As we continue to look at our church transitions and opportunities series, which I have called Mutual Submission, today we look at the issue of communion. To get caught up on the series you can read part one, part two, and part three.
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:17-32
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
Of all the things the church does when it gathers, communion might be my favorite (outside of baptism and people saying yes to Jesus). There’s something about it that stirs my soul the way little else can. This is probably because I’ve experienced it in such a variety of ways that I get how deep and spiritual it is, and the mysterious way God works through it.
And in all of this, there are three ways to practice communion that lead us towards mutual submission.
How do these three ideas help us practice mutual submission?
In many mainline or evangelical type churches, communion is almost always passive, that is, someone brings it to you. It’s quiet, contemplative, and highly individualistic. The professional (or leading parishioners) bring the elements to you, and you sit comfortably in your own little bubble, just you and Jesus. But when we go forward with our brothers and sisters in faith, we enter together into not only holy communion, but holy community. We submit ourselves under the lordship of Jesus, not only as individuals but as family in a faith community. In addition to this, we submit ourselves to others in our community. When we approach together we are reminded that we don’t go it alone, but are surrounded by a great cloud of witness. We keep our eyes centered on Jesus and in that, find new life together.
In short, mutual submission in communion embodies care and concern for others. I’ve found little places where ideas like, “We’ve never done that before.” or “We don’t do that here.” actually work and are relevant. I think this is even more true in communion. By opening ourselves to different postures and approaches to communion we find a deeper joy that transcends time to enter and experience new life in Jesus. The critique that Paul gave the Corinthian church was that certain members were abusing resources and finances while exploiting the joy others once had. For us to take communion seriously and experience all that God does in it, we must make ourselves open to the many ways in which Christ demonstrates his power over sin, death, and enslavement. By exploring together the depth and beauty of communion, we discover a deeper joy then we ever knew possible.