Tag Archives: love

Communion

communionI grew up in a very “low church” worship environment.  Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency.   As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.

While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches.   Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.

Communion is more of a celebration than anything else.  We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body.   Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us.   Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.”  There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death.  His victory has become mine.  We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us.  “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”

Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus.  As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health.  We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter.  Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood.  Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place.  With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ.  As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine.  Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way.  If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory.  If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament.  “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion.  So let’s do that.  If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord.  As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”

Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus.  Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach.  As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over.  Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think.  I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet.  “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion.  If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”

Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year.  Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ.  Communion is the “continuing sacrament.”  One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October).   Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion.  Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity.  Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us.  Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.”  Then, invite people to the table of the Lord.  Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself.  “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion.  Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”

So what does the holiness message look like here in the early years of the 21st Century?

First, I think the basic message is still sound. When I preach about a deeper experience in which the heart is filled with God’s love I find a receptive audience. Sometimes, it’s hard for me, who heard and responded to this message early on, to remember what a powerful message of hope it is. However, when I proclaim it and see people respond, it reminds me that it’s a wonderful, positive message.

Second, I think people are still very interested in outward manifestations of the inward work. However, the old approach is giving way to a more Biblical view of what that is. It used to be about (1) emotions and (2) legalism. There was an expectation that folks who “got it” would have a shouting spell and then settle down to walking the straight and narrow. Now, though, folks expect to see more compassion for the hurting – greater loving Christ-likeness – in the lives of those who have “gone deeper” in the things of God.

Third, I think people respond to genuine passion. They’re interested in being part of something worth dying for. Our doctrinal debates are mildly interesting to them, but they want to hear about a relationship with the Lord that’s about life and death. Others, they see, are happily content to get a stamp on their ticket to heaven, but they want to be part of something that demands their all.

A message of full surrender, based on a genuine hunger for all of God, and evidenced by Christ-like love and compassion is the one I think will touch lives today.

Who is God?

God is “I am.” He has always existed and always will exist. He is the Creator of all things – if it exists he made it. He is Almighty God – if it can be done, he can do it. He knows all there is to be known and he sees all there is to see.

God is love. He loves all of his Creation. He seeks a relationship with every person. He is transformational, never leaving lives as he finds them. He is good and his desires for humanity are pure.

God is patient. He is single minded in his purposes, but at the same time he is patient – sometimes working across generations to accomplish those purposes. His purpose is to redeem humankind. Because of that, we was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring about that possibility.

God is holy. He is untouched by sin, separate from humanity, and filled with glory. In his holiness he desires that we be a holy people. Still, even the most holy person can only be said to have been “made holy.” Only God IS holy.

All of this we know about God because he has revealed himself to us. We know nothing about him except what he has told us about himself. In and of ourselves, he is unknowable.