We take Communion regularly and often at our church. The question that always (and rightfully) comes up is the question of “meaningfulness”–will it lose its “meaning” if we take it too often? I’ll answer that in two ways:
(1) My short answer: I don’t know. Maybe.
(2) My longer (better) answer:
I can only answer this question from the perspective of my own experience. How meaningful is Communion for our particular church family? Truth be told: Communion is regularly meaningful for us as often as our belief “Christ crucified” is meaningful to us. (Read that sentence a couple of times.)
Central to our faith is Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Our church is a bunch of sinners–the most depraved person in our church happens to be the pastor. And so for a mixed bag of recovering transgressors–fallen and depraved as we are–we still strive regularly and often to bind ourselves together; we come together weekly as a holy community in unity, always thankful and dependent on Jesus’ grace. Therefore, as those who have been redeemed, we are simply not in a position to de-emphasize “Christ crucified.” There’s really no way around it–we are too impoverished without him. It’s a sacred (indeed, precious) truth. And so with this mentality in place, it’s terribly hard for Communion to lose its meaning. Why? Because we see it as a eucharistic meal, i.e., a meal of “thanksgiving.” A Christian’s gratitude is like a deep ocean that can, if unleashed, drown out any sense of meaninglessness. Thus the words “meaningless communion” are oxymoronic. It is a phrase which ought to be seen as, well, meaningless.
Of course, though, we will struggle in the battle for “meaningfulness.” In fact, we do.
Perhaps the following will be helpful:
We take offering at our church every Sunday–often and regularly. It loses its intended meaning for us from time to time, as we forget that this act of giving is to be a worshipful act. I have personally given money to the church, for example, all the while forgetting that this should be a meaningful act of worship and not some mere formal “add-on” to the service. But instead of scrapping our time of “tithes and offering,” we use it as an opportunity to remind ourselves that it is in fact about worship. Instead of doing away with this opportunity for worship altogether, we disciple our way through it. Likewise, we sing every Sunday–often and regularly. We are led by a great, Spirit-led minister, as well as by other talented, worshipful musicians and singers. And yet, there are times when even I, the pastor, struggle to sing these beautiful songs as worship. Sometimes I find myself just moving my mouth–how shameful! But I continue to fight for meaningfulness in both my giving and singing. Instead of doing away with these opportunities altogether, I’m extremely grateful we keep doing them–often and regularly each and every Sunday. When I am weak, the reoccurring, weekly holy worship of Jesus draws me back in. When the temptation comes for these things to “lose meaning,” I don’t run; I enter the fight. I refocus. I repent and re-engage. The battle for meaningfulness is a worthy fight. Let us go and learn what this means: When marriage (a holy union) loses its sense of meaningfulness, the last thing you need to do is discard it altogether; it’s better to fight for meaningfulness in your holy union than do away with it. It’s a worthy fight. Stay married; stay singing; keep giving. Indeed, perseverance is nourishment to the soul. (He who has ears to hear, let him hear).
My personal thoughts as a pastor:
(1) When Jesus speaks, I desire to listen. Even when his words disturb (perhaps even subvert) my preconceived sensibilities and assumptions and beliefs, I want to listen. Even when his words confront my unholy thoughts and preconceived ways of “doing church,” I want to allow him to be Lord of the church… even when it hurts (recall: holiness is a battle).
And so, he speaks to me:
As a pastor, I am told to be attentive to the needs of the church. God’s people need nourishment and life (John 6:53-58); the church needs participation in Christ (1 Cor 10:16 – what a confrontational little text!). As a pastor, I don’t want to starve the sheep; I’m called to help feed them (John 21:17).
(2) There is nothing more satisfying to me than when the people come forward, one by one, to the front of the sanctuary to be fed during Holy Communion. It is there where I get to be used by God at the Table to serve and wait on his people; this is my holy work. There is nothing more enriching than when I get to tell each of them individually as they receive the elements, saying, “This is the body of Christ for you.”
It is at this time when God’s people get to, I pray, meaningfully experience God. During such meaningful times, Holy Communion is always:
Participatory, yet individual. Spiritual, yet tangible. Body, yet bread. Blood, yet wine. Heaven, yet earth. It is here when pagan dualism breaks down–when the bread is broken and the cup is poured and the saints partake.
I love these Holy moments. Words cannot describe the happiness I have when I get to see the saints “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).
Christ is a wonderful gift–available to all who would have him. And so I ask the following question with all of its intended (and yet ever-biblical) ambiguity:
“Are you in communion with the Body of Christ?”