Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ministry of all Christians, V: Communion, the Spirit of the Body"

Exodus 12:1-11, 14
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Luke 22:7-23

“The Supper of The Lord is not only a sign of the love Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a sacrament [a sign] of our redemption by Christ’s death …” ¶104, Article XVIII, pg 68, Book of Discipline 2012

Like baptism, The Lord’s Supper (or Holy Communion) is a sacrament of the Church.  Understanding a sacrament as an “outward sign of an inward grace”, we can then “see” the abiding principle of sacrament unfolding before our eyes when we gather “together” for Holy Communion.  And I must say there is no more precious sight than when married couples receive Communion while holding hands.  I wish we would all be so willing to hold one another’s hands while partaking of this extraordinary Gift!

Still, the question must be asked: do we really understand all Communion signifies, or is it just a thing we do?  For that matter, can Holy Communion be so narrowly defined as to mean only one thing in only one single moment of participation?

The answer, of course, is no; but this does not necessarily mean Communion can mean different things to different persons as if we can make something up independent of what is written in the Scripture and expressed in doctrine and still remain true to the Spirit of the Gift.  Like all doctrines of the Church – and this can never be overstated – if there is no outward, visible expression (sign) of what is taking place within (and we can mean within the heart AND within the building in which we worship), the doctrine is incomplete, empty, or downright false – utterly useless to the Kingdom and the mission of the Church. 

And we are nothing if not “Kingdom people”.  So if the doctrine of Holy Communion can be reduced only to what it means to “me” personally, then it also might be said the doctrine is not biblically thought out or spiritually understood – and the gift is received “unworthily” (1 Corinthians 11:29). 

In the matter of Holy Communion, which is a practice largely done “in house”, expressing its meaning outwardly as a “sign”, a true sacrament – beyond the walls of the Church – becomes even more important lest we reduce it to only a “thing” we do once in a while.  That reduces The Lord’s Supper to little more than a memorial.  By the very sacramental nature of all it means, however, Holy Communion has to be much more than this – or there is no point in doing it at all since we “remember” The Lord every Sunday when the Scripture is read.

We are already at an awkward place within the Christian faith in which the very means of grace (i.e., the sacraments, worship, fasting, prayer, Scripture study, fellowship; all done alone AND together) have become largely “optional” even for many who otherwise call themselves “saved”.  That is, we don’t really believe these things to be necessary or even useful to spiritual growth. 

We don’t believe we can be made more “perfect” than in that moment when we were “pardoned” (justified).  We don’t really believe the Bible to be the Word of the Most High God.  We are much more comfortable with man-made “talking points” born of the Enlightenment period of the 18th century in which all authority was questioned and community life became “every man for himself”.

Such a narrow mindset and vision misses the entire point of the sacraments of the Church and, consequently, misses or ignores altogether the overarching doctrine and mission of the United Methodist Church: that all baptized Christians are “called” to a ministry within the overall mission of the Church – it’s what makes it the “Body of Christ”.  We all have a place, in some capacity, specifically to “make disciples who are equipped to make disciples”.

Can religion be so practiced and faith taken so personally if we truly understand that it is not now, nor was it ever, nor will it ever, be strictly about “me”?  I think about it in terms of being a member of a human family.  There are certainly those special moments our parents (and we as parents) have devoted to one person or another, as on birthdays; but every other day (including the birthday) is about the well-being of the family as a whole – not a single person, certainly not a “favored” child just as our God “shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34) as St. Peter came to know. 

Of course there will always be moments when a single person may require a little extra care or attention from time to time – especially when our babies are sick and our children enter those awkward and often traumatic teen years - but even then the other members of the family are not pushed aside nor are their particular needs ignored.

This is the reality of the human family we willfully embrace.  So how have we come to understand the Christian religion and Christian faith as strictly about “me”?  The fallacy of such a notion is if it is only about “me”, then faith itself and its expressive religion become “optional”.  Not really necessary but kinda nice to have from time to time … as it suits “me” and as it fits “my” own personal agenda.  However, we are justified and baptized and called into a whole “family” when we become brothers and sisters to one another AND of Messiah Himself – as we also become children of the Most High God whom Jesus taught us to address and come to know as “Father”.

The concept of “personal” (and very often private) faith to the exclusion of all others is so far off the spiritual grid that it may be considered unimportant and inconsequential – except that the Church as a whole has become this mish-mash of “individuals” who refuse the idea of “mission” and who deny (or defy) the commandment of our Lord who spoke to all His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must also love one another.  By this all will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NKJV).  

In the context of the kind of “love” to which Jesus is referring, it is not insignificant that before Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, He had washed their feet, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

Holy Communion is not exclusively a “private” moment only between ourselves and The Lord.  That notion prevents the word “communion” from having any meaning altogether as the sacrament, the “sign” it must necessarily be.  As we are indeed receiving “real food and real drink” (John 6:55) for the soul and for the journey, it is important to the life and mission of the Church that we are assured we are not undertaking this Journey alone and only for our own salvation’s sake.  Think of Uriah whom King David ordered to be sent out in battle away from the army.  Without the safety and support of the whole army, Uriah was killed (2 Samuel 11:1-27.

This is the Ministry of All Christians, so profoundly expressed when we are bound together in the Body of Christ by the very Body of Christ in Holy Communion; for the doctrine of the United Methodist Church holds that we are truly in “communion” not only with the Savior of the world in and with one another – but also with the world itself, and for this reason: so that none would perish” (2 Peter 3:9).

In the Spirit of the Body of Christ in the union of Communion, let the Body of Christ say together: Amen!

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