I did communion wrong. My wife told me so last Sunday.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about communion this week for two reasons.
First, it just so happens that in our Chronological Bible Study on Monday Nights (called the Journey. Check out Pastormac’s Facebook page for details.) we’ve reached 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul talks about people taking the Lord’s Supper in such an inappropriate manner that a) he says it’s not really the Lord’s Supper and b) some were even getting sick and dying, apparently as judgment. More on this and my opening statement later.
Second, yesterday we visited Hope E. Free Church with some friends of ours. We had a really good time, particularly as we visited it with some other Lifesingers, as well as some friends who go even further back than that. Short review: My wife and oldest daughter said it was their favorite and the traditional feel brought them some comfort I think. My second oldest daughter and I enjoyed it, but the traditional feel did not appeal to us as much. I’m sure I’ll write more about that another time, but for now what I wanted to mention is that this would be the fourth straight church in four visits where Communion was on the agenda. I don’t know if these churches do communion every week or it’s just something that we happen to be hitting on the designated Sundays.
So all this thinking about communion has led to a few thoughts.
1) I think I missed the boat on this one. Although we did communion at Lifesong we did not do it regularly and we certainly did not do it frequently. I think I missed an opportunity there, particularly as you’ll see by my discussion below we had a perfect set up for doing it meaningfully and in an organic matter that churches who do not sit at tables don’t have opportunity to do. It is of course the most valuable and important part of our worship to remember what Christ did and what it really means for us. Communion is one good way to remember this. Every church did communion differently. One was integrated into the service which I liked. Three of them had us go up for communion and one of them passed out the elements. Two of them had a very free form, come-as-you-feel-lead approach and two of them had designated times for it. One of them made very brief mention and as far as we could see no one took advantage of it. The others emphasized it to a fairly high degree, by placement in the service or by talking it up. Interestingly, all of them used the little tiny cups of juice and some kind of bread (not always unleavened, interestingly.) This leads me to my second thought.
2) As valuable as the tradition is, and as much as I now wish we’d done more of it at Lifesong, I can’t help but also feel like the way we’re doing it in all these churches (again still better than not doing it at all as we basically did) is somehow missing a valuable point or two I see in Corinthians.
Here’s the passage:
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
Obviously I’m not about to suggest that we should follow the Corinthians example, but it’s interesting what abuses Paul is angry about because it’s an abuse that would be literally impossible to commit in our day. This is not to say we are doing it wrong, but only differently. He says that when they come together for the Lord’s Supper some are overeating and some are getting drunk. Here’s what was common among all the churches we visited.
In fact at Hope it was half this size, because, very cleverly, they had basically half cups and the little tiny piece of bread went in the other side of the cup. No way you’re overeating on that either. You could argue, and it may even be true, that our traditions have evolved this way precisely to avoid the abuses Paul spoke about. My point is not to argue that these churches are wrong. I have benefitted from communion in each one, so much that I’ve confessed my own delinquency in doing so regularly at Lifesong in any form.
My point though is that clearly what Paul was thinking of as the Lord’s Supper is closer to the origin of the tradition than to what it is now. The whole thing was begun by Jesus himself and it happened, not at some ceremonial tasting but at a ceremonial meal. It was a passover meal which means it had deep ceremony and meaning, but it also means it was one great feast. The lamb was literally the best they could find, the food was plentiful and the drink was bona-fide wine. It was during this meal, this festive feast, that Jesus passed around a loaf of unleavened bread and a large cup of wine. His point was clearly connected to Passover, but as He asks them to remember Him whenever they do this, could it no also apply to the mere act of eating and drinking together. Could He not be saying that whenever you come together to eat, we should remember that our life comes not from our daily bread and wine but from the Lord Jesus Himself?
When Paul accuses them of taking the Lord’s supper wrongly, he is nor arguing about the methodology but about the complete lack of remembrance. As they come together to feast they are not remembering Jesus and this is most evident because they are not remembering each other. They are coming together and thinking only of themselves. They are taking advantage of the free buffet even though they have food at home. They are, in fact, forgetting those who truly do not have enough at home, embarrassing them by not letting them eat first, by not thinking of them first. The entire book of 1 Corinthians really is summed up in chapter 13. Every question they ask, every doctrinal nicety and methodological question is answered by Paul the same way: think of your brothers, love them and behave accordingly.
This brings me to the pondering I’ve been doing about this possible new kind of church which may or may not be God’s leading near the University of New Mexico. What if you could have a church where eating together could serve both as a service for those who need it (whether they be college students or prostitutes on Central) as well as a moment of remembering what the Lord has done.
While I do not scorn our current methods of communion I do note three significant differences in them which do appear to reflect and fit our culture better than our Lord’s culture.
1) Although our communion is done in gatherings, it’s very easily individual and doesn’t require others at all. The cups are individual portions, the bread is separate and not torn from a larger loaf. Their’s was clearly a communal occasion.
2) Ours is usually very solemn and quiet. Theirs seemed to involve interaction and discussion, both in the Corinth church where it may have been wrong and in Jesus example where it was clearly right.
3) Ours is about remembering Jesus through prayer and worship which is good. Theirs was about remembering Jesus through prayer, worship and service to others which is better.
Finally, how did I take communion wrong? Well, as I mentioned every church did it differently and this was the first church where the instructions where to wait until the pastor read a certain passage I didn’t wait. Like the Corinthians I rushed in and ate when I felt ready. Of course it wasn’t really wrong, but I did miss an opportunity to join with all my brothers and sisters in a moment and I was reminded that a moment alone is not the same as a moment together and while both can be good, the moments together are rare enough in our culture to be treasured. Of course the bottom line to all this is what it really means; and not how we do it, so I’ll close with Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.