Creating Community Through The Lord’s Supper

1200px-Última_Cena_-_Juan_de_Juanes

The Last Supper by Juan de Joanes

“Much of what passes for koinonia (“community”) in contemporary church life seems to neglect the fact that the primary goal is not vulnerability or gut-sharing or even friendship, though all these are laudable. The goal is not even to advance eachother’s knowledge of the scriptures, though that too is commendable. These are all secondary to helping one another to know the crucified Christ more intimately. The ultimate goal of koinonia is to discover common life in Christ, common union with Christ, common worshipful adoration of Christ, common soul-orientation toward Christ and our neighbor. For this reason when the gatherings that constituted koinonia are further elaborated in Acts 2, a key element is that “they broke bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Its orientation was around the Eucharist, which was celebrated in these days in the context of a love meal.” (Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church, pp.216-217)

“The Eucharist pervaded the fellowship of God’s people. Just as the divine koinonia (“community”) was eternally cruciform, so the communities of the people of God in Christ were cruciform. As a result, the holistic nature of their koinonia was demonstrated in their sacrificial and generous living. No one had any need because everyone shared generously. I wonder if more of this radical, costly fellowship would be evident in the Western church if its small groups or cell groups were centered around the Eucharist. Fear would be removed, as it was among the disciples when they saw that the death of their Master was not the end of the story. He was risen. But fear dissipated because that risen One bore scars that were profoundly sacramental. They understood that His atoning work on their behalf would mean that they need not fear death or the judgment of God. Fear about proclaiming this would go not only because the cross is a sweet fragrance to those who accept it but even when received as a stench and they faced persecution they were good company—He would be with them, and they would be filling up that which was lacking in His sufferings as the corporate Christ.” (Hastings, pp. 217-218)

It’s not enough for North American church communities to incorporate the Ordinance of Communion into the ‘structure’ of our services and gatherings. If the community that we are trying to form is to be Christ-centered, then our fellowship can’t be built individually on ‘vulnerability or gut-sharing or even friendship,’ as Hastings puts it, but instead needs to be built on the common goal of pressing in to the Crucified Jesus as members of His body. We know from history that the earliest churches were communities energized and nourished by the intimate experience of the crucified Jesus through frequent, guided partaking of Communion. They weren’t defined by a singular intimate experience, as though they were merely a club of people who once had an ‘aha!’ moment about Jesus, but by the continued experience of the sacrificial death of Jesus. It was only through this experience that the early Church was able to embrace and in turn embody the resurrected presence of Christ on earth. It was their intimate knowledge of the crucified Lord that enabled them to be taken hold of by their identity as His hands and feet on earth.

Although it is common for modern evangelicals to avoid attaching concrete significance to religious imagery for fear of capitulating into idolatry, the early Church saw in Communion a concrete expression of their eternal participation in the crucifixion of their messiah—and of the intimacy that they enjoy with Him in the shadow of His cross. That this nourishing intimacy with the crucified Christ was at the forefront of the Christian mind for the first several centuries of the Church’s existence at least partially accounts for the powerful works that the Risen Christ performed through the labors of the Church. For present day church communities to orient their collective identity around the celebration of Communion would mean above all to root our joy in the unshakable presence of a perpetually wounded God in our midst.

His scars, so to speak, must become our dwelling place. Put in layman’s terms, our hope is not in safety, or friendship, or self-actualization, but in the intimate knowledge that even if we lose everything else, we get God.

This is the anchor in which the security that all people seek will be found. There is no need for escape (through substance abuse or emotional manipulation) for the person who understands that she has, and is had by, the crucified Jesus, because His presence in her midst draws peace out of the chaos. Even if the chaos persists around her, He envelops her. He holds her safely, with a security that transcends circumstance. She exists now only through Him, and that is good news. Hastings writes that “the joy the disciples received was to become permanent. It was the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised them in His pre-cross address: “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 6:22). Supernatural joy is in short supply and may account for our weakness in Christian mission in the west.”

The Ordinance of Communion expresses that intimate knowledge of the crucified Christ into which we are constantly pressing together and which nourishes us in the same way as the manna that God sent from heaven to provide for the needs of the Israelites (Ex. 16:1-36). The difference is that whereas the manna from heaven was a tool provided by God to meet the temporary needs of His people, it is only on this side of the cross that, rather than providing bread to sustain His people, now the crucified Jesus has become the bread to nourish us. By receiving the bread and wine (or juice) together as a body of believers, we express together that although ‘man cannot live on bread alone’ (Deut. 8:3), we live wholly through crucified messiah, who is ‘the bread of life’. Echoing Jesus’s own enigmatic words in John 6 (“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world I my flesh” and less subtly “I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you”), John brings this theme to its inevitable conclusion in his portrayal of the ‘last supper’, in which the disciples, while sharing a meal with Jesus, are commanded to ‘abide in Christ’ and promised that their ‘sorrow will turn into joy’ when they see Him again. They would soon learn what He meant: at great cost—the greatest cost—God Himself became the bread of life so that people with no life in themselves could take and eat the bread and live through Him. We are a resurrected people nourished by a crucified savior.

Hastings concludes, “seeing His scars as we gather to take Communion will help us as the Western church overcome our fearfulness. These scars remind us what it cost Him and “make our coward spirits brave.” They remind us of a restored beauty, of what the cross accomplished for us and the world. They empower us to live in cruciform communities that are open and attractive to the world, and to live in our wider communities in ways that bring redemption and restore beauty to communities and the people in them as we declare the good news alongside of living it.” Communion needs to be central in our community worship gatherings in the North American Church. The essence of Communion needs to be clearly articulated for the continued edification of the communities that we are forming there so that we may find our joy and security in the reality that we get Christ, and that He has us.

3 comments

  1. ashleynichols15 · January 5, 2016

    Wonderful.

    If you haven’t read it before, you should check out Sara Miles’ “Take This Bread.” Her experience of and writing on the Eucharist is beautiful. 🙂

  2. ryantheellington · January 5, 2016

    I’ll check it out!

  3. ryantheellington · January 5, 2016

    Reblogged this on INFP Theologian.

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