A few days back, I began a discussion of things that I believe bind us together as believers;  characteristics that define us as a community.  It’s a broad topic, with a lot of possibilities for subject matter, but I believe that the primary things that knit together are as follows:

1) We are a people of Baptism.

2) We are a people of Communion.

3) We are a people of Creed.

We’re continuing on in our discussion of “The Ties that Bind” today with a look at Holy Communion.  You may call it the Eucharist, Mass, or just the Table.  Regardless of the label, or whether you believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation,  there is great power in communion when it is regarded as a sacrament.  The bread and wine, whether you subscribe to the idea that they  become the actual body and blood of Christ, that the Holy Spirit is present, or that they represent the essence of the flesh and blood of Christ, are  wonderfully divine mysteries that knit us together as believers.

It’s been said that if baptism is the starting line for our spiritual journey, then communion is the food for the journey.  It’s an intimate contact between ourselves and Jesus.  The sacramental view of the table hold that it is a means of grace,  nourishing us, so that we can better live out our faith in our daily lives.   The Spirit refreshes and restores us through communion, but it’s not only an intimate transaction between us and the Spirit.

It’s a family meal.

I Corinthians 10:17 says that “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”.  As we perform the individual transaction of communion, we become a part of a bigger reality, The Body of Christ.  Martin Luther wrote that “The communion table is the only place where we can enjoy communion with God, and community with each other.” 

Most churches with sacramental traditions have liturgies that reflects the corporate nature of communion.  We confess our sins corporately; lift our hearts to God together; and we pray the Lord’s Prayer together (The language of the Prayer directly implies that it’s not only meant to be prayed individually, but also corporately…”Our father..give us today our daily bread…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”).  Finally, we give thanks to Christ for the mystery of the communion table, together.

I love the show “Blue Bloods”.  My deepest prayer is that Tom Selleck might be plotting a comeback as Thomas Magnum, PI.  As a teenager, I was insanely jealous of his Ferrari, full mustache, and incomparable ability to have relatively innocent hook ups with exotic  women without even trying.  I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with the topic, though, and likely indicates the depths of my depravity.   Magnum’s shorts were too short, by the way.  I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, back to Blue Bloods.  One of my favorite parts of the show is the inevitable scene where the family meets for Sunday night dinner.  The entire family comes together every week and enjoys a feast.  The meal is always prepared by their father, and it is never mundane.  No hot dogs or PB&J.  It’s sumptuous,  and my wife and I generally have to snack immediately after watching, to stop the salivation and fantasies about eating the meal we’ve just observed.  The people gathered at the table are different.  They have different ideologies, different philosophies and are at different stages in life.  They are different, but bound together by two things: 

1)  They are bound by blood.  They are a family.  They are different, but they have a common father, a like history.  The bond of blood is inescapable.  They may not always like each other, but the bond of blood requires that they love each other.  The table may be surrounded by people who bicker and fight and moan, but there is no doubt whatsoever that they would absolutely give their lives for one another.

2) They are bound by calling.  The Reagan family is a family of policemen and lawyers.  Their grandfather was a police officer, their father is a police officer, the sons are police officers, the daughter works in the district attorney’s officer, and even a young grand-daughter has aspirations of entering law enforcement one day.  They are unique individuals, with one common purpose, the enforcement and defense of the law.  They are passionate about what they do.

When we gather at the communion table, we are not so different from the Reagan family.  We are profoundly different in so many ways, but we have so much in common.  We have issues.  Frankly, sometimes our lives are just a mess.  We are a tangled pile of holy and unholy contradictions.  But, in the midst of it all, we are bound together not just by what is wrong with us, but by what makes us right…the body and blood of Christ.  We share in this at the communion table, our family meal.

We bring our troubles and trials to the meal, and we also bring the belief that as a reflection of  the goodness of God the Father, Jesus Christ died for us when we were enemies to Him.  We come believing that the Holy Spirit calls us to common purpose, to prepare this world, to make ready this culture for the coming of our King, this Jesus who will return to make all things new and right.  We understand that we can’t do it alone, but that we are bound together with a diverse, crazy, imperfect community of people called the church.  Our baptisms started us on a path that led to this table.  The table then directs us out the door to live out what we’ve tasted and seen; to share what we’ve experienced with others.  We’re nourished so that we might live  the words of Derek Webb,

“May the bread on your tongue

leave a trail of crumbs

to lead the hungry back

to the place you are from…”

We take this meal together, sharing life, and baring our souls.  We share this bread and wine and it fills us up, just so we can pour it out when we walk out the doors of the church building.  Christ gives us Himself in the table, so that we can give Him to others.

We as individuals approach the communion table with all of our good, and all of our bad;  all of our prosperity, all of our needs;  all of our hopes, all of our failures.  We come to the table with our unique, individual lives; and corporately, as a people in need of a Savior, in need of a touch from the Spirit, in need of renewal and refreshment.  It’s a family meal, where we can unload what troubles us, and be filled and encouraged by the Spirit, and by the family we share the meal with.

At the communion table, we become a people bound together by what G.K. Chesterton called the “furious love of God”.   That furious love is the body and blood of Christ.   I think sometimes that we’ve made the communion table too tame, and that’s the reason most churches don’t bother to partake of it weekly, or even monthly anymore.  We complain when we show up and see the communion ware stacked up on the altar on “Communion Sunday”, and the first thought in our minds is “Dangit, church is going to take 15 minutes longer today.”

How easy it is for us to forget that the table holds a feast, the body and blood of Christ!   There’s power and refreshing and nourishment in the bread and the wine!   The danger of the view of communion as an ordinance is that it reduces it to a mere ceremony, with no real depth.   We effectively neuter the power of communion when we minimize its importance.  It’s not a dull routine, where we all get a thimble full of Welch’s, eat some bread that has more than a slight resemblance to the taste and texture of a baseball card, and pray we get to Cracker Barrel before 1st Baptist turns loose.  It’s the glue that hold us together in community; the furious, raging love of Christ.

Theresa of Avila said that Christ was “crazy with love, drunk with love”.    It’s at the table where we have the opportunity to experience the crazy, drunk love of Christ.  I think it’s very appropriate that wine is used at a communion table.  A lot of evangelical churches promote the use of grape juice for communion, but I don’t believe that’s an adequate representation of Christ’s blood.  Frederick Buechner wrote that “Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.  Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunkmaking. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one.

But I digress.  I didn’t intend a discussion about whether we should use wine or grape juice.  Whatever your preference, just partake.

Buechner also wrote “To eat this meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other.  I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to fill yours.  As for the emptiness that’s still left over, well, we’re in it together, or it in us.  Maybe it’s most of what makes us human and makes us brothers and sisters.”

Communion binds us together in blood and in calling.  The bread and wine bind us as a community in the crazy, drunk, irrational love of  Jesus.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

(Recommended Reading/Source Material:  “The Sacramental Life”, David DeSilva; “Beyond Smells and Bells”, Mark Galli;  “Giving Church another Chance”, Todd Hunter; Brennan Manning, “The Ragamuffin Gospel”)

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