Another barrier to celebratory worship has to do with the walls of individuality that we often build when we think about corporate worship. Seems like an oxymoron: individuality in corporate worship. Yet much of Western Christianity is based on a concept of individual salvation, personal Bible study, a private relationship with God….
Nowhere is this seen better than the Lord’s Supper. In churches of Christ, at least, this is often seen as an individual moment. We read 1 Corinthians 11 more often than any other passage, yet we seem to ignore the teachings of that passage. We emphasize 11:28, which talks about each man examining himself, and downplay 11:29, which talks about us being aware of the gathered body of believers. (while some confusion exists over the use of the word “body” in this verse, the text itself makes it clear that this refers to the church)
We’ve created a culture where people feel that they can enter a service and leave, speaking only to a bare minimum of people. After all, we’re there to be with God, right? Wrong. We’re there to be with the body of Christ, worshiping together, communing together at the Table of the Lord, singing together, hearing Scripture together. Together. Corporately.
Corporate worship is a family gathering. Can you imagine someone going to a family reunion, eating a meal, then leaving without speaking to anyone? Some people try to do it at church.
Let’s put the corporate back into corporate worship. It will do us all some good.
Yesterday I was talking about the connection in some people’s mind between sadness and holiness. As one brother in Guatemala said, the only things missing from some services are the candles and the casket. Why do we feel the need to create a funeral atmosphere in our church services, particularly during the Lord’s Supper?
Part of the problem, I think, is a misunderstanding of Paul’s comment that “…as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) I think we lose sight of the fact that proclaiming Jesus’ death is a proclamation of triumph. When we proclaim his death, we do so knowing that the tomb is empty. When we proclaim his death, we proclaim the fact that death could not hold him.
When I think of how to proclaim Jesus’ death, I turn to Revelation 5:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10)
We proclaim Jesus’ death in a song of triumph, not a funeral dirge. The meal we eat is not a wake; it’s a celebratory feast!
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5–6)
When we come together to eat the bread and drink the cup, let’s proclaim to the world the wondrous news: He has risen!
The Lord’s Supper is a perfect coming-together time for the church. Yesterday, I talked about some thoughts I’ll be sharing on how Jesus tears down walls. These thoughts will be delivered as communion thoughts, which is highly appropriate.
Christians around the world join in this remembrance. Our songs may sound different, our prayers offered in different languages, but we all take bread and drink from the vine.
Our churches often end up segmented by age groups, but the Lord’s Table marks a coming together of all ages. Longtime members and first-time visitors are on an equal plane. Gender differences melt away. All walls are torn down.
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17)
That’s why we work to tear down walls as well. The wall of enmity between brothers. The wall of unfamiliarity. The wall of political disaccord. The wall of doctrinal disagreement. The wall of rivalry and power struggles. All walls.
Jesus set an example, tearing down that incredible wall that separated Jew and Gentile. Now his followers continue that task, attacking and destroying the walls that separate mankind, preventing them from infecting the church.
Continuing our discussion of the Lord’s Supper, I wanted to mention something that we did this past Sunday which I found to be quite helpful.
This was a service with the bilingual group at our church; there were somewhere between 50 and 70 in attendance. At the beginning of the service, I had told the story of my eating with a stranger one day at Taco Bueno. Because the restaurant was full, we had to share a table. Naturally, I introduced myself, and we chatted during the meal. That’s what you do when you eat with someone, I said… except at church. I told them that our focus that day was going to be on taking the Lord’s Supper as a body.
Before eating and drinking, we sang the song “Come To The Table of Mercy” (in English and in Spanish), which very much set the tone for what we were going to do. My wife, Carolina, had made the communion bread and had made quantity sufficient for everyone to have a cracker-sized portion. The grape juice was in pitchers, and we had small cups out on the table.
As we “partook,” I called people forward to the table, encouraging them to speak with one another along the way, shaking hands and embracing one another. For me, it was a beautiful time. I was one of those serving at the table, and I got to speak a word of greeting and of blessing to many of those that came forward, some of whom I hadn’t had a chance to greet yet.
It wasn’t perfect, but for me it was a definite improvement over the usual “sit in the pews and pass the trays” procedure. I hope we can do this more often.
Have you participated in unusual communion services which made the time more meaningful to you?
I think one of the most stressful moments for visitors in our assemblies is the Lord’s Supper. I’ve grown up attending congregations of the Church of Christ, and I still feel that to some degree. Exactly how does this congregation carry out this act?
Typically the bread isn’t a problem. I may not know exactly what’s going to be in the tray/basket, but I know that I’m supposed to take a piece and eat it. Sometimes you’ll be expected to hold it until everyone is served, but that’s usually explained.
The cup is more of a concern. Do I take the cup, drink it and put it back? Do I take the cup, pass the tray, then drink the cup and place it in the little hole next to the songbook rack? Do I take the cup, pass the tray, then wait for the tray to be passed a second time to put the cup back?
Many Hispanic congregations stand when taking the Lord’s Supper. I discovered “the hard way” that one is expected to sit after being served the cup. For some visitors, that could be extremely embarrassing, discovering that they are the only ones left standing. (OK, it was embarrassing for me, but I could laugh it off)
For the outsider, the stress is even higher. Are they expected to participate? Will they offend if they don’t? Will they offend someone by taking part when they aren’t expected to? Worse yet, will someone publicly reprimand them if they do something wrong?
In my experience, churches rarely explain the mechanics of the Lord’s Supper, even though our tradition of congregational autonomy leads to varying practices. I think it’s something we need to be sensitive to. It never hurts to explain things, even when they seem obvious to us.