Communion and Reaching In (3 of 4)
What if Communion is not a cleansing ritual for Christians but a story-telling experience for all who need the gospel?
"Yeah but"....I can sense your objections and cautions. I have shared them. Remember Communion at the church I grew up at from 2 posts ago? We probably all have reservations about inviting guests to share the Communion meal with us. Who knows what they believe? Who knows what've they've done? Who knows what they're currently doing?
We seem to have a fear or at least a huge concern about people talking communion in an "unworthy manner". It is inherited from the practices of the institutional church and fueled by a misunderstanding of Paul's management of "Communion Abuse" in the church at Corinth (1 Cor 11). Once the Common Meal moved from a shared story-telling experience to an exclusive ceremony or "sacrament', participation in it gave way to attempts of controlling people's behavior by withholding the Meal from others whose conduct was "less than". Upping the anti was the church encouraging the notion that by not participating you had somehow fallen out of God's good graces.
I believe we can help guests AND members of our churches make better connections with God and each other by sharing Communion together, holding fast to these two realities:
1. Understanding the story of communion is the only pre-condition for participation
2. If the Holy Spirit is drawing a person to receive the Meal as the story is explained, that is a "sign" of their acceptance at the Table.
1 Corinthians 11:9 states that taking the Lord's Supper in an "unworthy manner" is taking it without "discerning the body of Christ". It says nothing of the person being a baptized Christian. It does say that understanding the story of the bread and cup, its representing Christ's body and blood, and that eating and drinking it is an invitation for him to work inside of you like food does, is essential to the experience of the Meal.
Christ followers in Corinth were gathering early for a party style meal that included wine and bread and getting so drunk that the poorer brothers who arrived later had nothing to eat or take Communion with. Unless this describes the habit of your church, I think we should focus less on this passage when we take communion and focus on Jesus' explanation of this new meal at the last Passover that he had with his disciples. Water is always purest at its source. Remember that Judas was invited to participate in this meal that night.
Jesus said that no man comes to the Father unless the Holy Spirit draws him. That is the purpose of this meal-that through the story it tells (the lifting up of the cross), all men would be drawn to him.
As you ponder that, some of you may remember that in the Old Testament those who were "uncircumcised" were banned from the Passover meal which Communion was birthed from. If that is the case, shouldn't we assertively filter all seekers, non-believers and even people actively living sinful lifestyles from participating in it? The answer for me lies in the fact that circumcision is not the parallel of baptism in our new covenant relationship with God. Circumcision was the "sign" that someone was a part of the old covenant (Romans 4:11). Baptism is not the sign that we have a new covenant relationship with God...the Holy Spirit is (Romans 2:29, 8:9). Imagine that! The movement of the Spirit of God in our lives (his fruit, his power) should be as physical, intimate and discernible a mark as circumcision is.
I believe that when Communion is used to tell the story of the gospel, we see the visible, intimate and discernible "sign" that God's Spirit is drawing people to himself using a meal and a table. Like Peter said when he witnessed the Spirit moving the first Gentile Christians: "God did not discriminate between us and them...Who was I to think I could stand in God's way?"-Acts 11:17, 15:9.
I believe that when Communion is used to tell the story of the gospel, we see the visible, intimate and discernible "sign" that God's Spirit is drawing people to himself using a meal and a table.
In the next post, I will explore the role of creativity at the Communion Table as well as some new ideas for enjoying Lord's Supper with an upward focus. In the mean time, consider these idea starters for helping guests and seekers experience Communion in a way that invites them to look inward into their own hearts as they do:
1. Ready to Receive: Invite people to cup their hands upward, close their eyes, and visualize holding in their hands any burden or distraction they came in with. List examples of the kinds of things they may be hindered by and to feel the weight of them in their hands. When they are ready, asked them to turn their hands over to let that burden fall to the ground. Give time for that to happen in an authentic way. Then, invite them to turn there hands upward again and and tell God they are ready to receive whatever he has for them today. Read and/or project on the screen the words of Romans 8:38-39 as their hands are filled with the Bread & Cup. Encourage them to receive the Meal as Gods love and nourishment for them, replacing the burden they came to worship with. Lead them into the next part of your service with a song that describes and proclaims the love of God.
2. He is our Peace: Sometimes the angst we feel in life comes from a sense that we do not belong anywhere, have no community we are a part of, or that we have conflicts with others that we are powerless to resolve. After pointing this out, share how Ephesian 2:14 says that Jesus is our Peace who has broken down every wall between us. Share how the word translated "peace" in the Bible was not describing the feeling of peace, but described the fact of peace, from which all feelings can flow. This word for peace simply meant "the absence of conflict". This means that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no longer any conflict between us and God and between us and each other. We may feel there is, but there is not. As Communion is passed, ask each person to say the ancient blessing, "Peace be with you" as they hand the Meal to the next person. Emphasize the Common Meal and how through it (the Body and Blood of Christ), we are One and have the Peace we really long for.
3. You Are Free: The Latin word describing the Lord's Supper is Eucharist which means "Thanksgiving", That means We don't use this meal to ask God to to do something to forgive us. We use this meal to thank him for what he has already done to forgive us. Unveil the meaning of Romans 8:1 and its bold declaration that we are guilt free, even as broken sinful people. We no longer have to relate with God through the endless cycle of guilt, confession and forgiveness that religion preaches. We don't come to this meal with hearts that say "Father forgive me" but "Father thank you for forgiving me". All our sins were future sins when Christ died for them, including the ones we are currently committing, both known and unknown along with any other future sin we will commit. Gratitude evaporates many inward toxins. Thats why giving people silent time to thank God (a time of Eucharist) for giving them a debt-free relationship with God would release them from bondage and break down many barriers, barriers that otherwise will keep people from connecting to God and each other. Leave Romans 8:1 up for them to meditate on while they thank God for this staggering gift.
Inward issues, fears, guilt and walls keep people from becoming assimilated into the community of God's people. Experiencing communion in new ways will help them make real connections. Remember: always invite them to participate, but give permission to pass.
- How would awareness that communion tells the gospel story redefine what it means to take it in a "worthy manner"?
- How do you think the way you invite people to the Communion Meal affects your current ability to assimilate guests into our church family?
- Referencing the idea starters, what new ways can you identify for using this meal to "reach in" to the hearts of seekers, guests and members in your services?