A unique meal

One of my grandmothers once taught that “unique” doesn’t take the modifier “very.”  A thing cannot be “very unique.”  It’s either unique (singular) or isn’t.  I doubt most Thanksgiving meals will be unique today, but one historic meal was truly, spiritually unique.  And I’m not talking about Pilgrims and Indians here.

Once, the Savior of the world took bread and wine—and gave both of those substances new, albeit historically connected, symbolisms.  I’ve come to understand that, in Hebrew tradition, one “blesses God” at mealtimes and other times, rather than asking for a blessing.  It seems likely that Jesus would have been acting in line with that tradition at His last meal with his closest associates.

Paul’s recounting of that unique meal goes something like this:

23 So, I obtained from the Lord’s hand the same thing I subsequently handed on to you—that our own Lord Jesus, on the night when he began to be turned over, 24 broke bread in his hands, giving thanks and commenting like this:

“Notice this bread.  See it as the representation of my body, given on your behalf.
Eat it, and in doing so, you’ll be calling me into remembrance .”

25 Similarly also he offered the cup after dining, and he expressed this message:

“Now, notice this cup.  Its contents are, in effect, the signature on my new, final ‘last will and testament.’
Drink it, and each and every time you do, you’ll be calling into remembrance my body and blood.”

26 The upshot is that, each and every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you will in effect be broadly declaring the symbolic meaning of the Lord’s death, in anticipation of his coming.

1Cor 11:23-26 paraphrase by Brian Casey, Fall 2015

Soon I’ll plan to share some detailed commentary and insights gained during the process of my wrestling with the above text.  There is so much here!  Mnemonic phrases, alliteration, emphatic forms, theologically significant metonymy, and thematic ties to other messages in 1Corinthians—all these and more help Paul to achieve his communicative aims.

For today, we might consider that a human can bless God.  This phrasing seems strange to us English-speakers, since the word “bless” has come to mean something that the greater does for the lesser.  Yet Jesus himself, in human form, blessed God:  in the more Jewish context of Matthew 26, the word at the final dinner is eulogeo (roughly, “good words,” from which later sprang our word “eulogy”).

In 1Corinthians, Paul’s word is eucharisteo (roughly “give thanks,” from which the transliteration “eucharist” was later derived, in what seems to me a linguistically unusual, but surely not unique, chain of events).  On the occasion depicted in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1Corinthians 11, the bread received in gratitude was coming to symbolize Jesus’ own striped, broken flesh.  That was and is something that merits lavish thankfulness.  To speak good words of thanks is to bless God.

On this day, it would not be inappropriate to remember Jesus’ offering of Himself as we both bless God and thank Him for blessings.

B. Casey, 11/26/15

Three conventions

Over time, various traditions appear — and remain — in churches.  I’ve chosen two relatively unimportant sub-cultural conventions as illustrations, before highlighting a more significant one.

greeter_handshakeOne—the greeter.  In many churches, either by decree or by choice, someone serves as a greeter.  For as long as I can remember, I have found this convention slightly annoying.  Whether the greeter was 1) a person in my own church that I didn’t particularly want to represent us all, or, in an unfamiliar church, was 2) a person that I merely wanted to bypass without the bother of the obligatory questions and handshake, I figure these greeters can make better use of their time.  This is obviously merely an opinion; it comes partly from my personality type and partly from my observations of inefficiencies and ineffectivenesses in organizations.

praise-bandTwo–the “worship band.”  These days, in any church that purports to be “happenin’,” it’s assumed that a praise band of some sort will be part and parcel of the assembly.  The praise band has become a convention.  In the last few years, I have tired of this method/model and have been ready to put it aside . . . but, back in February, the Sons of Thunder group in Searcy, AR convinced me that it still has a place, when used skillfully and rightly.  I’ve seen and heard probably 150-200 different bands/teams in live settings, and the men who led in a building just off Race Street seemed to have both musical skill and insight into how to lead hearts.  The praise team or worship band model, although not much more than a trendy, culture-bound convention, is not necessarily without merit.

Three–the centerpiece of the assembly.  The question which event serves as the centerpiece of the Christian Assembly? is perhaps less subject to ephemeral trends than either of the above.  By that, I mean there is less vacillation through the years, decades, and centuries.  However, consider this foundational dichotomy:

  • In evangelicalism, there is generally a preacher- (sermon-) centered assembly.¹  Even if the pastor or preacher does not do several things, including announcements and some preach-bibleworship leading and praying, as well as delivering a sermon, most people in the pews get a clear sense that everything that is done leads toward, and then away from, his sermon.  The sermon’s central nature is a convention.  Think of your predominant experience in, say, a Baptist group, a Church of Christ group, a community church group, or an Assembly of God group, and you will likely find a sermon-centric approach.

