The Lord's Sample
|Photo courtesy of nkzs|
Now let me assure you that all that I am about to say IS NOT directed at any one church because every church I've ever been to does this the same way. What I am trying to do in this post is bring to light something that I think is a tragedy in the church. "What is that tragedy?" you ask. Well, you may have already guessed it...communion, a.k.a "The Lord's Supper."
I just can't help but wonder, at what point in history did The Lord's Supper turn into a mass sampling of really bad food. Typically, the modern version of Communion is some variation on the following theme. The pastor, or deacon, or elder, or whoever, reminds the congregation of the story of the Last Supper and how the bread and wine (or juice) represents the body and blood of Christ. The congregation is invited to either come forward and receive the elements at the front of the church, or stay in their seats as they are passed around. Some churches take the elements in a manner called "intinction," which is a fancy way of saying "you sop up the juice with the bread." (I used to like this form better but now that I really think about it the only reason was because it made the bread taste better. Furthermore, the only instance in the Bible where I can find someone dipping something into something else, at least in regards to the Lord's Supper, was Judas! I can't help but wonder if some new born believer has ever thought, "Why are we simulating what Judas did during the Last Supper?") After you take communion you shuffle back to your seat and wait for the rest of the brethren to finish the process. My question is, is this what Jesus meant when He told us to do this in remembrance of Me ?
Here's the rub for me. Most churches, or denominations, try to do things in accordance with the Scriptures. For instance, in the Baptist Church we baptize people by immersion because the idea is that it is the most biblical mode of baptism. The reasoning is, John baptized Jesus by immersion and therefore we should follow suit. I, being the good baptist that I am, agree that immersion is the best possible mode of baptism, if for no other reason than because it symbolizes the death and rebirth in a way that sprinkling or pouring cannot. The problem is, we don't apply the same logic to the Lord's Supper. In fact, few do. Baptism and communion are the two sacraments that we protestants hold in highest regard. One we do as our initiation into the community of God and the other we do to remember the sacrifice of our Lord and the covenant He has made with us. However, it seems communion has taken a back seat to baptism and I can't figure out why because both were instituted by Christ.
To get to the root of the meaning of communion we have to look into the Bible. What we see is that the Last Supper was part of the Passover celebration. To understand that we must go back to the Jewish heritage that we, as Christians, have been grafted into (see Romans 11). The Passover meal was not some three minute event, it was a mealtime that lasted for hours and included the retelling of the exodus from Egypt. It was a time to remember and be aware of the freedom that God had given His people. If we read the accounts of the Last Supper we get the sense that it was an intimate time of dining and fellowship between the Lord and His servants, the apostles. What I fear is that we have stripped the meaning away from the Lord's Supper because it has very little in common with the biblical record of the Last Supper.
In 1 Corinthians 11:18-34 Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for the way they were handling the Lord's Supper. In our parlance, they were "hangin' out, piggin' out and gettin' drunk." His point was that the church was no longer honoring Christ with their version of communion. Listen to what Charles Stanley says about these verses in the Life Principles Study Bible;
When the church observed the Lord's Supper, it was in remembrance of the last Passover Jesus celebrated with His disciples. Regrettably, the Corinthian observance no longer reflected the spirit of the Lord's Supper. Instead of honoring the Lord in fellowship with other believers, many brought their own meals, while others got drunk, and some had nothing to eat at all.
Let me ask you this; the last time you had communion did you really feel like you were in fellowship with your brothers and sisters? I know I didn't. I felt like I needed to "grab it n' go" so I wouldn't hold up the line. When the Lord looks down on our version of communion I wonder if He thinks the same thing Paul did in 1 Corinthians 11:22a, What!
Now, before anyone goes and starts writing nasty comments about my lack of regard let me offer some solutions that I think would better reflect the meaning and character of the Lord's Supper. No, I am not some communion guru or mighty fortress of spirituality but I do have some ideas.
First, what if we observed the Lord's Supper in smaller groups. Some congregations are so large that it makes intimacy during communion virtually impossible. I can't think of too many people who are comfortable before the Lord when there are 75 people standing in line behind them. What if we did communion in our small groups? What if, watch out I'm about to be ultra-radical, we did communion is people's homes? At the Lord's Supper there were, plus or minus, thirteen people. What if we gathered together in our Sunday School classes and had a time of reflection on the Lord's deliverance, sacrifice, covenant and salvation before we took communion? What if we had some of our brothers and sisters over for a "pot-luck" supper in our homes, enjoyed intimate fellowship around the table and then took communion? There are so many things that we must share with the world. We should not separate ourselves from the lost world in everything that we do because we are called to reach out to them. However, communion is not one of those things. It is something that is unique to the Body of Christ and is rightly limited to believers.
Secondly, one of the marks of the Passover meal was a retelling of the exodus story. As I mentioned earlier, this was to remind the Jews of the great deliverance God had given them from Egypt. What if we took the time to retell the narrative of Christ's passion so that we will, once again, be reminded of His sacrifice on our behalf? In 1 Corinthians 11:26 Paul says;
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
Oftentimes we recount the story of Jesus instituting the Lord's Supper but we don't go deeper into the reason behind it which is the cross. We talk about the covenant but we don't get into the torture and suffering that allowed for it. Have we grown so used to the cross that the hearing of it has lost its power?
Finally, we need to understand that the Lord's Supper is an event, it is something we do, that spans the entire history of salvation. We do it in remembrance of what Christ did for us on the cross. We do it to celebrate the New Covenant of grace that we live under and we do it in anticipation of the return of Christ.
Let me close by saying this. I understand that most churches try to do the best they can to have communion in a way that is both meaningful and efficient. I've never been in a service where an explanation of the Lord's Supper was not given and where people were not encouraged to take a moment and reflect on Christ. Also, I know there is no way to judge the experience and heart of each person that takes communion so it may be meaningful to many, many people. However, I just believe that if we want to abide by the biblical model we are missing something. I think we've turned communion into a box that we have to check off once a quarter instead of the time of reflection and intimacy it was designed to be. There are many people who will disagree with me for a number of different reasons, and some of them may be very valid, but I believe returning to the root of communion is a challenge worth taking up in the Church today.