Communion and Reaching Out (2 of 4)
What if Communion is not a cleansing ritual for Christians but a story-telling experience for all who need the gospel?
This is the question I proposed in my last post. As someone who is passionate about helping people connect to the Body of Christ, I would respond to this question in a controversial way: I believe that communion was never meant to be a time of personal cleansing of sin for a believer, but a chance to vividly understand the good news about Jesus and how that works out in everyone's life.
As the Jesus Movement ("The Way") spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, a key to its prolific expansion was not in its access to professional teachers or outstanding worship leaders, but in its ease of story-telling as people "broke bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46). Reminiscent of the Passover, this Meal would become the central act of worship for the first 1500 years of the Christian experience:
From 33 AD to 314 AD, the Meal was shared around tables in homes, halls, outdoors and underground as the story of Christ death was told. Everyone gathered was invited to eat and to drink what represented the life and death of Jesus who was now buried in them and resurrected in them as they became the Body of Christ in the world.
From 315 AD to 1516 AD, the table was replaced with an Altar as the Edict of Milan made it legal for Christians to not just assemble, but to construct buildings in which to worship. Many would no longer refer to themselves as attending church services, but as attending "Mass" (Greek and Latin for "Bread"). The Meal would now be served only to those in good standing with the Church.
From 1517 AD to 1905 AD, the Altar is eclipsed by a relatively new arrival...the Pulpit. The printing press was invented and the Bible was translated from Latin into the languages of the people. The Reformation emphasized "Scripture only" and for the first time ever, people started coming to church to hear a Sermon.
In 1906 the Pentecostal Movement was born in Los Angeles. That along with technological advances in how music is performed, recorded and distributed resulted in an emphasis that today permeates every existing form of Christianity-to the point that people now begin coming to church for "the Worship"; a blend of high participation singing and testimony. The sermon still has an important, even central position, but the Meal now moves into the background. This familiar service format is common even outside the evangelical experience, even though it has only existed for the last 5% of Christian history.
The Result: The gospel is now communicated in gatherings through preaching and singing and not a meal.
For the record, I do not believe we are calling down condemnation on ourselves for not making Communion the center of worship services in the Evangelical Church. Our freedom in Christ is too vast and powerful for that, especially as faith in Christ moves from culture to culture and into new contexts. What I do believe however is that we are overlooking an incredible opportunity to communicate the good news about Jesus to our guests, one that gives them an opportunity to actually experience it....and it's been right under our noses!
We are overlooking an incredible opportunity to communicate the good news about Jesus to our guests, one that gives them an opportunity to actually experience it....and it's been right under our noses!
In the next post, I will share about our internal and inherited objections to letting seekers join us at the Communion Table and some new ideas for taking it. In the mean time, consider these idea starters for experiencing Communion in a way that reaches out to guests and seekers alike:
- "On the Road" Tell the story of how shocking and devastating the death of Jesus was to his followers. Take them on the road to Emmaus where Jesus and two despondent men who do not recognize him are telling him about his own death. "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him." -Luke 24:30-31. Using the Bread and the Cup, share the good news. Then, using an unleavened cracker type bread, invite everyone to "break" the bread together before eating it. With that sound in the air, invite anyone who felt their eyes opening to a new recognition of Jesus to come to a designated location to receive a free Bible. Get their contact info there for future follow up and to invite them to whatever the first step is in your assimilation process.
- "In the Story" Using the Cup and the Bread, tell the 4 parts of the Big Story as described in the Bible: Creation, The Fall, Redemption & Restoration. Using Acts 17:26-27, reveal how they were born into their family and community at this particular time so that they would reach out to God today and become a part of this story, Invite them to surrender to God and He will restore them and promises to use them to write others into the Story as well. Have them raise their hand while everyone's eyes are closed if they want to take their place in this story, and have them eat and drink Communion in their seats afterwards as full participants in this epic.
- "At the Table" Place a table with chairs on the stage set up for a meal. Have similar simpler tables set up as stations around your auditorium. Explain the good news using the Cup and Bread, sharing how there is a place for everyone at this Table. All are invited. Though no one is obligated to participate, urge them to not refrain because of sin in their life, even sin committed this week or on the way to church. Tell them how Jesus as a fisher of men knows that you don't clean fish till after you catch them. Read, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -Romans 5:8. Share, "If you are aware of sin and brokenness in your life, then don't avoid communion until you get it together. You won't be able to deal with it at all until you come to God anyway. If this is you, don't avoid Communion, run to it!". Invite them to eat and drink at the various tables as the musicians play/sing and to let you or your designated staff know if this was the first time you have ever taken Communion or the first time in a long time. "We want to celebrate with you.".Here is a great song that could be shared during the experience as people come to the various stations:
Note: Always invite everyone new to participate in Communion, and always give permission for them to refrain from participating if they don't want to for any reason.
- What is one new thought about Communion that you gained from this post?
- How would you use the Cup and the Bread to explain the Good News about Jesus?
- Referencing the idea starters, what new ways can you identify for using this meal to "reach out" to seekers and guests in your services?