This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “The Rite Of Communion.”
Yeah, this one I can’t even begin to do justice to.
But of all the topics on this list, I’ve probably spent as much time thinking about this one in the last couple of years as any of them. For those thatdon’t know, I spent a year visiting different churches, observing the differences in how people worship, and how that affects their view of God and their relationship with Him. And one of the main things I paid attention to was how churches celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Or the sacrament of Eucharist. Or Communion.
The latter name, by the way, is my favorite, and the one I prefer to use. The Lord’s Supper is descriptive, but superficial; it focuses only on the significance of the fact that we are repeating the ritual as instructed by Christ, but fails to reflect the meaning of that ritual. Eucharist — thanksgiving — goes a little further, but is still vague in my opinion. Communion? Yeah, there’s meaning there.
I won’t delve into all the differences I saw. Churches that observe communion every week. Churches that do so quarterly. Churches for whom observing communion is the heart of the service. Open and closed communion. Juice and wine. Crackers and bread. Intinction. Altars.
I’ll get into a quick aside, and say that I’m not as big a fan of intinction, dipping the bread into the cup and taking both together. My usual congregation has adopted this practice, and I really wish we would go back. I prefer to take the two elements separately, and to have the time to meditate on each individually. The exact thoughts I have vary each time, but the themes that keep coming back are the two elements as two aspects of grace through the cross — the bread representing the body, broken for me, the price paid for my sins so that I don’t have to pay it; the cup representing the blood shed in the breaking of the body, the cleansing that comes after the price is paid so that I can move on, righteous once more, not through my righteousness but His. The cup is the second chance, the bread the price that makes it possible.
During my journey, the observance that made the most profound impact on me was at the home-based church I’ve been a part of, however. Almost every time we met, we would begin by having dinner and fellowshipping together before moving into our discussion. And one week, early on, our pastor was saying a blessing over the food, and he used verses from the Lord’s Supper, blessing the bread and the cup.
At the time, it completely caught me off guard. Those words don’t go with this situation. But then — why not? We were gathered together as a church body, we were breaking bread and drinking, we were there to worship Him.
And reading through the epistles, one could make the argument that that was probably not unlike a way “breaking bread” took place in the early church. Not a cold and liturgical ritual, but a social celebration. And that’s why I like “communion,” to be, at its best, that’s what the observance should be, not just communion with Him, but with His church. (That doesn’t mean there’s not merit in the other as well; I celebrated the meaning of Easter this year while in Florida for the launch by observing Eucharist on my own.)
I mentioned in my “saying grace” post that when I pray before eating with other people, I usually include either thanks or blessing for “the opportunity to break bread together.” And that’s the origin of that. If two or more believers are gathered, and are consuming bread and drink, then we are at that point the church, and the prayer recognizes that and consecrates it for His use.
Because when Christ broke the bread, He was talking of it specifically, and in terms of His immenent sacrifice, when He said, “This is My body.”
At the same time, however, there was another level to that — As He spoke the words, He was surrounded by His apostles, the foundation of His church. As He looked around the table, He recognized, “This is My body.”
Today, that honor belongs to us. It is our place to carry on His work. Eucharist should remind us of the cost and atonement delivered through the crucifiction. But communion, whether it be with a large congregation on a Sunday morning or simply two believers at Cracker Barrel, should remind us of the privilege of service for Him that cost and atonement bought.
THIS is His body.