I like systems. Predictability frees our brains to focus on content over process. But no matter how good the concept, or how smooth the execution, every system has its flaws. And so there is freedom. To tweak. Change. Adapt. Create anew.
Every church has a system for communion. Set by the denomination, or a charismatic leader, or organically arising. I have been blessed by communion in independent congregations, mainline denominations, and at the altar of Catholic churches. (Trusted friends assured me that I was welcome 🙂
I have slurped sweet grape juice from a huge plastic communal cup, sipped from a chalice of (sometimes white?!) wine, and held my individual mini-shot while the silver compartmentalized plate delivered cups among padded pews. I have savored homemade unleavened bread, crunched through matzo, held the foam-like wafer on my tongue until it dissolved, and been somewhat shocked at Seattle sourdough. All communion. Blessed and meaningful. Imperfect like us.
In Paul’s day, the Lord’s Supper was more of a community meal. Which had its own problems. At least in Corinth. Paul criticized them for their lack of unity and focus:
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 1 Cor. 11:20-21
So we’ve improved on that. Well, at least we’ve streamlined it by cutting out the meal part and replacing it with (somewhat) standardized bread and cup. But the balance between individual needs and unified celebration continues to challenge us.
My college church served communion from two small tables on either side of the podium. As we felt ready, people would circle up with a presiding elder. It was communal and orderly. My disheveled appearance may have raised an occasional eyebrow, but no one discouraged me.
The freedom of NCF’s weekly open tables has always appealed to my introvert individualism. Sometimes we just need to be at the table alone with Jesus- to weep, to kneel, to be silent, to wait, to plead. But serving ourselves and partaking individually (or in couples) lacks a sense of community. Of gathering together to share the Lord’s meal.
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 1 Cor 11:33 (NRSV)
This fall, we are tweaking our system. New Covenant style. Our first wave of communion is communal. Gather around a table with strangers and best friends. Pass the plate. Break off a piece of matzo and hold it. Wait for each other. And then partake together. The bread of life. Pass a communion cup to the person next to you, until everyone holds one. Drink together. The cup of the new covenant.
Some groups will kneel. Others hold hands in circles. Sometimes it will feel clunky. Sometimes you will touch the mystery. Feel free to remain to pray. If you need to be alone at the table, just wait till the first wave has passed. Then take your time to be with Jesus in whatever way you need.
May we give thanks for the bread and the cup. And remember. Broken body. Suffering and death. The new covenant. God reaching out to us in love. That the Lord will come again. May this mystery feed and sustain us, each of us together.