  • In Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, there is an even more longstanding convention:  the eucharist-centered “service.”¹  (See footnote below.)  This might be said of Lutheranism and other groups, too.  The scripture-based emphasis on remembering Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was morphed into a mystical, highly charged set of practices.  eucharistIn these “liturgical” churches, the convention is a communion-based approach.

Perhaps oddly, and perhaps not, the Church of Christ and Christian Church find themselves situated among both the above groups, to some extent:  the importance placed on the delivery of rather information-laden sermons, the one hand, and the ritual, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, on the other, have long been hallmarks of this category of churches.

Consider 1) the sermon/message/homily and 2) the Lord’s Supper/communion.

Is one more important than the other?

If so, why?  

What else — an idea or a practice — could be said to be important on the “centerpiece” level?

I hope to gain from your responses to the above questions.  And/or, if you prefer, use the poll below to register your opinions more quickly.

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¹ I intentionally used the word “service” when referring to liturgical churches here, although I rarely use that term when referring to what the church does when it gathers.  For more on the distinction between worship and service, and some rationale for the assertion that the two should not be joined in the expression “worship service,” see these posts:

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/one-is-one-and-the-other-is-the-other/
https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/elucidation/
https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/labeling-what-we-do/

A communion meditation

An elder statesman of the Restoration Movement—one who has lived through about half of its history personally—wrote of a story of surrender–of a specific account of Steve Jobs’s death on NBC’s Evening News with Brian Williams.  The report was that (and I quote) . . .

Steve Jobs’s sister had revealed that her brother, while dying, said in an upbeat manner — and these were his last words — Oh, Wow!   He went on to repeat this interjection twice: Oh, Wow! Oh, Wow!    He was apparently conscious, lucid, and fully aware of what he was saying and what was going on.  Here was the co- founder of Apple, the ultimate entrepreneur, and “the secular prophet” as the Wall Street Journal described him, who supposedly did not believe in any reality beyond this world, crying out affirmations of something transcendent.  A cry of Wow!  is akin to a shout of Hallelujah!

… In a recent commencement address at Stanford University, he talked to the students about death, describing it as “Life’s change agent.” …

He also warned them against being trapped by dogma, which he saw as blindly following other people’s thinking. He urged that they be their own unique selves, follow their own dreams, and listen to their own inner voice, heart, and intuition.  It was an appeal for an authentic and meaningful life.  It was as if he might have urged them to be prepared to face life’s mysteries — the wonders that are beyond our reach — and to have the heart and mind to unashamedly cry out Wow!

Now, I would say that “Hallelujah” is a good deal above and beyond “Wow,” but I get the point here.  There is something beyond.  Something wonderful.  Something transcendent.  Something to be lived for beyond the present and the things right in front of our faces.

For us, that “Something” is a Who.  And that Who is the One we are called to give reverent attention to in the passage from Revelation—Jesus as the Worthy One, the Lamb without blemish, offered for us.  And this is the very One we are called to worship now.  It’s a redundant expression, but I’ll repeat it here anyway:  “Come, let us worship and bow down” … here … today.

. . .

“This is the Lord’s Supper.”  And in the Lord’s Supper we are called away to a reality beyond ourselves.  Yes, in a sense we are called to be fully present, right now, bringing ourselves as we are, with all our dirt and distractions.  But we are also called away from the observable into the realm of the eternal.  We are called to worship this Lord, this Jesus.  We are inspired not to regurgitate “thankyouforthesegiftsweareabouttoreceive” or some other memorized mumblings … but to express intentionally, consciously, lucidly, with the vision of the Lamb at the right hand of the Father rising in our spirits, “Wow.  Hallelujah!  Praise to God.”

It’s an opportunity to worship.  This is the Lord’s Supper.”

Maybe you remember the first time you communed in this way.  Maybe you can’t even remember the last time.  They have all been significant.

“This is the Lord’s Supper.”

Perhaps a bit strange that we eat “supper” in the morning hours, and equally strange that the morsels and thimbles are the sizes they are.  Nevertheless, despite our tradition-bound handling of an important spiritual legacy, I’m convinced that in eating and drinking, we have a unique opportunity to be with Jesus in grateful adoration—in worship.  And in this communal love shown, we can please our Lord, Jesus, the Christ—who in an upper room near Jerusalem first did this with His closest followers.  “This is the Lord’s Supper.”

