Monday, August 31, 2015
The other day I posted a little (cynical) quip about the options some churches are offering at communion. I think some might have been offended either by my quip, or the comments that came afterward. Most of these were simply people telling stories of what they had seen offered or done. I wanted to clarify how I feel about Holy Communion.
I have the opportunity to visit a lot of congregations, and sometimes have the joy of celebrating communion with the saints. I don’t have the opportunity to officiate at it as I did when I was a pastor, which was one of the great joys of ministry for me. As with most believers celebrating Holy Communion is very important and meaningful to me and I am concerned when it is not done with seriousness and/or especially when it is not done Biblically.
I try not to be judgmental about little differences, and I don’t want what might be simply my personal preferences to cause division with my brothers and sisters. Every once in a while I have actually refrained from taking communion because I thought what was happening was more of a political statement, and was forcing me to accept that statement, rather than an opportunity for me to partake in free conscience. I have been distressed when the table was not fenced, no warning given, no call for self-examination. I have been dismayed when I thought the administration was perfunctory, where the pastor just said some of the basic statements in the ritual without any explanation or Gospel warmth.
I am a Presbyterian so that makes me pretty conservative as to where and when I will serve communion, and to whom. I have always felt it right to leave the taking of the elements to the conscience of folks, but tried to make sure that conscience was well informed. I have always tried to reflect the joy and thanksgiving side of it along with the scary warnings part of it, but I have never refrained from spelling out the sobriety of it. This is another reason why I don’t believe it should be a children’s festival, nor an attempt to make it a new version of Passover where children are given an object lesson. To take communion is a decision that has consequences, at least as far as I read my Bible. It is and ought to be tied to the discipline of the church.
I am not a Roman Catholic so I don’t approach the elements as a priest would, seeing the wine and host as the actual body and blood of Christ so that it must be consecrated and must be disposed of only in a certain way. However, I tend to think the frivolous way some churches handle the elements, spill things, let children attack the bread and juice after the service, is and can be offensive to those who have a high view of what is happening in this meal.
I think it wise that Elders pray and discuss what elements they will use and why (choice of wine or juice, leavened bread or unleavened, etc.). Being offered a buffet line of choices certainly bothers me some, but it doesn’t keep me from participating. I see this meal as part of the worship, not part of a church lunch or supper, because I think that is exactly how the church in Corinth got in trouble in the first place. I think it wise the Elders decide on the frequency, and I don’t think this is worth fighting over, unless the sacrament has become so formidable hardly anyone gets to take it, or takes it so lightly it is not given its deserved seriousness and deliberation.
What I love about the Supper is the Gospel. The Gospel over and over again, and my desperate need of it, is what is felt in my heart when I take it. It makes me feel my failure, see my hypocrisy, and hate my betrayal of my Savior. It makes me remember how He is never willing to abandon me, never gives me up, never turns away from me and what that radical and complete commitment cost him. It gives me hope that the Spirit of Christ is in the meal forgiving me, renewing me, healing me, and that His grace will be with him in the battle to come. This is the strongest relationship in my life, and it is renewed every time I take the meal. It is one of the places where I think the church guards sacredness, spells out a difference from what is profane and what is holy, all in the context of exquisite and serene joy.