Your Church Can’t Get Along? Come to the Table

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communionOn the night of His betrayal and arrest Jesus prayed that all of us would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:1-2).  And yet, relational conflict and the absence of congregational community continues to move our focus away from Jesus’ desire for all men to be reconciled in “one body to God through the cross” (Eph 2:16).

Churches attempt to create harmony and offer the healing aspects of a congregational community by planning activities, leading conferences, promoting affinities, and organizing worship gatherings.  What these congregations are missing is the foundation of healthy community already available and waiting for them at the Communion Table.

And yet, this ordinance often holds little significance.  It’s infrequent and even passive observance has caused worshipers to come to the Table not expecting anything to happen.  Congregations know they have a mandate to observe this ordinance but often wonder if the bland styrofoam wafers and grape juice is all there is.

Paul spoke of Communion as the fellowship of sharing in the body and blood of Christ…and it is never a solitary act.  Henri Nouwen wrote, “Precisely because the table is the place of intimacy for all the members of the household, it is also the place where the absence of that intimacy is most painfully revealed.”[1]  The Communion Table is the place where we pray and ask:  “How was your day?”  It’s the place where we eat and drink together and say: “Come on, take some more!” It is the place of old and new stories.  It is the place of smiles and tears.[2]  And it is the place where broken relationships are mended and new relationships are formed.

Two interactions are evident in the celebration at the Table:  the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion of believers unified in identity and relationships at the Table.  Communion must not only be a time of personal assessment, but also a time of corporate appraisal.  Since the Table is the place of intimacy, it is around the Table that we rediscover our relationships with each other.  That vertical and horizontal bond reminds us that the story is not just Jesus’ story but also our story as we are invited to step into Jesus’ story.  It reminds us that the final chapter is yet to come and we get to be a part of the unfolding of that story as unified insiders, not just casual observers.

When we accept Jesus’ invitation to join Him at the Table we are reminded that, “The Lord’s Supper not only gathers a community, it creates a community.”[3]  Individual and congregational Communion available at the table encourages unity and as a result of that unity an intimacy that cannot be manufactured.

Creating community through activities or even musical selections is a shallow attempt to manufacture what is already available at the Communion Table.  When we gather at the Table on level ground with a common purpose, our eyes will be opened, we will see Christ again, and we will see each other with new eyes through the breaking of the bread.  Community begins here!

 


[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Burning Hearts (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994), 74-75.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 157.

 

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9 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jesse Moore on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    So long as Baptists continue to use the phrase, ” Now this is ONLY a symbol” the table will have no power. Even symbols are powerful. Think of how people respond to the flag, of the national anthem or that bad country song, God bless the USA. Those are only symbols but symbols that point to something greater then themselves. When you mention that it is “Only ” a symbol you have taken its power away.

    When I was pastoring first Sunday of the month was communion Sunday. It was offered every month. If I started a new church it would be a part of the service each week. It was never called a symbol. I took the model of Jesus and broke the bread and blessed the cup and said “This is His blood, this is His body” We didn’t argue about it beyond that. Each person took it as they spiritually and internally understood it. Funny thing was that if something came up and we had to schedule it for the next Sunday people came asking” Pastor wasn’t this supposed to be communion Sunday?
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    Now I ask you, how often do you suppose the average Baptist church goer asks that of their pastor? The table is the only piece of furniture mentioned in the new Testament. The breaking of bread is placed as a primary function in the new Testament church. It was seen as a meal, not just something added on to the end of the service. Preaching it seems was a marketplace activity. Worship, teaching and the Table were a church activity. Is it possible we have it turned around? Good one David but then they are all good.

  2. Posted by David Manner on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    Great insights, Jesse. It is interesting that we claim the visual Word of the Lord’s Supper becomes too routine and predictable if we observe it too often and yet never say that about the verbal Word of the sermon.

  3. Posted by Jesse Moore on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    Well, when you can interpret the Word and shape it as you like and the pastor is the center of that but you cannot interpret the Table and Jesus is the focus of that it does make one wonder about the emphasis doesn’t it? ;-)

  4. Posted by Paul Clark Jr on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, David, for this critical reminder of the power of presence and community available to us at the Table. I can only pray with you that our church leaders will heed such important reminders rather than disregarding the value of such.

  5. Posted by Neil Brown on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    I’m with you, Jesse. In the Methodist tradition, Communion is considered a sacrament, a means of grace. As I understand it, it isn’t as far as the Catholic understanding. What I’m trying to say is that, it seems to me, Communion must be something MORE than just merely a symbol.

    I’ve served in churches where communion was part of every service, every week, and every special service (Christmas, etc.). I grew to enjoy it and found it more meaningful, not less.

    And yes, David, thanks for another thought-provoking article.

  6. Posted by Tom Wideman on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    Thanks, David for this timely article. We were talking about this very thing today in staff meeting.

  7. Posted by Milton Ferguson on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    David, I have followed your articles for the last year or so. Your insights are solid, your perspective positive, and your presentation clear and effective.

    Thank you very much.

    Milton Ferguson

  8. Posted by Worshiping Together: 3/17/13 | Journey of Worship on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    [...] and engage with one another in a more significant way because of the bond of Christ. You can read this blog post from David Manner for more [...]

  9. Posted by Charles McClelland on 11.03.13 at 10:29 am

    I always struggle with the concept of “communion.” At times I have had a number of people from Catholic backgrounds who have come to faith in Christ and come out of the Catholic church. For them–communion is a sacrament where the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. It seems to me a better term is “the Lords supper.” It clearly delineates the difference between Catholic and Baptist beliefs about what is happening.

    As our churches get more prosperous there seems to be a slide back to Catholicism. We may not baptize infants, but as I heard one person say, a baby dedication is like infant baptism without the water.

    I think this is called syncretism–the mixing of pagan and Biblical ideas. I know this is a very small minority point of view.

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