Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | July 23, 2008

Eucharist and Salvation Part 4

What’s the difference between celebrating communion and taking it? I would say we “celebrate” communion when we see it in the full context of the reconciliation of humanity to the Trinity. We are only “taking” it when we see it one dimensionally – as the memorial of Jesus taking our punishment for us at the hands of an angry God.

Glen pointed to this distinction in his comment on my last post about the eucharist. He said “I wish all of our adults would ‘act up a bit more’ at the table because of the joy of the Lord!!”

I think that my congregations have been learning to celebrate communion with more and more joy over the last seven years as we have been celebrating the eucharist every Sunday. Here’s some thoughts about joy in communion:

1. When you view the bread and wine as primarily – or exclusively – a memorial of Jesus’ death then every time you take communion it is a kind of funeral service. No wonder people only want to take it a few times a year! Who wants to end every Sunday service with a funeral for Jesus?

2. In fact, communion points us to every aspect of the union between the Trinity and humanity in the incarnation of the Son. During Christmas it is the celebration of the Word who became flesh (bread) and blood (wine). During Epiphany it is the Feast of the World’s Redemption (as John Koenig calls it), reminding us that all humanity (Jew and Gentile) is gathered up in the Son’s incarnation. During Lent it reminds us that the Son is sharing his righteousness with us by sharing in our flesh and blood. On Maundy Thursday it reminds us of the Last Supper, on Good Friday of Jesus’ body and blood on the cross, and on Easter Sunday we “recognize him in the breaking of the bread”. On Ascension Sunday the bread and wine remind us that human nature has been carried into heaven by the incarnate Son, on Pentecost we remember that the Spirit enables us to recognize the Son’s body and blood as our adoption, and on Trinity Sunday we see the Son’s flesh and blood as our adoption into the life, love, and joy of the Triune Life.

3. Joy and celebration at the eucharist is directly connected to our own sense of assurance about our place as adopted children of the Father in the Son. If we see God as the one who took his rage out on Jesus instead of us, and then told us to remember what had happened by eating bread and wine, then we come to the table with an inevitable sense of fear. As Homer Simpson once said “what if we’re just making God angrier and angrier each week?” On the other hand, if we see the table as a great family thanksgiving (eucharist) meal, then we come as confident, joyful sons and daughters, knowing that we are always welcome at our Father’s table and that we will always have a place there.

If you think people in your church are really beginning to know the assurance of their adoption in Christ, here are few methods you can try to create a more celebratory atmosphere at the table:

1. Don’t give another sermon before you take communion. Just make a few comments, a minute or so, tying the sermon message to the table. For example: “Today we saw the wonder and joy of the Son becoming flesh and making his home with us, and at this table the bread and wine remind us that he will always be flesh and blood, permanently connecting us to his Father.”

2. Whatever you say at the table, connect it to the theme of the service. Don’t give a sermon about the resurrection and then talk about the crucifixion at the table. If the service celebrated the resurrection then talk about how the Son rose in glorified flesh and the bread and the wine are symbols of that.

3. Use joyful, upbeat music while communion is being taken. One of our best Sunday services ever was when I talked about the great dance of the life of the Trinity, the dance in which we are all included, and then the worship team sang the Johnny Cash song “Get Rhythm” while the congregation received the elements.

4. Have people come forward to a table to receive the elements instead of sitting in their seats. If you’re playing a joyful song while people walk forward they will inevitably start smiling and children will start dancing.

5. Instead of having each person take the bread and wine individually, with personal introspection and prayer, have the whole congregation eat together. Before the communion portion of the service begins say “When you’ve received your bread and wine please return to your seat and when we’ve all been served we will eat together.” When everyone has received their bread and wine the celebrant holds up a piece of bread and says “The body of Christ” and everyone eats. Then he lifts up a cup of wine and says “The blood of Christ” and everyone drinks.

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