A confessional communion meditation

What follows is a sort of confessional meditation about communion/the Lord’s Supper.

I lack a lot in technical insight, and I lack even more in devotion, but I still have the embers of a once-burning motivation to go deeper into (and to teach) the things of the Lord Jesus.  I began writing this 2-3 months ago and returned to it recently, in the course of deep, investigative study of 1Corinthians 11.


‘Twas on that night, when doomed to know the eager rage of every foe,
That night on which he was betrayed, the Savior of the world took bread. . . .
– John Morrison, “‘Twas on That Night” (1791)

To remember that night. . . .

To observe its significance. . . .

To honor and memorialize the Immortal One. . . .

To share with other believers the meaning of this bread- and cup-taking. . . .

It has been so long since I had (what I consider) a reasonably viable communion experience that I can hardly muster the feeling of “missing” it on the occasions on which I don’t have (or take) the opportunity.  There have been retreats and campfires and living rooms and dining room tables through the years, and a few other, isolated exceptions, but I am left high and dry by most attempts.

Even the communion times that I used to orchestrate for churches and smaller groups were most often lacking, in my estimation.

I wrote a few songs about the Supper; one of them was used in multiple groups and was self-published 3-4 times, in two different melodic iterations (with distinctly different affects).  Another song was more of a solo thing, and another couple started gathering dust even sooner.  About 20 years ago, an author-friend who knew I cared about such things sent me an out-of-print copy of an impressive treatise on the Lord’s Supper (by Warren W. Lewis, who had left Christian circles), suggesting that I might update/revise/write a new short book on the subject.   I did not feel qualified but did write up a list of 52 different aspects of communion—ostensibly for weekly use throughout the year, so that the practice of it wouldn’t get “tired.”

Of course, not everyone experiences the Supper’s observance as “tired.”  But there is something deep within me that longs for something more developed, something more richly meaningful, something more communal, something more Passovery, something more expensive or at least expansive . . . something . . . anything more.  I long for this not only for myself, but for all of my siblings.

I have just about stopped believing it’s possible—until the final consummation of things, that is.

My broken body thus I give
For you, for all. Take, eat, and live.
And oft the sacred rite renew
That brings My saving love to view.
– John Morrison

Among other goals for me in working long and hard with 1Cor 11:23-26 has been to get closer to this text so I can get closer to the Lord through the “meal.”  His saving love ought to be easy to bring to view in this way, you’d think, but for me, it has not often been so.

The “Supper” is described in certain scholarly circles as a “cultic ritual”/rite (and that epithet doesn’t carry the same connotations as in common parlance), but I want it to be more.  I want to recover some of the rich sense of connectedness that I think Jesus intended, and that I suspect Paul was trying to instantiate in the Corinthians.  For about 30 years I’ve retained a scholarly paper by Dr. James Walters on communal meals in Graeco-Roman antiquity—in the hope that it might some day be a source for real people today about real things that really happened in the real world of real first-century Corinth and other real cities.

I want to be part of a group that communes purposefully and meaningfully (whether it’s weekly or more or less often) as they  worship and wait together.

The 25 or 30 English versions to which I have access have only these variants of the last phrase of 1Corinthians 11:26:

“. . . till He come” “. . . till He comes”
“. . . until He comes again” “. . . till he may come”
“. . . until His coming” “. . . till he shall come”
“. . . until He returns” “. . . until the Master returns”

A similar phrase appears in 1Cor 4:1-5, and I have also, almost coincidentally, studied that text deeply.  There’s got to be something to this observant, expectant, faith-filled waiting, although some of us begin to flag in the vitality of expectancy as the years drag on.  Others find in the events of 66-70 CE the denouement of things, i.e., that, after the year 70, Jesus wasn’t “coming” in the future anymore.  Certainly, the destruction of the Jewish temple was a cataclysmic event not only for Jerusalem and the Jews, but for all those, including me, who would later believe in Yahweh and His son Yeshua as Messiah.

Presumably with 1Cor 11:26 in mind, the author of the poem “By Christ Redeemed, In Christ Restored” closed each stanza with the expression “until he come.”  Here are the last words of the final (that is, “final” of the four stanzas I used to sing before the song, unfortunately, began to die out) stanza:

“With the last advent we unite by one bright chain of loving rite . . . until He come.”
– George Rawson, “By Christ Redeemed” (1857)

While the Rawson words are poetic, they may not be reflective or expressive of reality for some of us.  I hope that most who read this do experience regularly what I do not.  For my part, in my heart of hearts, I want to identify with Jesus “until” . . . and with all who have for twenty centuries remembered, memorialized, mused on, commemorated, and honored our Jesus in this way.

