Sunday, November 06, 2005

Communion As Community

In a recent conversation with my father, he shared that he believes the church in the western world is in need of community more than anything else. Looking at the state of people in the western world, he may very well be right. Churches offer small “community groups” that are really little more than Bible studies and speak of Christian community, but many people still live their lives independently, making decisions on their own amid a corporate body that feels little responsibility for the actions of the individual. Yet living this way, we are living a lie – and our yearning for community betrays this.
The word “community” comes from the same Latin root as “communion,” that being communis, which means “common” or “shared.” Perhaps, in order to fully understand community, we must first go back and consider communion and what this identifying tradition is all about.
Most of the Christian world celebrates communion every Sunday, if not more regularly. Only the Protestant tradition has reduced this to a monthly, quarterly, or yearly event. In my experience, Protestants would also be among the first to abandon the practice of taking communion. However, for the rest of the Body, the thought of forsaking communion is tantamount to forsaking one’s faith. This emphasis on communion grows from a proper understanding of its place within the life of the Church and its necessity as a basis for community.
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
Communion signifies many things: it is a new Passover covenant, reminding us that, as we are marked with the blood of our Lord, God’s judgment will pass over us; it is a taste of the great wedding feast of the Lamb that is to come, where we will live in the presence and light of our Lord; and it is an act in which we proclaim our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This final aspect of communion is the most central to understanding the significance of communion for community in the contemporary church.
When my Grandma was doing Weight Watchers, she had a magnet on her refrigerator that was shaped like an ice cream sundae with the words “you are what you eat” superimposed on the ice cream. Theological arguments aside, communion is, in some profound way, a consuming of the body and blood of Christ, at least he wanted his disciples to understand that, as they shared their Passover meal, they were verging upon a new covenant involving his broken body and shed blood and that this covenant too must be remembered. As we “proclaim the Lord’s death” through eating the bread and drinking the cup, we “are what we eat.” If I remember year 10 biology correctly, our bodies break down the bread and it is carried through our blood stream to our cells giving us energy. In churches that use wine, the alcohol too is carried to every cell, altering our blood chemistry. And this is where community comes in. We do not eat many bodies of Christ; there is only one body, often visualised by a single loaf. We do not drink from a different metaphorical cup, hence the practice of taking from a common cup. And in this, we become part of one body – the same body that Paul and Peter, Mary and Martha, Timothy, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Theresa, and John are a part of. As the communion elements become a part of our body, we become, again, a part of each other and we proclaim that we are not our own.
While Paul’s words that follow are not specifically in reference to recognising that we form one body, I think they are still very applicable. He writes:
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. (1 Cor. 11:27-28)
When we fail to recognise the significance of what we receive in communion, both in terms of Christ’s death and in terms of that which with we are aligning ourselves, we sin against the very death of our Lord. When we fail to see that we are truly “not our own,” we ignore the metaphysical reality that we are a “new creation” in Christ and now incorporated into his body. Understanding this forms the basis for Christian community as we belong to each other. We are not a community because of similar ideals, hopes and aspirations, because we share the same culture and socio-economic class, or because we like each other and think each other wise. We are a community because of the shed blood of Christ and as such we are responsible for each other – for each other’s actions and thoughts, for each other’s needs and pain, and for each other’s encouragement and hope. If we are to bring about the desperately needed community within the western church, then we much first bring about an understanding of communion with Christ as our saviour, husband, and head.


John Chambers said...

great stuff, I'm guessing that was a Jess post?

James Penrose said...

The weekly practice of communion in the church ( which guarantees the proclamation and appreciation of the core of the gospel) along with the public reading of scripture are practices largely ignored by the evangelical worship scene that I see. I believe these aspects of worship, along with worship music (whatever style), common prayer, the exhortational message, and the recitation of the foundational doctrinal creeds of the church make for a much more meaningful worship experience for the believer, and the unbelieving visitor.

dickow said...

True, communion does signify our bond in Christ, but it's more than Sundays. Do we break bread together outside of church...more than just throwing in a 'grace' before the meal? Do we share our lives together? How many people helped out last time you moved house? How many have you helped out? How willing are we to share our possessions? Of course I am...except my _blank_. It's too valuable!

Our homegroup/biblestudy (whatever you call it) meets together for what we call "doing life". What is doing life? Acts 2:42ff sets this out so well.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

It's a great aim to have but takes effort, as does anything with people. Yeah definitely keep up the communion-ity. Let's also broaden it to the real world we live in.