In our Monday night Bible studies this semester, we’ve been exploring the idea of Communion in the context of the early Church.
It’s predictable: The service arrives at that point and the entire church gets still. Nothing moves—everyone is afraid to. The silence echoes as the elements are prepared, and then the pastor speaks. He reads the same Scriptures he has read a hundred times, and once he begins, we could all probably recite them with him. Then one of two things happens. Sometimes, men in suits walk to the front of the aisles and stand like agents as they wait for a tray of wafers. Once each man has one, they turn together and begin sending the trays down the aisles, back and forth like a life-size game of Pong. They serve the congregation and then return to the front to be served by another man. The pastor recites, “And the Lord said, ‘This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’” Everyone places the (hopefully) tasteless wafer in their mouths and bites down as quietly as possible. We look around, hoping nobody else can hear our chewing for the deafening sound of their own chewing in their ears. Some of us try to swallow the cardboard-like disc nearly whole—and then try our best to suppress our coughs. The solemn process is repeated, this time with juice, and the pastor quotes, “Then Jesus took the wine and passed it around, saying, ‘This is My blood, which is shed for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’” Everyone tips back their little cup of juice and the tongues of the kids who don’t know better can be seen searching the bottom of the cups for any remaining drops. They will know better next time. Finally, the clinking of cups can be heard, and the eerie silence is broken. Sometimes, churches decide instead to make the process more intimate by inviting families to the front. The head of the house serves each member, they take the elements, and the family steps to the side to pray. The silence isn’t quite so loud, lessened by the sounds of people shuffling about, individual prayers being whispered, and the periodic clinking of stacks of cups that land in the small trash cans. Individuals who came alone sit with their heads down, hoping either for an invitation into another’s family or for the ability to sneak out without anyone noticing that they didn’t participate.
Doesn’t this seem rather uncomfortable? A little impersonal? Unfairly condemning, given that the purpose of this exercise is to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption?
So what is Communion REALLY about and what did it look like to the early Church?
In his study titled Basic, Francis Chan describes the Last Supper, when Jesus sat down with His disciples—His closest friends—and enjoyed dinner with them for the last time before His death. He talks about how Jesus longed to sit there with His companions and hang out, talk, enjoy each other’s company. It is in this context that Jesus reminded them of His sacrifice for them. In this community, the sacrifice of Jesus became more real, more personal, more life-changing than it could have in any other setting. Chan references John 15:13, which says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
So what should this mean to us? In the first Communion in the Upper Room and in those we participate in, we find two reminders and a charge. The reminders: first, that Jesus valued community so much that He spent His last free moments before His death at dinner, simply investing in His friends, and second, that He gave His life so that we can enjoy that same incredible community with Him, free from the sin that once kept us apart. The charge: to use our freedom to invest in others the same way He invested in the people around Him.
We want to redefine Communion. Communion should be experienced in the context of the Community the early Church is built around—brothers and sisters coming together with a common bond, that of redemption through Jesus’ blood, and celebrating what we have as the Body of Christ. Communion—the remembering—and community—the life-living—should be done simultaneously. And so we’re doing just that! We’re eating, fellowshipping, and learning together, and then together, we remember the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf and we celebrate the many magnificent things that come out of that.
One week, we met together in the Pondells’ home. We broke bread, tasted the juice and shared with each other what God has done for us. Another week, the Davises welcomed us into their home, where they served us the elements and each of us spent some time in prayer. The BCM became a home for a homeless family for a week, so we fellowshipped that Monday in the big brown house. We served each other the elements and promised to help each other in specific, personal ways. The final week, we wrapped up our study of Communion and celebrated two of our sisters’ birthdays with coffee, cake, and the Communion elements. That’s what community is about, no?
Communion should not be miserable. It should be a celebration!