Till He come—O let the words
Linger on the trembling chords. . . .

. . .

See, the feast of love is spread.
Drink the wine, and break the bread.
Sweet memorials, till the Lord
Call us round His heavenly board;
Some from earth, from glory some
Severed only “Till He come.”

– Edward J. Bickersteth, Jr., “Till He Come” (1861)


Postscript
In the event that these musings strike you as mostly a “downer,” I will next offer a meditational prayer I wrote for communion some years ago.

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4 thoughts on “A confessional communion meditation

  1. Steve 08/11/2015 / 3:44 pm

    Any idea what James W is doing these days?

    I’ll comment later on the power of the communal meal in our Life Group for an abused lady…

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    • Brian Casey 08/11/2015 / 4:18 pm

      Yes, James is teaching at Boston University’s school of theology. Looking forward to your insights.

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  2. Steve 08/12/2015 / 9:00 am

    James was a peer when I was at HU…if I recall correctly, he came from Alabama where I believe he was majoring in some type of engineering program (electrical?)–perhaps became a believer there–was recruited to come to Harding where he distinguished himself immediately in his Biblical studies. In fact (in the same vein as Gal 1:14a!!), I actually took my first HUGSR grad class from him–and it was excellent. I wonder if he is still associated with churches of Christ? Ross Cochran also got his Ph.D. at BU.

    Our life group consisted of about 14 folks. Agenda included one couple providing the meal for all once every three months. We enjoyed a rich time at the table — much laughter, and tears, and many stories. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned of one of the life group members, a quiet spoken lady who would tell me her life story — her horrendous upbringing of an alcoholic father who physically abused her mother and her, and endured sexual abuse on top of that. So coming to the table was a fearful, excruciating experience for her at her house. And the analogy of coming to the table in the assembly was most confusing to her. Her new paradigm of table was slow in coming, but eventually it was transformed–especially as we would, in that context, take the Lord’s Supper together.

    I recall back in the 80’s when Faulkner and Brecheen (ACU) were doing their marriage enrichment seminars–they authored a book in which was a memorable statement: “Home–where life makes up its mind.” I reflect back on both my upbringing and my own family’s intentional commitment to meet around the table to share meals and life together–and that has provided a rich context for me as I experience participation in table fellowship with my Lord and spiritual family.

    I sense you had some of that in past days–but not so much in the recent past?? I’ve appreciated your communion thoughts/compositions–very meaningful.

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    • Brian Casey 08/12/2015 / 9:53 am

      Steve, what rich and poignant memories/experiences you share. You may always trust that I’ll ingest what you write, and I may not always be able to respond with anything … well, responsive. I know you wouldn’t write just to get a response, except maybe the inner one, which I assure you is always there. It is these kinds of experiences — even by proxy — that make up an important part of my concept of “church.”

      I don’t know about the last decade, but about 15-20 years ago, I sat in a house that I think it was James and Marla’s (memories fade) in northern NH, with James, Marla, an aunt and uncle of mine, Landon Saunders, and a handful of other folks. It was a house church, but I don’t know that anyone would have called it a CofC (or would have called it anything, for that matter). I recall vaguely that there was a very troubled life among the regulars — this one more out in the open than the one you described from your experiences with the Walterses way back when. Did you finish an MDiv or MA? I heard James present the material I referred to at the “13-in-1” workshop while I was a student, and it was of high impact: 1) I can still see in my mind his intentional, focused manner of presenting, the way he shifted his feet and leaned a little when he was about to emphasize something, and 2) the material was scholarly and of high interest to me, even then.

      I heard Brecheen/Faulkner present at my church once — very strong presenters. That quote is indeed apt.

      My own communion experiences have been nearly completely lacking in established church. Sure, there are often moments (although less frequent these days) when I have some “spiritual” thought, some gratitude, some out-reach or back-reach or in-reach or something about one of the two kinds of Body. The communal aspect, though, has seemed absent except for specialized experiences. We had very good “table” times in our home church for about 3.5 years of Sunday evenings. Homemade bread and popcorn and herbal tea and junk food and vegetables. Not always did we “observe” the “Lord’s Supper,” but we did often. When we did, I felt it needed better flow, but I wasn’t sure how to effect that. I knew how I valued these times — these people around our table, talking and laughing and sometimes being serious about living, and those who stayed into the 3rd and 4th hours (or beyond) often really got into sharing deep things of life. This is the kind of thing I want to experience regularly again, but I also want to add some more focus during “communion.” It seems I haven’t been able to stop responding responsively after all. Thank you for this spiritual stimulation this morning. _

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