Why are we doing communion every week this summer?
It has been said—and I believe this—that partaking in the sacrament of communion is the most intimate act of worship we will experience this side of eternity. Think about the word: partake. We are ingesting physical elements that at least represent, and at most embody—in some mysterious way—the presence of Christ.
When we sing songs we declare truth about God’s character and express feelings of joy and gratitude for what he’s done for us. When we hear teaching, our minds are taught and our hearts are convicted. While our eyes, ears, hands, and voices have a role to play in these activities, in communion we physically participate on a different level and our imaginations stretch to comprehend the reality that we are, in some sense, touching and being touched by our Savior. “Take and eat; this is my body… this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins… Drink from it all of you.” (Matthew 26) Martin Luther used to tremble at the thought of this when he held the elements up before the people.
We often end our services at Summit with a charge to do something with the truth we have heard and sung about. I now know this truth or believe it for the first time—now what? This is a very good thing. James says we should be doers of the word, and not hearers only.
I think, however, that a case could be made that we have skipped over an important step if we don’t address the “how” of the “now what.” In other words, if I am planning on gritting my teeth and being a “doer of the word” by my own willpower and stamina, the world and the one who is in the world will eat me for breakfast.
The power we need to be a “doer” of the word comes from Jesus himself —and in his body and blood he offers us both pardon for where we fell short today and power to live tomorrow as we ought. So once we understand what needs to change in us, we repent of our sin—things done, or left undone—and we come to the table to receive forgiveness for the past and nourishment for the good work that lies ahead of us.
When we engage in the sacrament weekly, the gospel is clearly presented every time we gather for corporate worship. That means, every week there is an opportunity for someone to understand grace for this first time, to be reminded of it afresh after a long season of wandering, or to be surprised by it in the midst of what has become rote and ritualistic obedience.
Speaking of rote and ritualistic obedience… Don’t you worry that communion will begin to feel like that if we do it every week? I do. It would be foolish not to. Anything that is done with repetition has the potential to become merely ritual, and to lose it’s impact (or more accurately, the ability to be impacted is lost in the participant).
The challenge for us as we engage with God through communion this summer is to actively and intentionally participate, as opposed to just going through the motions. If you’re as creative as I am in thinking of ways to rebel against God’s best for you, then you will have near limitless opportunities for encountering his grace at the communion table. So really repent. If you go there, the bread and wine will never taste the same way twice.