The Lord’s Supper–(mis)conceptions 2

[In the ARM (American Restoration Movement), we have a lot of conceptions around the Lord’s Supper.  Some of these are only decades old; others are a couple of centuries old, and others may be older than that.  Some, I’ll flatly suggest, are misconceptions.  Please see yesterday’s post, and perhaps this one and this one, for prior, framing material]

I have for years taken exception to those ARMers who try to suggest that the reference to “breaking bread” near the end of Acts 2 refers to what we think of as the Lord’s Supper.  (Please stay with me to the end of this post.)  In verse 42, many of “them” have said, it is the “Lord’s Supper” being referred to, while virtually none of “them” would have said “breaking bread” in v. 46 has the same event as its referent.  That inconsistency is galling.  It’s the same expression, penned by the same writer, in the same book, and in the same immediate context.  How could it possibly mean anything different the second time?  Whatever “breaking bread” means in v. 42 must be what it means in v. 46.

Moreover, the nearly amusing (to us, at least, two millennia later) incident wth Eutychus has shown to some that it was very important to Paul and to the disciples there that they have “the Lord’s Supper” together.  Some, however, have conveniently ignored the second reference to breaking bread after midnight. Without checking other time references in Luke-Acts, I would suspect that Luke reckons time as the Greeks would have, not as the Jews would have; if this assumption is correct, you have these Acts 20 Troas folks meeting on Sunday evening and observing “the Lord’s Supper” on the 2nd day of the week, after midnight. Or, perhaps, you have them meeting to observe the Supper and then having a six-hour sermon and then observing “the supper” again.  I don’t really think either of these expresses full truth.

What if there was a table fellowship that they all looked toward, and there was a special significance on the first day of the week, when they remembered Jesus’ body and blood in a special way?  What if they did this twice at Troas (Acts 20)?  Or what if the ceremonial remembering didn’t actually occur at all that night, because of the near-tragedy with Eutychus?  Had they erred¹ religiously (here I’m intentional with the choice of “religiously” over “spiritually”) and displeased God, simply because they didn’t observe a ceremony?  Isn’t communion more than ritual observance?

At this point, I would formally put forward the notion that the “Lord’s Supper” might never have been conceived by Jesus or by the Father in the way that most of us have conceived of it through the years.

I do absolutely think He wanted us to remember him in a focused way at the table.  But I also think he wanted us to participate in table sharing for its own sake, because of what such sharing of food and conversation can create among us, pausing during the meal to remember his sacrifice especially, through bread and vine juice.  Pardon my bold speculation, but I doubt He particularly prefers the stoic observances that are the rule these days in liturgical and non-liturgical churches alike.  The dis-integrated experience of bread and thimbleful of vine juice, while looking at the backs of others’ heads or at Bibles or while praying silently, whether in silence or with “special music” being offered, has very little to do with the communion practiced by Jesus at the Last Supper or with that He wants for us today.

Alan Knox’s minor flaw, by the way, was semantic and was found in his summary calculations–that certain phrases were used X number of times to refer to “the Lord’s Supper.”  The term “the Lord’s Supper,” I think, throws us off the scent.  It is not what we think of as “the Lord’s Supper” that’s the issue.  Instead, it is the nature of the Christian assembly that deserves a serious look (which is consistent with how I read Alan’s overall thrust).

Let’s eat together more often.  In homes, preferably.  In the church building or in restaurants, if necessary.  But let’s eat together, and let’s be spiritually minded enough not only to bless the food in the name of God, but to remember—specifically and intentionally, during the meal—the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.  In doing this, the “supper” (or lunch or brunch or whatever) can become “the Lord’s” in a very meaningful way.

