Communion Thoughts #2- What Happens During Communion?

In my first blog in this series I looked at what communion is. In this blog, I take on the question of what happens during communion.

The problem with this is that the church does not generally believe the same thing about what happens during the sacrament or even that it is a sacrament. There are generally four views.cups

Memorialism is held by many independent and Baptist churches. It is a view that there is nothing particularly sacred and nothing especially spiritual happening during communion. It is simply a symbolic act.

Catholics believe in transubstantiation. In this view, the elements change into the actual body and blood of Jesus. These are sacrificed by the priest and then received by the congregants. This does not mean that it tastes different. The bread and wine remain in appearance and to the senses as it was before. But its substance is in a miraculous and unexplainable way into the body and blood of Christ. This helps explain why Catholics are only supposed to receive communion from a priest.

The Lutheran tradition generally follows the idea of consubstantiation. Though Luther never used that term, he did talk about the communion elements as being special. He thought that we do not need another sacrifice since Christ’s sacrifice was complete. This means that the elements do not become the actual body and blood to be sacrificed again. But Christ is present “in, with, and under” the elements.

John Calvin moved the spiritual activity of communion away from the elements of bread and wine and toward the table. His view is called real presence because God is present in a special way at the table. Calvin loved the liturgy that says, “Life up your hearts” and is answered, “We lift up our hearts to the Lord.” For Calvin, that is what happened. We are met in a special way at the communion table as we are lifted into the presence of the Lord.

Not everyone fits neatly into one of these perspectives. The Orthodox church see the sacrament as a mystery of special presence and does not try to explain that. The Salvation Army and the Quakers do not even have a practice of communion.stained glass communion

We can say a few things for sure. We know from 1 Corinthians 11 that communion is centered around remembering. Jesus says to “do this in remembrance of me.” (vs 24-25) Paul adds the words that, “as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you show forth the Lord’s death until we come again.” (vs 26) Clearly we are remembering and showing the Lord’s death in the sacrament. Yet the seriousness with which Paul treat the practice of communion makes it clear that more is going on than just remembrance. (vs 27ff) You bring judgment on yourself if you are not careful going to the table.

I personally am in the Real Presence camp. I think the sacredness makes more sense biblically associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit at the table.

What is your view? Why do you hold that view?

How do your practices of communion jive with your view?

Communion Thoughts #1- What is Communion?

I have decided to take a few weeks to blog about the sacrament of communion. This is a special part of the church, but there is lots of disagreement in the church about what to call it, how to do it, and what actually happens when we do it. I think it is also time for some creativity and experimentation with the images and practices of communion that I would like to share.

So what is communion? Communion is a practice that was begun by Jesus and carried on throughout church history. It is at its core a ritual reenactment and a participator symbol in Christ’s death. I will leave the nuances of what exactly happens during this practice to a later blog discussion, since there is disagreement as to what happens and exactly how much this is more than a symbolic act.communion 4

I want to focus for this first blog post on what we call communion. When we take a look at the names of communion, we get a sense of the rich and complex set of ideas of what communion is. This has a great sense of past, present and future.

Some traditions tend to use the term Eucharist. This term comes from the Greek word for grace. It has a sense of celebrating and remembering Christ’s gracious act for us on the Cross in the past.

Some traditions tend to use the term Communion. As you can see from the title of this blog, my tribe tends to use this one. Communion gives the event a sense of community and relationship. This works on two levels. One the one hand, we are communing with God is a special way in this moment and we obey Christ and remember His sacrifice. On the other hand, we commune with one another as the body of Christ. This has a very strong sense of present as we communion vertically and horizontally in the present and we believe Jesus is present with us.

Some traditions tend to call this ritual The Lord’s Supper. This has a strong sense of future as we look to the end of time when Jesus will lead a great banquet here on earth. We are meant, then, to look forward to this event and long for it.

The other term that is sometimes used is the idea of a Love Feast or an Agape Feast. This is actually an early way to talk about communion, especially when it is done in the context of a shared meal. It represents the meaning of the sacrament as a symbol of love.

In most traditions we call communion a Sacrament. This word represents the sacredness of the event. It testifies to the inward spiritual activity that is going on in the outward symbolic act.communion stained glass 2

What we can see right away as we think about the names of communion is that it is not a single note symbol. It is a rich chord of different ideas, concepts, and symbols that can mean different things in different times. I will explore this further, but I want to right away challenge you to think about and appreciate the richness.

Here is the question I want to build to: Does your practice of communion at your church represent this richness, or is it always done the same way with the same words and the same ideas highlighted? Maybe your tradition says that it has to be done a certain way, but in most traditions there is a lot of opportunity for some freshness to communion. We need to explore some of these contemporary and original ideas.

Finding Your Identity in Christ

I have been thinking a lot about identity of late. I have come to believe that how you and I view ourselves has a huge impact on how we act and react in different situations. If I see myself as passive and a victim in certain situations, then I am likely to get pushed around. If you see yourself as powerful and in control, then you would react totally in the same situations.

There is a lot of research that has been done into the idea of identity. We have different kinds of identities. Personal identities are ones that you and I hold for ourselves. Role identities related to jobs or responsibilities. Social identities are ones based on our relationships such as who we know or who we are related to.

identity

This means that we all have multiple identities that we move in and out of in different contexts at different times. Have you ever mixed your social groups? Have you ever mixed your college friends and your church friends? It may have been awkward because you have different identities with each of these groups and you don’t know who to be when they mix.

These identities change over time as we change, our contexts change, and as we test out our identities in real life. For example, if I see myself as the boss but nobody listens to me, then I have a problem. Either the people supposedly working for me are losers or I have to adjust my identity to acknowledge that I am not the boss I think I am.

While Paul does not talk about identity in our modern psychological terms in his letters, I think it is an underlying theme in his works. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Paul’s theology of identity relates to the resurrection of Jesus. He lays it out in Colossians 3 that we have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. We are considered to be new in Christ. Yet we still have some of our old self in us. We need to put to death all thee selfish actions and destructive behaviors of our old selves. We cannot walk in them anymore. Paul does not think that you are earning your new status. Actually, as Christians we are supposed to become what we already are in Christ.

The idea of Christians finding their identity in Christ is especially difficult in the world we live in. We live in a world where everything is an identity. I know people who find their identity in their job, their kids, who they hang out with, the car they drive, the neighborhood they live in, their sexual preferences, the color of their skin…

We make anything and everything an identity today. But the problem with all of these things is that they cannot hold up to the pressure of life. Identities quickly become idolatries, and idols always let you down because they cannot hold the weight of your life.

The only hope is to find your identity in Christ. That is the only thing that will hold up to the pressures of life. That does not mean that you lose all of those other aspects of your life. They are reordered to less importance. They are less defining when your identity is truly found in Christ. They are arranged to fit around Christ’s purpose for your life.

But all of these parts of your life also become more beautiful in Christ. I am not my kids and should not find my identity in them, yet when I look at being a father in Christ the value of that work and the purpose of that responsibility takes on a whole new meaning. Your job is not a good identity, but it can be a holy calling if you see it in Christ.

Your life because so much more in Christ. If you are finding your identity in anything other than Christ, then you are selling yourself short.