Tuesday, April 18, 2006

195. on communion (part 1)

Depending on what you believe and how you understand communion, you may be surprised to know that the house church that I attend has never celebrated the Eucharist or communion or the Lord's Supper (to be used interchangeably in this blog). Why not? Well, basically because none of us really understands what it's about.

I mean, yes, we're supposed to do it "in remembrance" of Christ, but just speaking for myself, I've never understood the elements of communion. What are we remembering, how does the bread and the wine help us, what was Jesus trying to do, what's up with the body and blood? And those are just a few of the questions I have.

Back when I was still worshiping in a corporate church setting, I would participate in communion along with everybody else. Honestly, it was more of a when-in-Rome kind of a deal because who wants to be the Christian that doesn't partake? And although it often felt like I was just going through the motions, I really did try to make it mean something to me. I tried to think about Jesus suffering on the cross, I tried to think about how good God has been to me, I tried to repent of my sins so that I would not be unworthy, I tried to remember not to swallow too hard because with those tiny little cups it's easy to pour the juice down the wrong pipe (at least it was for me...I can't remember how many times I've choked on communion grape juice, trying not to disturb the solemnity of the moment with my hacking cough).

And I couldn't understand why participating in the Lord's Supper meant so much to some people. And I couldn't understand why churches that followed a liturgical order of worship called the Eucharist the high point of the worship service (I actually attended an Episcopalian church for a couple years but still didn't get it).

So I'm at this house church and we've never celebrated communion formally with bread and wine, but it was Easter Sunday and so we decided to give it a try.

And here's where things got a bit messed up. I volunteered to do some research and to try and come up with a short teaching of what I'd found. But in the middle of the week, I was talking with Blake (the unofficial senior pastor of the home church...don't tell him I called him that) and he made it sound like he was studying up on the matter along with Christine (she and Blake teach on alternating Sundays) and so I thought some of the pressure was off of me - that it was going to be more of an open discussion between the three of us rather than me presenting a teaching on the matter. Anyway, Sunday comes around and it turns out that I was the main speaker for the night but I didn't have anything prepared and so I had to wing it and it was kind of a mess.


But it did leave room for discussion and it surprised me how many people had the same questions and the same lack of understanding that I did. We made the best of it and stumbled through a very informal communion service and at the end of the night, we agreed to pray and study the matter on our own and try it again the following month.

And so, I'm going to be thinking and writing about communion here in the next few weeks. And I invite people to pass on any helpful websites or books or blogs or bits of scripture that might help me and the other people in my home church to understand what's going on in communion. And for those who, like me, don't fully understand communion, I invite you to ask questions because often arriving at a good answer depends on asking the right questions. And I invite those for whom communion is a vital part of their Christianity to talk about why that is - what does it mean for you, what does it do for you, how does it enrich your life as a Christian?

I need help with this because even with the little bit of research that I did, I came to see how deep, rich, and complex the topic is. But I like to keep things simple. What I'm aiming for is a kind of communion narrative. What I mean is, I think there's a hint of story in communion and I want to get at it because a story is so much easier to grasp than a theological construct. And maybe this isn't a useful way to get at the meaning of communion but it's an avenue that looks interesting to me and so I'm taking it and if I run into a dead end, I don't mind heading back to the beginning and trying something else.

Anyway, pray for me and pray for our home church. Pray for wisdom and understanding and clarity.

And again, your hints, suggestions, ideas are always welcome.


J~ said...

Hey R~
Can I tell you I was cracking up when I read this? (sorry)

I guess first we have to look at it from the perspective of the people who were there during the Lord's Supper. I'm thinking that their frame of reference was based on their tradition of having to hack open helpless animals and pour out the animals blood because of the people's sins. In their minds, the animal was paying the price for their sins right? So I'd imagine in their day & age, Jesus was bringing His message home to them by contrasting what He was about to do on the cross to something that was already deeply entwined in the fabric of their culture.

The challenge then is to find a way to make this relevent in a society who not only has no frame of reference for "pouring out of blood" (except maybe the death penalty) but also doesn't really give a rip about sinning.

For me personally, I am humbled every time I take communion. I remember His body broken on the cross & His blood shed for my sins. But now that I think about it, I guess I never really questioned, "So why are we 'eating' this stuff?"

Maybe it symbolizes the fact that even as Jesus was about to pay the ultimate price for everyone, He was still so generous to the ones He loved. Up to the very last moments, He continued to care for their most basic needs. Maybe it's a reminder to us that Jesus not only paved a way to the Father upon our death, but He is also here with us today to provide for our daily needs.

I dunno...that's my 5 am ramblings.

Lisa said...

Ya, I share a bit of your frustration and confusion... How is communion to look for us these days?

I feel frustrated with the whole wafer or cracker and shot of grapejuice style. Is taking that with a bunch of people at the same time when told really "communion". What does "communion" mean?

Jesus and his disciples had communion by eating a full meal and hanging out together, right? And yet there is the intention part of remembering His sacrifice and the covenant He created with us. I've also read that sharing a cup of wine was what a Man would offer to do when He wanted to become betrothed to a woman, and again when the Bride and Bridegroom were first married as a sign of their covenant. The symbolism is rich and I know the issue is greater with the inner heart attitude, but how does it look and become practical for us today?

Lord bring your Wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Being a Christian is a fine balance between seeking answers to our questions and obedience. We have to be careful no to get to a place where we can't surrender unless we get our answers first.

I take communion because Jesus said to do it. In Jewish culture, objects or rituals were often used to memorialize significant events. For example, in Joshua chapter 4, God instructed the Israelites to set up stones in rememberance of what He had done for them:
21"In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' 22 tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.'

I believe that when we obey God, it examplifies His Lordship in our lives. It is our outward manifistation of surrender. I'm reminded of this scripture in which God gave the Israelites an opportunity to be healed from snake bites simply by looking up at something.

Numbers 21:
8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

It wasn't the the bronze object that brought healing. It was the act of looking up, which symbolized trusting God's instructions and being obedient.

Perhaps our taking communion is similar in that we can seize the opportunity to demonstrate our obedience to Jesus' instructions and our desire to receive all that He has for us.