Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Mutual Submission (part 4) – Communion

Posted on 12 Jan 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Mutual Submission (part 4) – Communion

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.

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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.

  • I grew up in a church that took it quarterly and viewed it as purely symbolic.
  • I spent time in an evangelical church that took it every Sunday with songs of praise.
  • I’ve been present (though couldn’t participate) in Catholic communion services.
  • I’ve received communion from an Anglican priest that is a dead ringer for Steve Carrell. (Between him and the wine, that might be my favorite).
  • I’ve come together as communities large and small to lay down tokens and remembrances of our sin and picked up symbolic pieces of grace.
  • I also lead a church that does it monthly, and coordinates it with a special offering that goes to help those in our community facing a hard time financially.

And in all of this, there are three ways to practice communion that lead us towards mutual submission.

  1. Vary your approach  There is danger in always approaching communion the same. If we make communion always a passive thing (sit there and someone brings it to you), I think we miss a deep and beautiful tradition of rising to go and participate in it. Recently, as a part of our Christmas Eve/Candle light service, I incorporated rising to take communion with the grabbing of the candles and the congregation spread out around the sanctuary. It served as a reminder that the God-made-man that now dwelt among us calls us to join in his life and ministry (communion) but also calls us out (light in dark world). With lights dimmed and music softly playing, people came forward, celebrate communion together, and then went with their light to spread the Good News of Jesus birth. Afterward, I heard a lot of people say that they enjoyed it, it brought a new depth and appreciation to communion. The beauty of celebrating communion should avoid growing stale or ordinary, if it does we dishonor what God does through it. While varying the way we celebrate it (while doing so both intentionally and respectfully) we expose people to a wider range of what it means to participate in communion. There are times for quiet reflection to receive the work of Jesus, and times to boldly stand and announce our joining in his movement of restoration and salvation for all people.

    English: Baptist communion elements

    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  2. Vary your style. Similarly, I think it’s easy for churches to settle into a set mood for communion. Many of the churches that I’ve been in take the passive/contemplative posture. Growing up, it was a time to reflect on how bad I’d been and how thankful I needed to be for the death of Jesus. There’s something to this I think, and certainly is a part of communion. But when we treat it as the only part, we miss out on other aspects of this sacred meal. I remember vividly the first time I was told to rise from my seat, come to the front, and take communion as a proclamation of the greatness that God accomplished through the resurrection of Jesus. When we vary our approach to communion, we demonstrate that the totality of Jesus life and work matter. There are times we should contemplate our sin and brokenness and times to pronounce joyously the victory of God over death and despair.
  3. Think centered. We often want to draw lines on who can take communion (only church or denomination members, or maybe anyone following Jesus) but we may want to encourage those who have arrows pointed toward Jesus to try it, and caution those who are pointed away from refrain. Communion based on lines excludes people who may just need to find hope in the mystery of God. We see this too in the life of Jesus who let friend, denier, and betrayer alike share a meal and Passover celebration with him. For those that may be looking for life in Jesus, but haven’t made firm statements of faith yet, inclusion in communion may open their eyes to grace and salvation in Jesus. We would be wise to find ways to incorporate that too.

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.

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

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