The Role of Communion in Assimilating People (1 of 4)
When I turned 11 years old, I felt a sense of pride when I became a member of an historical Baptist church in Los Angeles County after my baptism. As a member I now could serve in certain capacities, vote on leadership issues when I came of age, and above all, I could now take Communion.
Communion was served at my church once a month...after the worship service. At the end of the service, all non-members were dismissed and communion was served to those of us who were members. I remember feeling honored and grateful to be able to participate in such a holy ritual that obviously had some great meaning to God and to the leaders of our church. After all, it had to do with the body and blood of Jesus. Participating in the eating and drinking of it as prompted by my pastor, gave me a sense of connection to my church, and to God's himself.
Now a warning: In this series on the role of Communion in assimilating people into your church, I am about to step on all kinds of tradition, notions, orthodoxy and orthopraxy when it comes to the Lord's Supper, including that of churches who may not take it at all. But since most of the two and a half billion Christians in the world take it in some form, its impact on the seekers and guests coming to your church from various traditions cannot be ignored.
I believe that most of us were taught that the Communion meal, Lords Supper, Eucharist, the Mass or whatever your tradition calls it, was only available to card-carrying baptized Christ Followers, born a 2nd time through his Spirit, and that you should only take it in a "worthy manner" after confessing as many of your sins as you can possibly remember. Well consider this question:
What if Communion is not a cleansing ritual for Christians but a story-telling experience for all who need the gospel?
Since water is always purest at its source, we would do well to remember where this meal comes from so we can rediscover it purpose for us. When we do, we will see that it is really not a 2000 year old tradition. It is a 3500 year old one.
When Jesus asked his closest followers to share this meal with him, he didn't invite them to a communion service but to a Passover meal. The Passover was a way for each generation of Israel to tell the next one the story of how God made them into a people. By eating it together, the lamb, herbs, wine and bread all told the story of how God delivered the Hebrew slaves from bondage to Egypt and made them a into a nation that would bless the entire world. Lots of attention was given to make sure this meal told the story. When a Hebrew boy asked why the herbs tasted so bitter, his Father would say things like, "Because our bondage in Egypt was bitter my son", and so on.
It was this meal where Jesus (the Lamb) took the wine and bread and identified it has is own flesh and blood. Communion was to be a way for each generation of Christ followers to tell the next one how God made them into a people. By eating it together, the bread and wine told The Story of how God delivered them from bondage to sin and and made them a new nation that would bless the entire world. Lots of attention was given to make sure this meal told the story. To this day, if a child asks why we eat the bread and drink from this cup, a mom or dad can say, "This represents Jesus life and death. If we allow him inside us, he now lives in us, will change us from the inside out, and we will be his hands and feet in our world today. That's who we are".
Now, let me ask you again: What if Communion is not a cleansing ritual for Christians but a story-telling experience for all who need the gospel? This raises an interesting set up sub-questions that we will explore in relationship to assimilation in upcoming posts. Question like...
- If there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), why would Christians need a cleansing ritual anyway?
- Whether we have been restored to God through the good news or not, don't we all need to experience the gospel in fresh ways?
- Do we ever really move beyond the gospel in our journey, or do we just need to experience it more deeply as we journey?
I look back on my childhood in that Baptist Church in L.A. with fondness. I met Jesus there and he changed my life. However, my passion now has grown for inviting new people God is bringing to all our churches to take their place at the Table without any other requirements other than their coming.
"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." -Jesus
Listen here by fast forwarding to the last 10 minutes of a message I gave where I invited our church and our guests to experience communion from this new vantage point.
In the next 3 posts of Climbing the Assimilayas, I want to consider fortifying each other and those we are assimilating by taking Communion from 3 distinct vantage points in our spiritual journeys. I believe that this holy and incredible meal will give all of us the strength to make the climb.
- If you grew up part of a church, what kind of traditions surrounded communion in that church?
- How does your current church experience communion, if at all?
- What was the most challenging thought in this post regarding Communion for you personally?
- How would a guest experience communion at your church? What adjectives might they use to describe it? How would you want a guest to describe this Meal when it is served at your church?