Today a response to a message from a friend based on one of my recent Teaching Tips about communion. “Thank You” Govinda for your well considered thoughts and questions. I cannot address them all in today’s post, but I will pick out one point for discussion.
“It’s been a long time as a church … that we have got onto our knees and focused on the cross… I feel the communion sometimes does not get the reverence it deserves.”
My provocative question would be, “Is communion meant to be a time of reverence?”
I have been re-reading and taking notes on this excellent book, “Early Christian worship: a basic introduction to ideas and practice” by Paul Bradshaw. He summarises the shifts and developments in practice and theology over the first four centuries.
To answer my own question, I’ll make a few points.
1. Irreverence is a problem. Paul makes that point loud and clear, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:21–22)
2. Remembering Christ means remembering his cross. “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”” (Luke 22:19 NIV11)
3. The New Testament gives us no direction about silence, mourning or reflecting on sins of the week. The warning to examine ourselves in 1 Corinthians 11:28 is something to be done before coming to the assembly, not during it.
4. The early church may have been influenced as much by the incident on the road to Emmaus as the upper room. Jesus told his followers to remember him, and the first two disciples to break bread with Jesus after his resurrection recognised (remembered) it was him “when he broke the bread” (Luke 24:35). As Bradshaw notes, ‘Sunday was not just the occasion for a commemoration of a past event – the resurrection – but the celebration of a present experience – communion with the risen Christ.’ 77
5. The early church was eschatologically expectant. The Lord’s Day was the eighth day – the day of the LORD, the Messianic age, the lead-up to the great banquet. The church came together in expectation of Jesus’ return and the full establishment of the Kingdom. The Lord’s Supper gathered the people of God around the table to celebrate that immanent reality and strengthen hearts in the time of waiting. For this reason kneeling and fasting were prohibited in the early church on Sundays. Celebration was the tone!
When we gather as a Christian community it can, on the right occasion, be healthy to spend some time in reflection, soberness, mourning and lamenting. Whether that should be specifically tied to the communion is another question. The common practices around the idea of being sober at communion are tradition, not biblical command nor precedent. That does not in themselves make it wrong to practice such things, but they are a choice, not a matter or obedience or even ‘best practice’.
Jesus instituted a new covenant in his blood, and a new covenant is not a cause for mourning, but a cause for rejoicing. Soberness is not ruled out, but if the Lord’s Supper is not a time of celebration we are missing something vital to our spiritual health.
The Lord’s Supper is one of the most important practices in which we participate as a Christian community, but the number of specific Bible verses on the topic are few. What do you make of this?
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“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)
Keep calm and carry on teaching
God bless, Malcolm