The Churches of Christ have defined themselves by their insistence on weekly communion. Our members will come late and leave early, but they’ll be certain to take the Lord’s Supper. And we have members who’ll sit at home, taking communion by themselves, rather than condone the sins of the only church in town. We are so big on communion that we offer it twice on Sundays and take it into the homes of the shut ins.
But we treat the communion as the least important part of our service — lavishing funds on paid preachers and song leaders and focusing the service on the sermon and invitation. Rarely do we focus a service on the communion.
We’ve sucked the fellowship — the love — out of an event that’s supposed to draw us closer to each other and break down social, racial, and economic barriers. We’ve found so many rules about how not to do it that all we can do is sit there silently.
And while we ought to be teaching children as part of the event, we announce our position on consubstantiation, just in case someone in the audience has Lutheran sympathies — or thinks we might.
And our communion theology is worse than shallow. Indeed, we find repeated opportunities to damn each other over our disagreements — turning a celebration of our unity into a basis for division. We greatly sin against the body and the blood when we do this.
We need to consider some alternatives —
1. We sometimes think the Lord’s Supper is our payment of a one-week premium on heavenly life insurance. We have to sip the juice and eat the crumb to be saved for the next week. But, of course, such a theology is utterly foreign to the meaning the meal and even more foreign to the doctrine of grace. We can do better.
2. We sometimes think the Lord’s Supper is one of only 5 authorized acts of worship. Don’t do it and your worship is no better than that of Nadab and Abihu! We are plainly commanded to assemble weekly to worship and to take communion in this manner — and those who get this wrong are damned to hell.
Again, it’s just so not in the Bible. And turning worship and fellowship into a law sucks the love and worship right out of it.
3. We sometimes think the symbolic nature of the communion means it has to be taken in a purely symbolic way — so the bread and wine have to be in symbolic amounts taken in a symbolic way under the leadership of people saying symbolic words while lined up in symbolic rows. It’s ceremony, not substance.
In reality, I think the communion is not a command: it’s a gift. God has given us this practice to remind us to be united by showing us how to be united, to care for those less fortunate than us, and to show the world our love through our table fellowship. We do this in remembrance of Jesus, but remembering Jesus necessarily includes those very things. Indeed, to take communion without unity, with little concern for the poor, and with no testimony to the world is to show that we remember nothing.
He gave it to us for our good. And we’ve desecrated God’s gift.