I’m about to get all theological up in here, so humor me. Here’s my question: What is communion and who gets to decide who can receive it?
I was trying to look up the definition of the the word communion. More precisely, the definitions of the root words found within. Com- and -union. (We add another “m” in between to make it look pretty.)
“Com”- a prefix meaning “with,” “together,” “in association,” and (with intensive force) “completely,”
“Union” – the action or fact of being joined
So in laymen definition terms, one might say it is something that completely joins persons or a group of people. In Christian theology, it is the ordinance of taking the bread and wine. This is done in remembrance of that same night when Jesus shared it with his disciples.
Recently I was relayed a story of someone who sincerely wanted to follow in this tradition. “However, they were told they could not take communion. Without divulging too much, this person was told there were some prerequisites before they could participate in communion. Just to say, there has definitely been evidence of faith in this person’s life.
It broke my heart and brought my husband to tears.
My thoughts on communion have changed over the years. When I was a child and understood as a child, I thought it had to be grape juice and white bread. I thought taking communion was what saved you, not understanding that it is our right standing with Christ and obedience to him that is the definition of salvation. I used to think that passing on Communion was a sign that you were an awful person, but today understand better the scripture about examining yourself. This is because we are about to take part in something Holy, profound and beautiful. There are times I have passed because I haven’t felt right with God or another, and my faith has been strengthened by it.
And it’s this last part that I want to highlight. So many times when we partake in Communion, the minister will read from 1 Corinthians 11, “On the night that Jesus was betrayed….” This familiar passage starts in verse 23 and is often read through verse 29. ” For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” And it often stops there.
But I think we need to keep reading on!
Verse 31 says –
“But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment!”
I quote this to say that we should be discerning about our own faith and relationship to God than trying to discern the faith of others when they want to take communion.
This is a touchy issue, I know. I dealt with it recently, as we’ve been “shepherding” some young people in our neighborhood. They came to church on a Sunday when we were serving communion. These kids are a little rough around the edges, and aren’t your traditional “church kids.” Sometimes they are loud, swear, and talk out of turn. However, week after week they want to be there. And as far as I knew, they have never made a profession of faith or been baptized.
Before we went to take communion, I sat down and talked to them about it, the significance of it, and what it was (and wasn’t.) And all the while I was afraid of the other people in the congregation, wondering what they were thinking of these two kids going to take Holy Communion. Afterwards, I sat down with our minister and discussed it with her, and she had no problems with them taking it.
She thinks a lot like me. At our church we serve communion “open table” style. We stand up front and whomever wants to partake, we allow them to do so, supposedly not passing judgement. Even if someone hasn’t made a profession of faith, we believe that our God can touch someone’s heart at anytime, and that even during communion someone can come to salvation.
Wow, that’s some powerful stuff. Who are we to cross someone off the list? If we are worried about someone not being reverent enough or jumped through the right hoops first or anything else that we think will bring offense to God, He’s big enough to handle that himself. After all, if he can speak to Moses through a burning bush, allow a virgin to conceive a child through the Spirit, and bring back His son to life after three days in the tomb, I think He’s powerful enough to get through to one person.
We seem to be all in a huff today if someone “disrespects” God. How dare they?! Don’t they know who HE is?! And especially I think of this Holy Week, when Peter was willing to take up the sword for the God he loved, and Christ STOPPED him. On more than one occasion, Jesus was less concerned about HIS rights and more concerned about the souls of those whom they know would come to salvation later.
Maybe we’re afraid of being “bad teachers,” that God will be angry at us if we don’t make sure that people take all the proper steps. But if this is the case, what is the point of GRACE? With God there is forgiveness, for both the teacher and the student. There is grace for any and all offenses. And we are called to be agents of grace to those around us, to be reconcilers, to be the ones who stand in the gap.
See right now, our church is trying to be a better neighbor. We’re taking intentional steps to reach out to our community, love on them, and welcome them with open arms into our congregation.Many of them have never been in a church, never raised to know the “proper” way to do things.
And I would be UNDONE if someone in our congregation stopped them at the altar and told them they couldn’t take communion. I can imagine they would feel shunned like an outsider, basically told that what we are doing is only for the “in” crowd. We live in a neighborhood that is broken and disenfranchised. They already feel like outsiders, they don’t need any of our help to feel that way.