Monday, September 17, 2007

The "communion" in Communion.

The last supper of Jesus with His disciples was a moment when Jesus chose to hand down a tradition. A ceremony of sorts. A memorial service to Him proclaiming His death until returns. The question as to 'how often' seems to be answered in the instruction 'as often as you do it'. And 'with whom' seems to range from the choice of doing it alone at home by oneself, to doing it with care and respect at any time or with any gathering of believers.

Paul says we are proclaming the Lord's death until He comes. Paul stressed that there is a worthy manner in which to eat and drink to Christ and that each man examine himself to that end. I believe Paul warns against coming together to eat and drink and to socialize to the Lord without the perspective of having your complete heart, mind, and soul set in the Spirit and on the memory of Jesus here on earth and everything His presence entailed.

And lastly Paul seems to say that when folks come together to eat and drink to the Lord, then wait for one another, and do it together.

Here are a few side notes before I go on:

Christ doesn't open the door to examining each other. Only Christ can do the examining. We all will stand individually before the judgement seat of Christ..."so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body". There's no way we can truly know one another's hearts. A man's heart can only truly be known by God.

If you don't judge the body rightly then you'll bring judgement upon yourself. If you are not in Christ proclaiming His death in remembrance when you eat and drink then you'll be judged-or condemned, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged;"
At the last supper Jesus gave thanks, gave us bread and vinefruitjuice(so not to have to call it wine or juice, or fruit of the vine) representing His body and His blood of the covenant poured out for many, and told us to eat and drink of it in remembrance of Him until He comes back, when we will drink it with Him again.

So going on then...I struggle with the lack of meaning that there has been in the many so-named communion experiences I've had during church and am now trying to consider ways of having Communion with other believers in ways that would give it more of the meaning and the spirit for which it was intended. Afterall, Christian Communion is one of the greatest opportunities there is for sharing in the memory and instruction of our Lord from the last supper together with other believers, and we should make the most of it. Least of all, when necessary, we could perhaps spare it from becoming a dry ritual that no longer pleases us or God.

I like the phrase Lord's Supper, but does how we celebrate it resemble what is prescribed as we watch the last supper with the Lord here on earth in scripture? Probably close enough for most Christians. In letter yes, certainly close enough, but in spirit, or intent, I think we may tend to short-change it some of the time.

Most Communion ceremonies I've experienced, that is, the sharing of bread and vinefruitjuice in the remembrance of Jesus, have seemed lackluster and mechanical. A repetitious and dry ritual by our design most of the time.

Well of course, compared to when it was first turned into a sacrament by some of the early church, it's doing pretty well now. But in its popular present day form, isn't it just terribly dumbed down, almost to the point of having most of its biblical value taken out of it. Don't most of us just sit their to ourselves, staring straight ahead, usually the same mechanical prayers recited for us, even the same predictable cup holders passed around. Usually music to preoccupy us or even to manufacture cheap emotion. Or, for effect, no music. It sure is a stark contrast to the dynamic fellowship of the first Lord's Supper.

The account given in Matthew tells of how Jesus, while they were eating, said to take the drink, the fruit of the vine, not blood, but grape juice or wine, most likely wine, and drink it, for it represents His 'blood of the covenant' being pured out for many, and He'll not drink with us again until He drinks it with us anew in the kingdom someday. A truly joyful promise. And He says, as recorded in 1 Corinthians, to do it often and each time in remembrance of Him. The bread and the drink. Afterall, He had been teaching them that He was the Bread of God, the Bread of Life, the true Bread coming down out of heaven and He was now instituting a symbolic ceremony of memorial. Symbolic presumably because He could have easily given everyone there an actual piece of His body, or even called down little Spiritual pieces of His body just as He did at the Christian meeting during Pentecost just following His being sacrificed on the cross. The Bread of Life gave thanks, gave us a token of his new covenant with us of forgiveness, and told us we'll be with Him in the Kingdom one day. He gave us a lot to remember.

He introduced a memorial ceremony that evening encouraging us to partake in the representing of His blood and His body in the object of the juice and the bread, to honor His memory and service to us and His Father in being sacrificed at the altar of the cross in place of us. And then they sang a hymn.

So how did the communion memorial of breaking bread together at a special mealtime become a time of staring straight ahead together, each alone, and nibbling quietly, drinking out of a phony little glass, remembering? I'm sure the answer is: structure, formalization, predictability. Striving for a display during which very few people are offended and which no one can be accused of being like what the Corinthians were convicted of which was gluttony, insincerity, or of missing the point of the remembrance. All of these reasons for restraint and efforts to formalize the service of Communion would be honorable if they included other equally honorable elements included in the first model of the Lord's supper which are left out. And in such a fashion most types of communion services which I've been a part of have taken an exciting and honorable service prescribed in the bible toward the remembrance of Jesus having been here among us in the flesh and blood, and turned it into a mechanical and sterile dissappointment which barely meats or sometimes even misses it's rich provision.

We do remember Him at times other than during a food based communion. Afterall, we remember Him in one sense every day as we read and prosper spiritually from the counsel of His word in the bible. We're left with peace and joy, and above all, thanksgiving. For the end of His mortal life for us meant that He rose from the dead and turned our grief to joy. That is the best of all possible outcomes for us. He's left us with joy. And now he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. He is a light on our dark soul everyday and tells us we may rejoice in that. No one can take away the fact that we will see Him again one day and that in fact is one of our most immediate and intense sources of joy.

Of course everything is not joy. There is still sin in us and around us. But the sin no longer has any power over us because His death robbed sin of it's power and left us with a great hope.