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The Lord’s Supper–(mis)conceptions 1

In the ARM (American Restoration Movement), we have a lot of conceptions around the Lord’s Supper.  Some of these are only decades old; others are a couple of centuries old, and others may be older than that.  Some, I’ll flatly suggest, are misconceptions.  They are no greater misconceptions than Roman ones in this area, and they don’t use the fabricated term “eucharist” or consider that metaphysics are disturbed by clergified incantations (i.e., “transubstantiation”).  But consider, for example, on a lower level, the ideas that the Lord’s Supper is …

  • to involve a thimbleful of grape juice and a morsel of cracker
  • to be observed in quietude
  • to be observed in the morning (“Supper”? morning?)
  • to be observed no less than one time per week, necessitating evening “mini-communion” with the Sunday morning absentees
  • to be observed no more than one time per week
  • to involve a single cup, or is
  • to involve multiple cups
  • to involve trays (and pews, and people who pass said trays through the people in said pews)
  • called “The Lord’s Supper” when that phrasing is used only once in scripture (and no other phrase is much more prescriptive)

Non-ARM readers may be going, “Huh?” to most of the above.  Dyed-in-the-wool ARM readers may also be going, “Huh?” (but for different, more closed-minded reasons).  We have had such a legalistic view of “the Lord’s Supper” that we’ve manufactured and bought little communion “kits” in which can be packed a little cracker and juice, so shut-ins and convalescing members can eat and drink.  (Talk about a sacramental view!  “If only I can eat a morsel and drink a trickle, I will receive grace!”)

Yet it’s our problem more than theirs.  We ambulatory ones are the ones who’ve perpetuated it.  Do those who care for shut-ins in this way eat and drink with them, or do they think, “Wait . . . I can’t do that again . . . I already did that earlier today ‘at church’ . . . I’d better not do it again”?  Do they make it a mini-communal experience of some sort, or do they just shove the cracker toward the bed and tenderly hold the nonagenarian’s head up so she can sip the juice, thinking somehow that the substances are grace-giving?  Wouldn’t it be better to do away with this morsel model and have a small group meeting with the shut-in person as church, experiencing more of the whole of the Christian assembly, and also eating and drinking “at the table,” including the memorial bread and juice.

What about the common ARM practice of having mini-communion on Sunday evenings for those who were sick or traveling or at work on Sunday morning?  Some congregations have the formerly missing congregants come to the front pew while the congregation sits (im)patiently and tries to feel simultaneously devoted, all the while going “umm … did this already in the morning … wasting my time now … uh-oh, bad attitude … back to trying to feel devoted.”  Others have the people stay where they are and raise their hands if they want to be served by people passing the trays.  Even more churches have the folks leave the assembly hall and go to some little room elsewhere.  If they’re off by themselves, they’re certainly not communing with the whole gathered body, and perhaps are feeling more familial with the few … and at least you don’t have the weirdness of having 96% of the people in the sanctuary twiddling their thumbs … which certainly isn’t very communal.

The thinking around one cup has probably had entire books written on it, and Catholics and a small subsect of ARMers agree on that aspect.  I’m not very interested in this scruple, although if germs weren’t part of our world, I’d probably prefer the unifying aspect of the same cup.  As it is, I simply can’t fathom how so many people can be satisfied with a wiping of the rim of a cup with a dirty rag and then drinking after someone else.  Onward….

I’ve greatly appreciated Alan Knox’s writing on this subject.  I have found only one minor flaw in his particular blogpost that probes pretty much all the scriptures that might relate to this topic.  One of his conclusions has been that “When the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in Scripture, it is mentioned in the context of a meal.”  While this appears true from the Last Supper through to Jude, where the plural agapais (usually translated “love feasts”) is found in a single instance, I would take minor exception to the term “the Lord’s Supper,” because it has come to connote, for many, a ceremony that seems worlds apart from the essence of that which on Alan (and Paul and Luke and Jesus) were really discoursing.

Tomorrow:  “breaking bread” in Acts, and a challenge to conceive of “the Supper” anew

The Lord’s Supper–practical ways to emphasize it

In the assembly, what does it look like for the Lord’s Supper to be the cardinal event?  Is it always to be the activity on which everything else hinges?

I doubt that Jesus intended for our assembly minutes to be tallied, with only those gatherings that had 51% or more of the time devoted to the Supper considered acceptable.  I do not think it is a matter of arithmetic.  Yet our entire identity is based in having been purchased by His bodily sacrifice, and there must be many ways to manifest our acknowledgement of . . . our belief in . . . our contemplative spiritual meditation on His death, burial, and resurrection.

