Let’s Just Forget Communion

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Once upon a time, I worked as a part-time worship pastor at my home church. I probably wasn’t great at it, but I enjoyed doing it. As a part-time worship pastor, one of my duties was to help with the organization of service. Now this usually doesn’t require much because everything is set in stone; but every now and then, I got to change some things around.

It’s crazy for me to reflect on my life since this only happened 3 years ago. 3 years ago, I thought I knew everything. Today, I really know everything…or so I like to tell myself.

I used to try and cut the time spent on communion down.

Could we get more servers to speed the process along?
Can we shorten the long-winded meditation?
How about we cut communion this week?

I grew up in a church where we took communion each and every week. For the longest of time, I thought it was the worst snack possible. It’s unfortunate how the evangelical movement misses the pinnacle of why we gather.

I thought we gathered for worship.
I thought we gathered for a sermon.
I thought we gathered for a really cool element that would bring all the unchurched people to church.
I thought we gathered so we could discuss the potluck next week.
I thought we gathered so that we could go to heaven.

I was wrong.

Communion. That is why we gather. Communion is the pinnacle of every gathering, and yet we try and shorten it each week because it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t know how to approach it. In her book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans writes some of the most beautiful and challenging thoughts on communion (I would love to quote it, but I’ve lent the book out). She understands the importance of communion and also understands how the evangelical church abandons communion each and every week for things like…

a longer sermon.
extra songs.
cool elements.
announcements (I remember someone asking me once if they could have a longer time for announcements to discuss some important things).

But why would that bother us? Most of us aren’t bothered by how communion is continuously pushed to the fringe of many evangelical services.

Most of us don’t care that communion reminds us that Jesus ate His final meal with His friends…and His enemies.

Most of us don’t care that communion shows us how to serve one another.

Most of us don’t care that communion gives us hope for the return of Christ as we recite, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Most of us don’t care that communion is a reminder of what the Kingdom will be like.

It is disheartening to see this. What is even more disheartening, however, is how we have turned communion into a personal time with Jesus to thank Him for everything He did for us. Doesn’t this thought go completely against the word communion?

I grew up in a tradition where we passed the tray. This was a terrifying experience. I always felt like I was holding up the body and blood of Christ from others…or worse yet, that I may spill the body and blood of Christ all over the floor.

31827fee3d937112330f6a7067007ee6Sometimes, I go to the Episcopal Church. Each time I go, I approach the altar with several other strangers and kneel down to receive the body and blood of Christ. In these moments, I truly feel like I am in communion with Christ and with others. It is no longer an individualized moment.

My tradition takes a memorialist view of communion (that it is purely a time to remember what Christ has done). I believe this has a lot to do with why we don’t really care about it. We can remember what Christ has done through other ways, right?

The Orthodox view is The Divine Mystery. Christ is present in communion. We don’t know how. But He is. It is mysterious. If we all treated communion in this way, that Christ was present, wouldn’t we pay a bit more attention to it?

I fear that when we push communion to a 5-minute time slot where we rush people to hurry up and take the body and blood, we forget the reason why we gather.

We don’t gather to make church cool.
We don’t gather to make the unchurched feel welcomed.
We don’t gather for an awesome worship experience.
We don’t gather for a sermon that makes us think.
We don’t gather to spend time with our friends.

We gather for communion. Because in communion, everything begins to make sense. In communion, friends and enemies come together. In communion, Christ’s Kingdom is experienced. In communion, the church finds its hope. In communion, Christ is present and exalted.

It is time to bring into focus this sacrament. May we never push it into a 5-minute time slot. May we never individualize it. May we never think lightly about it. May we never stop someone from partaking in it. Jesus didn’t stop Peter or Judas…so why do we stop others?

In our attempts to be culturally relevant, we have lost all respect for the sacredness of communion. It is time that we repent of our behavior and return to this act that is the focal point the church needs.

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24 thoughts on “Let’s Just Forget Communion

  1. Thank you for sharing, Caleb. I think that one of the biggest things that we miss in the way that many churches take communion is community. Recently, I had the opportunity to go to a service that focused on taking communion. We received communion by going to a table and being handed the bread to dip into the cup. It has always been a much more meaningful experience to walk up and receive communion as opposed to having it passed. Even though it takes more time, you really feel like you are taking it together in community as the body of Christ.

