Returning to in-person communion after the pandemic
Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
When I was a kid, I remember playing baseball with neighborhood kids down the street from our house. At about 5:30 every afternoon, we would see Dad’s turquoise green pickup headed toward home. We knew the game was over. It was time for dinner and we showed up!
The church has a dinner. In many evangelical circles, I’m afraid we’ve diminished the importance of our common meal. This meal is called “communion”, or “the Lord’s Table.”
We pastors sometimes treat it like an empty exercise we have to get through by just tacking it onto the end of the service because it might rob us of a few minutes of preaching time. Or, trying to be sensitive to the outside world we make it less frequent. We want it to feel less intrusive. As it becomes a smaller and smaller part of our life together, it shrinks in significance in the heart of God’s people.
A few years back, my wife and I were visiting a large, young church in another town. After the 35 minute message, the room got dark and a serene image went up on the screens around the worship center. Elements in the form of a double sealed cup were passed around. With a couple of words, people peeled the foil skin back to reveal a tasteless, melt-in-your-mouth disc. Everyone popped it in like they were taking their morning vitamins. Then seal number 2 was peelded away and a taste of a liquid that wanted to be grape juice was ingested. Next a brand new Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket was passed to collect the trash. Their were no words, no drama, no meaning. This exercise had more taste to my tongue than the nourishment it gave to my soul.
A few years back we already had a problem with our meal. Then the pandemic made it harder to practice this essential meal together. We secluded ourselves, making true communion uncomfortable if not impossible. We started with good intentions. In the early days we gathered around Zoom with crackers and juice from home. We recited creeds, we prayed, we shared with each other digitally. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad. That’s gone away for most and now here we are.
Many Christians have not returned to the table out of fear or negligence. Let me remind you why this meal is so vital to your own spiritual growth and its worth the effort to show up to share in the bread and cup.
In our church tradition, we refer to it as one of the two ordinances. With baptism, it’s an ordinance, or law, or command. Jesus doesn’t wish for us to do this, he’s commanded it. This table is one of the marks of the church. It belongs only to those who belong to Jesus. And we’re not fully following Jesus without it.
It’s the foundation of our unity in the Body of Christ.
We share a common spiritual life through the bodily death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. His sacrifice is our path to forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. When we share in this meal, we are sharing again in the unity we have in Jesus.
It’s a time to remember.
Following Jesus’ commands, we share in the elements to remember him and worship him. Remembering is taking an event of the past and bringing it to the present. At the table, our lives are reoriented again around our love for Jesus and one another.
Why is physical presence so important? We were made body and soul. Jesus didn’t just redeem our inner life, he redeemed us body and soul through his incarnation, physical life, literal bodily death and bodily resurrection.
We felt it wise to practice virtual communion during the pandemic. I’m grateful for the creativity that got us through that time. It was helpful, but it was a weak substitute for the sights, sounds, smells and touches of sharing the meal together. Like those boys on the ball field, I encourage you to run home to worship on communion Sunday and enjoy belonging to the Body of Christ.