion is there to help us remember that we have forgotten Him and have followed after our own lusts, our pet sins and the omission of Him from who we are all week long.

We forget Him; we completely forget that He is there; the “resident Boss” that Watchman Nee talks about is neither resident in our thoughts nor boss of what we do.

How else could you explain the fact that the majority of Christian men view online pornography, other than they have forgotten Him? Because if they remembered that Jesus was present in them, do you think that they would subject Him to viewing that? Would they allow their eyes to be used that way, knowing that Jesus was in them at that moment?

How about the liar, who swindles people by small white lies? Has he forgotten?

What about the housewife that has not had an affair yet but peeks out the window at the neighbor and wishes? Has she forgotten? Or the church member engaged in gossip, malice or strife, what about them? How about those who split churches, lie on taxes, betray a friend? What of those who are just self-involved, self-important, self-absorbed? Have those who are so narcissistic as to believe that due to the importance of the call of God on their life that they can sow discord, church hop, destroy relationships, and never submit to any authority but their own as climb to the top, have they forgotten who they are and whom they serve?

You bet they have.

Have we all forgotten that we are supposed to be living in identification with Him, crucified with Him? That we died and the life we live, we live by the faith of Him who died for us?

We have forgotten and do forget Him every single day. And the reason that we do not know that we have forgotten him is because we live in a state of anarchy, apart from the rule of law and the heart of God, with no conviction of sin or desire to conform to His death.

And of course the Communion is stale, it is stale because we have, all of us, forgotten Him and we have become stale ourselves.

And this is what I hated, this idea that though we were so full of sin and selfishness, we still partake as if it is nothing because it IS nothing to us. The whole thing meant nothing to almost all involved. You got quiet, sure. You appeared to be reflecting, yes. But nothing happened, not in you and not in the service either. It was a function that you had to do because you were a “christian” and that is all. But that is a lie and not at all what Jesus intended. I was tired of the shallowness and deeply hungry for something meaningful and so I began to study.

So, of course, for our Communion, we again went back to the faith of our fathers.

We have the Ushers hand out small index cards and pens to everyone present. After everyone gets theirs, we ask everyone present to please take some time and write down every sin that they have committed since their last Communion. If they need to get up and walk around, so that people do not see what they are writing, that is fine. But be honest before God and confess your sins.

We then collect the cards from everyone in a single basket and hand them off to one of the Ministers. He then takes them to the front and using the microphone, begins to read off what is written down. He has been instructed that if the sin is obviously attributable to someone, he can skip it.

Everyone is uncomfortable. And you are bowled over by the sheer volume of sin that is present in the church. No different from the world, not a lick different.

We tell everyone to please bow their heads and close their eyes and then ask a few direct questions of them:

1. Do you understand that what you have committed is sin?
2. Do you understand that sin is not to have power over you as your master?
3. Do you know whom it is that you have sinned against?
4. Have you asked forgiveness from the person you wronged?
5. Have you made restitution for what you’ve done?
6. Do you repent for your sins and resolve to pursue holiness in the fear of God?

After this, we pray the prayer of confession:

Let us humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God.

Almighty and most merciful Father, like lost sheep we have strayed from your holy ways, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts as we have disregarded your holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us, as we know that you forgive those who humbly confess their faults, and that you restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to humankind in Christ Jesus our Lord; Grant to us, O most merciful God, for his sake, that from this day forward we live a godly and righteous life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.

The Pastor then asks everyone to stand and he reads over the congregation the Absolution:

The Almighty and merciful Lord grant us absolution and remission of all our sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit. If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Amen.

Our Communion bread is one loaf of bread, which the Pastor breaks, as Jesus’ body was broken. The people are invited to come forward, beginning with the elderly, after them, whole rows of people, starting with the very back. The Pastor holds out the broken loaf on his right and left for the people to take their piece from. A Minister distributes the Communion cups at the sides, after they have taken their piece of the bread.

As the people return to their seats, a brief word is given about what the Body and Blood is for and an admonishment that Communion is the renewal of covenant and the fresh decision to identify in His death, it is submission to the process of God which crucifies our flesh and conforms us to His life. It is the fresh stamp of the Imago Dei on our hearts.

After this, we begin our Lovefeast.

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