  2. Jon Anderson

    Reblogged this on Living the Daring Way and commented:
    I love how my friend Caleb ties the Restoration Movement’s memorial view with the “not caring” about it. The first time I visited an Episcopal Church which eventually led me to Orthodoxy I was stunned by how beautiful not only the liturgy was, but how it was Eucharistically-centered. I think a good step for Evangelicals is to drop “communion” and call it “Eucharist” again and learn what it means to embody a Eucharistic faith community centered on thanksgiving and communion.

    • Adam

      Are you suggesting that we who are part of the “Restoration Movement” do not care about the act of sharing communion? Better be careful what you write … like anyone who paints with a broad brush, you’ve blurred the picture.

      • I have never suggested that the RM doesn’t take communion seriously. But if it does, I have a hard time finding evidence of that in many cases. I know this isn’t the case for all RM churches. But if your church takes communion seriously, then this post shouldn’t upset you as much as it should encourage you to continue doing so.

  3. My background is German evangelical, Congregational, and liberal theologically and socially, and it has been a long road to my present understanding of the Eucharist passing through all the trans this and that, Catholic, Lutheran, Calvin. I now truly believe that the sacrament in itself is an instrument of God’s grace and not dependent on the person who gives or receives the sacrament. Ex Opere Operato. For me to believe other than this is to have to acknowledge all the clutter the church fathers have attached to the sacrament. I know there is no right or wrong here, and that it is a way to acknowledge the present of God in the simple gifts of bread and wine (or grape juice) but as for me this seems to by pass all that discussion and accept the gift as given by our Lord. Thanks for writing your thoughts in such an excellent way.

  4. Lovely, thoughtful post. We so easily forget the need to connect with one another, and the rush to abandon a shared table says a great deal about the priorities of our marketized, commodified culture.

  5. Thank you for this! I hope you’ll drop by my own theology blog, where I recently posted on the meaning of the biblical phrase, “the body of Christ” (www.LessRomanMoreCatholic.com).

  6. Carol Hollywood

    I sometimes enjoy the simplicity of the traditional non Eucharistic centered service which can become simply ritualistic. On the other hand when I really want to touch God that is where I go! To the Episcopal church. I get what I need from both traditions! Deo Gratias. Having MS…..I go long times without either!

  7. Jennifer Whyman

    I grew up in a Lutheran church primarily and often communion was done by coming to altar and kneeling to receive the sacrament. We always would say body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you I miss that in my non-denominational church now. For me, it was important reminder of what he did for me and for all there receiving communion.

  8. As a kid I was brought up in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition in a diocese where the Eucharistic was only once a month at the traditional 11:00 o’clock service but available every Sunday at 9:00. Today, with a few notable exceptions, it is the primary service of worship every Sunday. However, when I moved to Toronto I was introduced to Anglicanisms Anglo Catholic form of expression, and I took to it like a duck to water. More than that, however, our parish was also very ‘evangelical’, making it the strangest of hybrids to most. Personally, I think such a combination works brilliantly, which is why I don’t see challenging sermon/Eucharistic mystery in terms of mutally exclusivity. I think we can, and probably should have a combination of both. Otherwise we are in danger, it seems to me of making each form of expression an idol in and of itself. Certainly one doesn’t need Anglo-Catholic expression to combine both but I do think such a combination can be of optimum value. A sense of the ‘Mysterium’ in the richness of ancient music, ritual and symbolism going hand-in-glove with preaching that unflinchingly discusses the myriad of challenges of what it truly means to be ‘born again.’ What a concept!

    Finally, I was once a personal friend of my parish priest, a nighthawk like me in those days. “If the lights are on, so is the coffee pot,” he more than once said. And as I worked nights and passed the rectory on the way home, there was many a time when I popped in and we chatted. (The church should have been so lucky to hear how well we had everything in its place and a place for everything, lol.) Well, on one particular occasion he was feeling quite down. It had been a rough day and the world (parish affairs) was not unfolding as it was supposed to unfold. As we talked about it he looked at me with the most near heartbroken expression I have ever seen, saying plaintively, without rancor talking about parish expectations, or lack thereof with words to the effect that, they didn’t want him to do anything more than to get into the pulpit and tell them that it’s okay to sin a little, it really won’t matter, not when you consider some of the whoppers this world has known. Indeed, from his perspective that particular night it wasn’t about challenging them to be better, to aim for the highest known factor. Instead it was about settling for the lowest common denominator. “They simply want me to ‘confirm them in their iniquities,'” he sighed.

    That particular priest is no longer with us anymore, but I have never forgotten his anguished words. “They simply want me to confirm them in their iniquities.”

