Monday, July 30, 2007

The church versus the Church - Part VII

And when he had given thanks, he broke [the bread] and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 1 Cor. 11:24

Holy Communion -- with God.
Though Jesus and the Twelve shared unleavened bread at their last supper together, in Christian gatherings today the bread may be a chunk of crust torn from a yeasty homemade loaf, a paper-thin wafer, a bit of saltine cracker or matzoh, a piece of pita or tortilla, or a small square of sandwich bread. The "cup"--whether wine or grape juice -- may be served to us from a simple chalice carved from wood or one fashioned from silver or gold. Perhaps you drink from a tiny "communion glass" plucked from a tray, or perhaps sip from a plastic or glass tumbler from the kitchen cupboard.
I Cor. 11:26 and 28 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes... Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
We are communing with God in this act of worship. Each time we partake of the bread and the cup, we reenact, in however brief a manner, the Lord's death at Calvary.

At its best, this ancient ritual allows us to stop, quiet ourselves, focus, remember, give thanks, search our hearts, forgive and ask forgiveness, repent, rejoice and anticipate Christ's return. The experience of worship as we come to "the Lord's table" at his sweet invitation can be deep and profound. The liturgy, the words, or music or prayer may be skillful or awkward, casual or formal, presented with polish and pomp and ceremony or with almost none at all, but our heart's desire should be for "communion" -- connection with our beloved Savior and his Holy Spirit. But there is more to communion.

Holy Communion with His "Church"...and His "church"

The "Church" is mystical and wonderful in my thoughts. When I stand behind our church's communion table preparing to bless the bread and the cup, I am often reminded of all those who have shared these simple elements, the body and blood, throughout the generations.

Ever since Christ's supper with his twelve disciples, we, the believers, have remembered his death and anticipated his coming again. I see it as a long line of people, an unbroken chain stretching back to Jesus.

I also think of the many believers around the world who are doing the same thing on any given Sunday. I visualize a beautiful sanctuary with stained glass and a vaulted ceiling, or a quiet congregation in China or some other restricted country. I can see believers gathered sharing communion in a home. I see Africans and Europeans and Native Americans, old and young, men and women, those full of hope and passion and those who take the bread with a kind of desperate longing for truth and peace. This is real to me and is especially vivid during the Advent season, particularly on Christmas Eve. I am one small part of the glorious "communion of the saints." That phrase from the Apostle's Creed means different things to Roman Catholics and to Protestants, but I do believe there is one Body of Christ, one Church, and that those who have died before me are part of it.

Communion is best as a shared experience. We are all called to the table, all called to partake freely, all called to receive grace and healing. The communion that happens is vertical, to God, but also horizontal, with those who are with me in "the way," who pray with and for me, who teach me and are taught by me, who sing and laugh and listen and learn and cry with me on this journey as we wait for Christ. That is "the church." The less-than-mystical group of believers that I know and see every week. The couple struggling with rebuilding their marriage. The parents of a new baby, the widowed or never married, the single parent trying to be more than it is humanly possible to be, the mother and children waiting for a husband and father's return from war, the husband or wife who sits alone, wishing their spouse would join them in the journey of faith, the awkward teenager, the confused and broken and precious and loving people who make up my little part of the body of Christ. When we observe Communion we show our participation in that body. His life becomes our life and we become members of each other!

"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

The New Living Translation puts it this way: "When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body."

I have had a solitary communion with God, just me and the Holy Spirit and the elements. That is good. But the experience of communion is meant to be shared. If I should see you in the congregation, I will not ask what church you belong to. It is the Lord's Table, not mine.

I hope you find a welcoming place this Sunday to participate and partake.


Anonymous said...

Communion is a special part of church service for me. As much as I like "nonliturgical" services, I wish that we celebrated communion more often. There's the argument that if it was done every week, it would lose its meaning, but I'm not so sure about that.

LoieJ said...

Wonderfully written. Yes, it is the Lord's Table, He invites us.

I'm visiting my daughter who is Pastor-to-be in Philly this week. We hope she will get a call to the midwest. She will be eligible in Oct. Also new baby in Oct.

I heard a Maundy Thursday one time about communion linking us to the saints of the past, around the world, and into the future. It made a lasting impression on me.

CaptainQuick said...

Your words brought to mind my most memorable Communion experience. I was in East Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) visiting a dear friend. He brought me along to the Methodist church he attended, where the service was in the local Chinese dialect. Of course, I didn't understand a thing. I didn't even know the tunes of the choruses they were singing. But when I went forward to receive Communion, along with everyone else, the fact that I couldn't understand the language didn't matter. I knew more or less exactly what the words were that the person who served me were - "Body of Christ, given for you. Blood of Christ, shed for you." It brought it home to me powerfully that on this day, all around the world, believers were gathering to remember the same Christ who died for us all, no matter what our language or culture, no matter whether we casually rolled through the door without a thought or whether we had to go in secret.

That man will not look towards men but towards Jesus! said...

your description of the Communion is not Biblical and a little to "Catholic" for me.

The Communion itself has no special powers in it. And never was intented to have.

It was from the beginning to be a rememberance of Jesus Sacrifice.

The Apostate Catholic Church is responsible for creating a tradition of the Communion being more than a rememberence. This is why they put so much emphasis on the "Holy Eucharist" to the point of believing they can "conjur up Jesus" in the Eucharist.

The Catholic Chruch is not part of the True Believing Church" and for a "Pentecostal" to attempt to make them seem so is an abomination and a blatant insult to those who have "passed before you" by being martyred in opposition to the False Catholic Church.

The true Church is not a visible church, It is a spiitual unity, and that Spiritual unity is brought about by them living in Truth and the Holy Spirit bearing witness of that.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Special powers? Did I say that? No. Did I say the "Church" was a visible entity? No. I agree that it is a spiritual unity. And when I speak of the "church" I am speaking of local bodies. I'm not Catholic, and I don't subscribe to the Catholic view of communion, but I also was not singling them out, nor was I attempting to post about Catholics, per se. I find your comment quite perplexing. ??