Questions on Communion
The last several weeks our church has been trying some new formats for taking communion which has raised some good questions coming to myself and the Elders. I offer this post as an attempt to better explain what we are hoping to accomplish in experimenting with different ways of administering communion.
Last month I asked the Elders to take the month of July to try out some alternative ways of administering communion. Part of the reason for doing so is purely pragmatic. July is typically the hottest month of the year, and also the time we have highest average weekly attendance. As we all know, the church can get very hot and uncomfortable and so if there is a month to make efforts to reduce the amount of time it takes to administer communion, July is a good month. The goal is not to rush communion, but neither do we want to be taking 30+ minutes at the end of a long service when we are all very uncomfortable.
Another reason for wanting to try some different ways of administration is exploratory. What are other options that might work for us, at least on an alternating or occasional basis, in the future? Sometimes having variety in the way we administer and serve communion can add significant meaning to our experience. I know of other PCA and reformed churches that have two or three different ways that they administer communion on an alternating basis, each way highlighting a significant theological truth about communion and helping to keep it fresh. There is no “one way” to administer communion that can claim biblical support as the only legitimate way. Trying out some other ways of administering communion will help us explore what workable options we have for administering the supper in our space, and whether or not those would beneficial and/or desirable.
Building on this last reason, I specifically wanted to try serving communion at Redeemer in a way where we all have the opportunity to partake of the bread together, as we did this past week. There is a powerful biblical and theological truth that comes out when a gathered church takes the elements as one body and one family. Doing so highlights the bond of unity that we have in Christ in a very tangible, visible, way. We are not a group of random people that has a personal relationship with Jesus on our own and happen to be sharing space on Sunday. We are the body of Christ. We are the family of God. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and we are invested in and have ownership of each other. Paul specifically draws attention to how communion highlights the unity of the Body in 1 Corinthians 10:17, where he reminds the church of Corinth “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Our Confession of faith also affirms that when we partake of communion, it is a bond and pledge of our “communion with him (Christ), and with each other, as members of his mystical body.” Taking the elements together means that we not only get to take communion with our immediate family, which I know is important, but with our entire church family. Not just our physical brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, but our spiritual brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. As Pastor Chris likes to say, we get to "commune communally." I don’t know what your experience was, but I personally appreciated the opportunity to commune with all of you last Sunday instead of by myself.
At this point, no decision has been made to make any permanent changes to the way we serve communion. We will take just a few more weeks to explore different ways of administering the elements. This Sunday we will administer it the same as last week, with all of us taking the elements back to our seats and then communing together at the end. This week, however, we will add back in a song of response after we partake, as a way of helping us reflect and respond to the gift we have received.
I know that changing it up the way we have can be distracting and I apologize for the extent that it has been confusing due to lack of communication on my part. As we come to the table this week, my encouragement for all of us is to focus on the words of institution, the gift of Christ’s body and blood broken for us, praying that God would bless this sacrament in our life to increase our faith, our hungering and thirsting after Christ, our experience of his fullness, our trust his merits, our joy in his love, our thanks for his grace, and our love for him and one another. (WLC 174).