Following are some real-life, practical (or not so practical, depending on your situation) suggestions:

  • Use a scripture-and-song sequence that is basically failsafe in focusing everyone’s minds and hearts.
  • Use projected images (produced by artistically gifted members of your church, if possible) of crosses, of people looking as if toward the cross, of tables spread for Passover, of Jesus looking upward or outward, of the Temple veil torn in two. . .
  • Have different ones plan the sub-focus—perhaps use families, single women, etc., who otherwise would not have the opportunity to contribute in this way.
  • Start your assembly with communion.  And don’t fret over the latecomers.  It’s not a sacrament; it’s an opportunity.
  • End your assembly with communion, having intentionally progressed through other activities toward it.
  • Change the physical arrangement of your chairs, if you have them, so that people may share more with one another.
  • Play video of well-done movie reenactments of the Supper as you lead toward the observance.
  • Use songs on CD or tape that do not require active participation but that encourage meditation.
  • Extend the time spent on the Lord’s Supper (and do not apologize for it!).
  • Instead of a regular sermon, use several mini-lessons on aspects of the crucifixion, on the “seven last words of the cross,” or on virtually any aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching.
  • Teach for a series of weeks or months on the “agape meal” that is known to have been common in the life of at least some early Christian churches, and implement some aspects of table fellowship in your “Lord’s Supper” event.
  • Sing something appropriate during and after the Lord’s Supper “proper.”  Consider an “arch form” that places the Supper at the center and uses the same musical or scriptural material as “bookends.”  This way of organizing activities may help to centralize the experience, without further explanation.
  • Consider the tasteful use of unaccompanied vocal solos.  There are so many worthy songs that could help people contemplate Jesus.
  • Use scripture devotionally.
  • Read a Pauline paean such as Ephesians 1:3-12 between the taking of bread and wine.
  • Project scripture (John 1? Isaiah 53? Revelation 4? Matthew 26? Colossians 1?) during the entire observance.
  • Invite the believers to hum a familiar song (suggestions:  “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Lamb of God,” or “I Gave My Life for Thee”) while an appropriate passage is read aloud.  An important consideration here:  the song should be very familiar so that all mental faculties may be available for taking in the scripture message.
  • Share a historical document that references communion practices and/or beliefs about the practice.
  • Following the taking of the emblems, provide a time for individuals to approach one another to affirm relationship in the Lord, a la 1 John 1:7 . . . or to confess sin to one another.
  • If you are really daring, if your congregation is already accustomed to varying methodologies regularly, provide an actual wooden cross made from landscape ties, some note paper, and some thumbtacks.  Invite people to write worldly concerns, confessions, or expressions of gratitude to Jesus, and then to nail them to the cross during silence or while a song is sung.  (Perhaps you remember the impact of some experience like this in your past.)
  • A variation on the above that requires a different kind of advance preparation:  invite the people to deposit their confessions into an open flame in order to bring home the fact that He remembers our sins no more.
  • Don’t use official servers.  Have one person (or one person in each section of seats) start the passing of bread and wine, and just allow the trays to continue from person to person, with each one serving the next one.  (Doesn’t this seem communal?)
  • In smaller groups (say, 25 or fewer), serve one person with a spiritual word offered to him or her . . . then continue the chain, one by one, with each person serving another while everyone else either sings, meditates, or listens.  If your group is too large to make this practical, divide into subgroups first.
  • Allow a time for individuals to speak to the entire congregation spontaneously of their personal meditations on the meaning of the experience.  Don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t go well the first time.
  • Immediately before and after the Supper, worship Jesus through song and prayer.

I wrote the above in a period of about thirty minutes.  You can doubtless come up with an even greater variety than is represented here . . . just think of all the freshness and meaning we can bring into the experience of communion with the Lord and His Body on earth!

The Lord’s Supper–central?

For centuries—depending on how you look at it, from two to twenty—many have considered the Lord’s Supper central in the Christian worship assembly.   I want to probe this idea.

The actual experience of communion has left me “high and dry” far more often than it has produced in me some meaningful meditation, a compelling spiritual inclination, or appreciable growth toward Jesus and His will.  Note that I say the actual experience—not the envisioned one—is the issue.

I must admit that an inner longing continues to nag . . . something inside me wants to feel what others say they feel.  In my worst moments, I suspect that many people are fooling themselves by thinking communion is really central for them.  In my better, more self-probing moments, I realize my own lack of deep love for Jesus and wish I could increase the intimacy of the communion experience.

It is for no small reason that people often think of the communion activities as the core of the assembly.  We have quite a persuasive legacy!  Even if we set aside, for the moment, the Lord’s own words and those of his apostles, we have hundreds of years of Roman, Lutheran, etc., tradition—plus two centuries of the Supper’s biblically based pedestal in the American Restoration Movement—that come into play in our thinking and feeling about communion.

But I am much less interested in tradition and legacy than in what God wants in our observance of the Lord’s Supper.  Is communion central in the heart and mind of the Lord?  If so, how would we know it to be so?  Probe with me, please. . . .

