Ok, I am back from my temporary hiatus in writing. The last two months have been a whirlwind as I settle into and adjust to my new position as Music Director and Teacher at Our Savior Lutheran Church and School. I've had hardly a day off in two months, and am just now settling down into a remote sense of balance, with the guiding help of the assistant Pastor and elder board.
So now to continue my exposition on why I chose to convert to Lutheranism, reason 2: weekly communion. In my last post, I described the tradition and theology from where I had come. In the next one, I will address specifically the Lutheran theology of the Lord's supper. For this post, the purpose is to explore the benefits of weekly communion.
To start off, I'd like to address some of the many reasons why people do not celebrate communion more frequently. First off, there are those who say that doing it more seldom gives it deeper significance, and if they do it too much it will loose its meaning. The only strange thing is, nobody will ever apply this principle to anything else in life. We still kiss our spouses every day and say that we love them. We still attempt to have meals as families. We say the pledge of allegiance before school and sing the national anthem before ball games. We make sure to catch our favorite weekly TV show, enjoy our favorite recreational activity, or even partake in a regular spiritual discipline such as daily time in prayer. Somehow, all these things manage to retain their meaning throughout repetition, even growing deeper and more significant as time passes. But not the Lord's supper? Hogwash. Repetition does not reduce meaning. You can mindlessly coast through anything on its first repeat, even if done annually. Meaning isn't added by seldomness, but by attentiveness.
Excuse number two: Who is going to take the time to prepare the elements? Believe it or not, I've been part of churches who might have celebrated communion more had someone stepped forth and offered to handle the preparation. I vote this one the lamest: God became man and died on the cross for our sins, but it is asking too much to pour welches into thimbles? Good grief.
This one takes the cake for strangeness. A dear friend of mine holds the extreme minority position that, since Jesus said, "As often as you drink of it, do this in remembrance of me," and it was during the passover, he was referring only to the passover meal. Therefore, "as often as you drink" clearly shows that God intends for us to celebrate once a year, like the passover. But ultimately, this goes back to the first excuse: Somehow this annual celebration is supposed to be deeper and more meaningful since it is neglected the rest of the year. I have an idea for an annual celebration: How about Easter? Christmas? For pete's sake, Ash Wednesday! Jesus also said that when we partake of the bread and wine, we proclaim His death until He returns. Should the proclamation of the death of Christ be restricted to an annual event? If the Church doesn't proclaim this every time it assembles, what on earth is left that is worth proclaiming?
Now I shall go into the many benefits of celebrating weekly.
1. It helps keep the worship Christ centered. Could there possibly be a more Christ centered action of worship? Good teaching, good songwriting/selection, good liturgy, and good prayers can all point to and focus on Christ. But they can also do a host of other things as well. Communion, on the other hand, can only possibly point to one thing. It is a great way to highlight the importance of Christs death for sinners, since it is the cornerstone of our faith.
2. It guarantees the message gets through even when the sermon doesn't. So many churches preach moralistic sermons. Christianity is an extremely moral religion, but Christian morality is based on God's law. We had this in spades before Christ even came, but it is not good news. In fact, it is more often bad news as it reveals how much we fall short. But if a moralistic, sentimental, or practical self-help sermon is followed by communion, at least the death of Christ is remembered. When the sermon reveals only our failures, the sacrament reveals God's provision of grace.
3. It is the historic worship practice of the church in all centuries. In the Catholic Church, if there is no communion, there wasn't worship. This is the case for all Orthodox believers as well. Up until the time of the Protestant Reformation, mass was worship. Many protestant churches retained this practice. There is something to be said for that fact that saints in every century have endorsed this practice as a beneficial tradition. I'm not saying the majority must be right, but consider the possibility that there is a reason for this historical consensus.
4. It gives a picture of the gospel, providing an avenue for communication that is otherwise overlooked. Churches today are obsessed with communication creativity. We get our message out through every avenue possible: social media networking and advertising, mailers and visitation, etc… When gathered for worship, we present our truths through songs, sermons, and technologically enhanced visual media. How on earth did the Apostles communicate truth without a projector? But consider that these means all relate to two senses only: Sight and sound. These are important, since faith comes by hearing. However, taste and touch are brought into play with the Lord's supper, giving us a concrete picture that we can feel, and that can really get inside of us.
5. It serves as a safeguard against the circus. It's no secret that evangelicals major on irreverence. Motorcycle stunts, AC/DC covers, and magic tricks for some reason all seem like legitimate Biblical expressions of adoration to a holy God. However, that jarring contrast that would be obvious in serving common after a stand-up comedy routine posing as a devotional talk might just be strong enough to discourage the eccentric combination. Usually communion is the one that looses out, but if increased in frequency, it may help us recover a sense of reverence in worship since it just doesn't go with juggling monkeys. Or snakes.
6. It helps keep another emphasis from displacing core beliefs. Too often its not what a church says on paper that matters in term of belief. Most evangelical churches have the same generic vanilla statement of faith anyways, yet there is such wide divergence in teaching style. The reason is emphasis. You can have orthodox theology, but if all your teaching is how to have a successful marriage, career, and wonderful children, then it wouldn't really make a difference if you even believed in the Trinity! What is consistently given the most time in a worship service shows what is truly important. Are we coming together to focus on ourselves, or to worship a crucified Savior? Celebrating communion weekly helps us give consistent time and emphasis to Jesus no matter what the style of worship.
7. It sets the worship service apart as Christian. The bread and wine are universally recognized symbols of the Christian faith. Some liturgical, emergent, or pentecostal worship styles can just be outright strange. I was at an Armenian Apostolic service with Arabic chanting that seemed, at least from a cultural standpoint, more Muslim than Christian. It probably wouldn't have if I knew the language, but once the bread and wine were brought out, there was no confusion possible. This ritual is a distinguishing identifier of who we are as followers of Jesus.
8. It shows that Christians come to worship in order to receive. The difference between Christianity and all religions is that in other religions, man works to attain to the divine. In our faith, God reaches out to us and does all the work. We are simply passive recipients of his grace, and receiving the Lord's Supper gives a clear picture of this.
Ok, I got 12 more reasons coming in the next post. Enough for now. Thanks for reading!