    No, I do not think it is about Eucharist or sermonizing. It’s about both, with each having its own, unique contribution to make towards the edification of all.

  9. I have to ask a question and I am not that bothered about an answer but not all churches meet and have Communion as part of the service. The prime example I think of is another tradition to mine, that of the Salvation Army. For varying reasons they do not have it. So, when you add “We don’t gather to make church cool. We don’t gather to make the unchurched feel welcomed. We don’t gather for an awesome worship experience. We don’t gather for a sermon that makes us think. We don’t gather to spend time with our friends. We gather for communion,” it makes me shake my head in disbelief that someone can say that one thing holds over any other. So why is the Communion service so important in an age where in Methodism, in particular, I have church members moaning at me that they do not receive it often enough and they wish I could officiate [which I am not able to as a lay preacher]?

    Surely the church service as a whole is more important than one element?

  10. To me it is the beginning and end. I was brought up Roman Catholic and very proud of my origins, but found the Dogma just too judgemental. Then found my way to The Scottish Episcopal Church and having lived through 3 different Priests to our present one I didn’t realise just what The Eucharist really meant, it was the joining of our present Priests belief in the Sacrifice that Jesus made for us and when I receive Communion as often as possible I see God in his eyes as he holds the Host out to me and I am then joined to God completely. We have a very special Priest with us now as it has sometimes been very trying. At one point it was very Evangelical and I loved the music but my faith and belief has far outgrown that to the point if I was to die tomorrow I know the answer if St Peter asked me the question what was the most important thing you have ever experienced, my answer would be being at ONE with God!

  11. Before my husband passed away, we had both discussed that at his funeral service, he did not want “Communion” to be a part of the service. You see, he had gone to so many services that had the wrong approach to “Communion” that he didn’t want to “exclude” anyone. At his brothers funeral mass, the priest made such an announcement about those who could, should or would go to “Communion” that it made him and myself so uncomfortable to go and receive. I remember at least two of his nieces who didn’t receive. I wrote a letter to the acting priest afterwards, explaining how the service made us feel and he responded: “It’s Canon Law”. I didn’t continue the dialogue what was the use, it was all set in stone. The morning of my husband’s funeral service, it seems that our decision was announced to the priest who had gathered, one of our daughter’s overheard our pastor telling the other priests, that there was no Eucharist, she felt bad that his mike was on but more so just had a bad feeling about the way it was announced. This was our pastor’s first funeral service without the Eucharist, he was a little nervous about it and asked me afterwards if it was done properly, I nodded yes. A few weeks later, I explained to our pastor the reasoning, this made better sense to him. I wish that we had sad something beforehand. A sister in law, very Catholic told me it was the nicest funeral service she had attended. A co-worker of one of my daughter’s said the same and one of my brother in laws says to my sister: “Is this how Catholic funerals are to be from now on?” You can’t win them all.

  12. The sheer simplicity of the Eucharist is the most moving thing to me. It epitomizes the truth of salvation-taking the absolutely ordinary stuff of simplest bread and wine which is what we are-nothings-and turning them into His Living Body and His Most Precious Blood-Something. Beneath that mundane exterior of nothing but flour and water and fermented grapes; beneath our varied exteriors of male and female, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, and more is the Living Breathing Presence of Jesus Christ. This Sacrament teaches us this Truth-my neighbor, my stranger, my child, my spouse, my colleague, even my enemy holds Jesus.

    The Eucharist is the deepest, most profound, most touching, most powerful sermon of all because we all shut up and let Jesus do His thing.

  13. Wow! I am not sure I can make comments like the rest of these scholars. I am just an ordinary Joe. I am a Christian and have been for years. When i take communion I generally do a couple of things. First and foremost, I do it in remembrance of Christ that is what he asked us as believers to “Do this in remembrance of Me” until he comes again. Secondly, I examine myself as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 11 because I do not want to take of this sacrament in an unworthy manner as the scriptures remind us. Therefore, I remember Christ sacrifice for my sins, his broken body and his blood shed to cover my sins and take part in sharing of this time with other believers. In our church we take it every week; not because not there is a right or wrong time to do this. Again the scriptures say, “As often as you gather together.” We try not to make it routine or Methodism as one person said but an integral nd important part of the service. Also, it is for all believers, this is not to exclude anyone but I can’t help but think if someone is in the service and they are not a Christian or know they have not surrender their life to Christ they can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable and rightly so. Let’s not complicate this brothers and sisters but Keep It Simple & Sweet. It should be the sweetest time together.

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