But still all is not joy. God's wrath, once directed at our own souls outside of the Body of Christ, continues to be directed at many good people we care about. Their peril tends to evoke sorrow on one hand, yet for us, gives God's love real meaning. God's love is the main power player with His justice. "Behold the kindness and severity of God". We see that the only and true God who's revealed Himself to mankind, our God, who revealed Himself in His Son Jesus, is both a God of love and a God of judgement. Our God of love can't be just a one dimensional God of love only or His love would mean nothing. It would have a very flat dynamic. But, having shown us in His word how He has now satisfied His just hatred and punishment of sin by sacrificing His Son in our place, for those who would obey His gospel, then ours, who would look upon and obey the gospel, is a relationship with God of great joy and thanksgiving. He's shown us what godly love is. And in the end, therefore, sin gets the destruction it deserves and God proves His love through His justice. No one can deprive us believers of that assurance and the attending joy except our own pride. That assurance of grace through our faith in Jesus' sacrifice is the undescribable gift of God. Communion is the time to remember God was here, in Jesus, walking among us, doing His work of grace for our benefit. His sacrifice was symbolic yet real. Most of all it's purpose is virtually incomprehensible, yet true, and therefore, worth remembering, together, the body and the blood of God that was here on this earth for us. A memory faithfully passed on to us by His apostles and prophets.

The time of remembering together is not when we go in our closets. There is a time for going in your closet, being alone with God, honoring God in your own personal way, having..."The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves", being careful not to cause others to stumble, believing things unto our Lord on your own accord, that bring you comfort, things that, while others are not required to believe, cannot be regarded with contempt by anyone else as they are done as your own conviction before the Lord. That is not to say, in my opinion, that you cannot hold the last supper remembrance alone by yourself. But Paul seems to express his understanding of how it was meant to be indulged in when together in his address to the Corinthians(as included at the bottom of this page).

It seems to me remembering Jesus' would be one of joy and awe. I think guilt would be an inappropriate intruder. Guilt may be a necessary thing for some to keep their flesh in line but Jesus teaches Spiritual things. We're to be lead by the Spirit not by the flesh. It would have to be important for feelings of guilt and then shame to resolve themselves into feelings of joyful thanksgiving in accordance with Christ having paid for our guilt, atoned, made amends for our guilt. Guilt is of sin and not faith. Not a fruit of the Spirit but of sin. I suppose for some guilt is hard to resolve into gratitude but I don't see where scripture encourages guilt. Scripture does indicate we are capable of having a good conscience before the Lord. The remembrance of Jesus Christ is one of the Lamb of sacrifice that finally reconciled us with the kindness and blessings of God. In a sense, guilt and sadness by themselves, indeed may deny the true memory of the finished work of Jesus here on earth. Perhaps grieving is appropriate and indeed natural at times, but not as others do who have no hope. We've entered into the joy of our Master. Isn't the only meaningful response one of thanksgiving. I have seen guilt encouraged to it's own end during communion and think that it's misguided emotional indulgence to do so.

Shouldn't we be dipping our hands in the bowl together, so to speak, at Communion time, together, pouring each other's drinks of the fruit of the vine, and remembering His visit as well as the meaning to us of His temporary absence? And then remembering some more, and then more, knowing that we've been invited to do so by God when He was on earth, and remembering that He said we'll do it again with Him one day. And then they even sang a hymn. Do it with a flute and a cymbal for a change? Not really, just kidding. But it's the last supper memorial celebration, give it the uniqueness that befits it.

They ate while reclined at the table. They talked as they ate(perhaps even with mouth's partly full).

When Jesus said, "to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man", he did not say it's proper physical hygeine to not wash your hands before eating. He did say that eating with dirty hands will not defile a man's heart but what comes out of a man's mouth will. So we would naturally need to wash our hands before Communion, and we surely wouldn't want to touch each others bread. But do we already?

Frankly, at last communion I could not help but to touch at least two or three of the other pieces of cracker while dipping for mine. It was physically impossible not to. So we already dip our hands into the bowl together-well, those of us who don't cut our wonderbread into neat little squares. Now if we could just recline and partake together(instead of staring straight ahead alone in silence), remembering, feeling the sorrow of our flesh surpassed and pushed aside by the joy of our spirit having been joined with His, and the joy of our Spirits from Him knit together with each others. That would be communion. Communing together in close rapport, remembering, thinking, pondering, while we ate, the model itself. Acting like one Body.

If we run out of things to remember then we could also remember those things He told us He will leave here with us until He returns. Remembering His words "let not your heart be troubled", "Peace I leave with you", "My peace I give you".
Remembering the Comforter He sent.

" much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"
If we are going to pretend to commune together during Communion, remembering the body and blood of His new covenant of life with us, His absence, and then, while not being unmindful of His living presence inside of each of us, remembering that He will finally return for us when we will enjoy, anew, another drink, or toast with Him, in honor of the covenant of His blood and the reign of His grace over those of us who act in faith towards Him according to His visit to earth.

I think it would be nice that if we are going to manufacture a name like Communion for the Lord's last supper, then we should somehow, where it's lacking that is, get the communing together into Communion.

And then secondly, if we are going to go through the motions of following the scriptural invitation to partake and remember together then why not give it the opportunity to be a befitting Spiritual exercise of the church body that reflects the memory of Christ's life past, present and future as was so graciously expressed during that last supper.

Matthew 26:26-30
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14:12-31
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, "Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?" And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, `The Teacher says, "Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"' "And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there." The disciples went out and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening He came with the twelve. As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me--one who is eating with Me." They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, "Surely not I?" And He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. "For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. "Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

1 Corinthians 11:23-34
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.