First, communion would appear to be central because of the priority Jesus placed on the “Last Supper.”  It was no accident that the twelve reclined with their Rabbi around a table on the night he was betrayed.  Along with the events of that ominous night, we should never forget the words of Jesus Himself:  indicating some personal emotion, He placed a value on the communal experience of the Passover memorials simply by saying, “I’ve been wanting with my whole heart to share this experience with you , and I won’t ever get to do it again . . . not in the same sense, at least” (my loose paraphrase of Luke 22:15-16).

Next, we could certainly point to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11—in one of two sections that flank the “love chapter.”  The horizontal connections here are clear, too:  Christian assemblies are where we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, where spiritual gifts are used for the “body of Christ,” and where love is to be manifest.  Incidentally, the discerning of the body in 1 Cor. 11: 29 seems more clearly related to human brothers and sisters in the church body than to the physical body of Jesus.

Even if we had no New Covenant writings at all that dealt with the topic of the Last Supper and the believers’ perpetual remembering of the Lord through observance of a similar “meal,” we would still be compelled to place this experience on center stage in our assemblies.  Clearly, our raison d’etre as a people is centered in Jesus’ sacrifice, and the Lord’s Supper symbolizes that sacrifice, acknowledging our identity in Him and “proclaiming His death until He comes again.”

Early church history also confirms, in large measure, the emphasis placed on the Lord’s Supper.  Although I yearn for more depth and more breadth in practice, and although I’m more often disappointed than inspired by observances, in the end, I may remain convinced that it is fitting that centuries of tradition suggest the conceptual centrality of the Lord’s Supper.

How to make the Supper central in our current-day experience—that’s the crux.

Communing with each other and the Lord

Though the design of a typical assembly room may foster vertical communication, i.e., with the Lord (a type of communication I heartily affirm), we consistently end up looking at the backs of people’s heads.  And such a situation is not communal.  Only in a pitifully few camp and retreat settings have I experienced horizontal aspects of communion.  Pews may come from a Catholic or Protestant tradition, but they certainly do not come from Jesus.

Maybe you are one of the many who prefer to “focus on the cross” in your mind, or on scripture that deals with the crucifixion or on self-examination, or on any number of other inward or upward directions.  All those are good things to do, but they are not the only viable things.

Maybe if we just stopped using the word “communion” exclusively?  This term implies the horizontal aspect at least as much as it suggests the vertical.

Speaking of which . . . you do know that it is impossible to take communion, right?  I wonder if that expression were coined when Protestantism began to rise.  We were not allowed say “take the holy eucharist” any more, so we substituted, somewhere along the way, “take the communion bread and wine,” and then it was probably shortened to “take communion.”

Aside:  Have you ever noticed the awkward mini-pause in prayers before the phrase “fruit of the vine”?  “Bless us, Lord, as we take the bread” comes out fine, but “And now, as we partake of the … fruit of the vine” sounds awkward, and we can not seem to find any other acceptable expression but the outdated one.  We should probably focus less on the substance being taken than on what it represents, anyway.

Siblings, we commune with one another and with the Lord.  Commune. It is a verb.  And communion is not something you “take.”

Far from the intent

My feeling is that the Lord’s Supper experience in every church building assembly in which I have taken part—bar none—is far from the intention and example of Jesus and His apostles.  Dignified and reverent?  Maybe.  We typically have no problem with at least the “dignified” part, and reverence is certainly one worthy goal.  But ritualistic, ceremonious observance is not the intent.

In the words “ritualistic” and “ceremonious,” I include some of the following common aspects of the Lord’s Supper experience (not all of which will ring bells for readers here, I know):

  • after the third song, four men rising in unison to process funereally toward the table
  • patterns of getting trays into each man’s hand (e.g., pass two to the guy on the end, two to the guy on the other end, one to the guy on your left … but never let the other guy take three all at once and pass two along while keeping the other!)
  • “servers” that are official “leaders,” functionally speaking
  • concern over the order of solids and liquids

In addition, the utter lack of actual communal experience is often notable.  Get it?  We call it communion, and we don’t commune!  The connotation of the word “communion” — its relational dimension — is horizontal, involving a group of human beings.  In my experience, the notion of communing has almost exclusively been directed toward the communing of an individual soul with Jesus, in a spiritual dimension.  This is certainly an important aspect, but most of us are missing the relational riches of communing with a group of saints.

More on this tomorrow!