Unity and World Communion Sunday

By Matt Sapp

The first Sunday in October is World Communion Sunday.  So this Sunday at Central Baptist Church, we’ll celebrate the Lord’s Supper in worship as thousands of churches and millions of Christians all over the globe do the same.

Over the years, I’ve developed a growing appreciation for the shared experience that will connect Christians all over the world. On World Communion Sunday, we remember that there is much more that unites us than divides us.

Much more Unites Us as Human Beings

In the Lord’s Supper, we share in the physical presence of God in the world—and reminded that the “word made flesh” took on human form! All human beings are made in the very image of God. There are no differences among us—no differences of faith or location or nationality or race or culture or creed—that are greater than the unity we find in our common Creator and our common likeness to God.

One of the great miracles of the Lord’s Supper is the power it has to exert a unifying influence even beyond our Christian faith.

Much More Unites Us as Global Christians

It’s easy to focus on the things that divide us: Theological differences expressed across denominations. Cultural differences expressed across continents. Language barriers. Some Christians, like in the United States, exert a dominant influence in their culture. Others forge their faiths as persecuted minorities. Many, as in post-Christian Europe, practice their faith in a sea of shoulder-shrugging indifference.

But all Christians everywhere celebrate communion. All Christians in every setting profess Jesus as Lord and Savior. This Sunday, as we participate in the shared practice of communion, we remember that.

Much More Unites Us as American Christians

The closer we get to home, the easier it is to find fault with our neighbor. It isn’t always easy to be a faithful Christian in America today, and the largest challenge to our faith comes from within. No secular agenda or threat from a competing faith does nearly as much to threaten Christianity in America as do the divisions we sow among ourselves.

But on World Communion Sunday, Baptist Christians and Methodist Christians and Progressive Christians and Conservative Christians and Fundamentalist Christians and Liberal Christians and Black Christians and White Christians and Asian Christians and Hispanic Christians and Christians from big cities and Christians from small towns and Christians from traditional Churches and Christians from contemporary churches and young Christians and old Christians will approach God’s table together to remember that the one thing we can agree on is the only thing that matters.

Christ’s instruction at the table, “Do this in remembrance of me,” means something. How often do we forget Christ in our disagreements?

Much More Unites Us as Local Church Members

Rarely do serious doctrinal issues divide us from those who sit next to us in the pew. More often, it’s petty grievances, long-held grudges, and remembered slights that wedge their way in between those closest to us. It’s the invitation not reciprocated. It’s the disagreement over the table decorations from six Thanksgivings ago. It’s the difference that bubbled up in finance committee or the errant comment during Sunday School that caught you the wrong way.

How small, though, do those differences become when we eat the bread and share the cup together? The Lord’s Supper reminds us that we are one in mission and purpose; one in our need for forgiveness and redemption; and one in the gift and blessing of salvation.

I can’t think of anything that our individual churches, our national faith communities, or our world need more than a sense of shared purpose and mutual goodwill. And I can’t think of anywhere more unifying than the communion table.

So find a church this Sunday that’s planning to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and go to it.

If you’re in Newnan, I’d love to see you at Central.

Happy World Communion Sunday.

Advertisements

Powerful Bread, powerful wine: Eucharist from a unique Baptist perspective

During communion several Sundays ago, I had a chance to reflect on the Great Recession and recent hardships facing Christ’s Church in North America.  The lousy economy, a growing atheist movement unashamedly spreading the non-gospel of unbelief, waning baptism and attendance records in churches, and weakening denominations confront Christians with various challenges.

While the deacons were serving the elements and I had a chance to pray before saying the liturgy of the sacrament, I realized just how important communion is in the life of the church during these troubling times.

Jesus didn’t say, “Do this in remembrance of the situation in which you find yourself, in the midst of hardship and challenges”; rather, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  It’s all about Jesus, our relationship with Him, and our ability to provide the Bread of life to others who long to see better days ahead.

The bread and the cup represent God’s presence abiding with God’s people–the very symbol of Christ’s body and blood broken for all our sakes. It is not something to take for granted, but brings us “back to the future”–a sacred ritual that brings together an ancient faith with a future hope: “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

Communion is a divine encounter for sure.  I envy my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ sometimes whose theology makes the “paschal mystery” more than symbolic–it is the very blood and body of Christ, central to mass that’s done as often as possible.

And it is mystery–wholly Other but intimately integrated into body and soul of each believer, that which nourishes our deepest longings for reconciliation with the God of the cosmos.

Before I became Trinity’s pastor, we scheduled communion in two different ways over the years.  At one time, we took communion the last Sunday of every month; at another, we took it once a quarter.  It seemed to be an asterick in worship; no matter the frequency, the monotony seemed to downplay the significance of the whole act.

We decided that communion would be best served–and most appreciated–if we did it intentionally on the Sundays that seemed to point to communion as the highlight of the service.  That meant being intentional to schedule communion as a central part of worship, even if it meant doing communion more than once a month.

This process allows communion to be a re-enactment of the Last Supper for a contemporary context.  That supper was a time in which Jesus gathered those who followed Him no matter how imperfect they seemed to be.  He made room for all of the Judases, Peters, Beloved Disciples, and even an entourage of women, some of whom engaged in some pretty promiscuous businesses.  In many ways, we are no different than that rag-tag band of peasants.

My own liturgy of the sacrament, less formal than many churches, goes something to the effect of: “On the day Jesus was betrayed, he gathered together a bunch of misfits not very different than us.  There he looked out and saw some disciples who loved him avidly, some who questioned and doubted, and some who would betray him, if not tonight, then some time soon.  Even so, Christ invited them to table and gave them bread: ‘Take, eat: a symbol of my body broken for you…'”

The words are a bit unconventional, but they make room for the divine encounter yet again.  Even we, who are redeemed sinners, find ourselves back at table to eat and drink no matter how many of us fail to fill the pews every Sunday or give our 10 percent tithe.

When Christ’s Church serves the bread and cup, all else fades away.  What matters most is the mystery of the elements and the feast that points to eternal life and, yes, better days ahead.

Facebook, Social Networking has its downsides

Online social networks such as Facebook are fantastic tools in building community. Just last week, I befriended an old chum from elementary school whom I have not seen since, well, elementary school. Before this technology existed, I would not even consider finding such long-lost pals. Now I can do it at the stroke of a button.

This is a real asset for me because I am not good at keeping in touch with people. I forget to call family. Sometimes I even forget birthdays. Social networking Web sites have been a Godsend in my life.

The Internet has created a sense of community in profound ways, but there are pitfalls as well.

For one, there is a strong temptation for us to parade our lives on the Internet and flirt with virtual exhibitionism. I’m not so sure I want to know your every move, nor do I need to see your relationships evolve, fracture and get torn asunder before my very eyes. The pictures you took during your trip to Acapulco? Not so family-friendly.

In order to fight the urge to splurge on public domains, I recommend a family Internet policy that protects you and your family from nosey voyeurs, be it friend or foe alike.

Some of my personal rules include posting pictures that are modest and appropriate. That’s not to say that I have inappropriate pictures. I just don’t want people to peruse snapshots of my family’s trip to the pool or beach.

Also, I do not befriend coworkers, bosses or acquaintances unless I spend time with them outside of work. My status updates communicate my musings, but not my innermost emotional roller coasters. What you don’t know won’t kill you, trust me.

Another pitfall to social networking is that it is very addictive. Fifteen minutes to check our inbox can turn into three hours. Eventually, to invoke a tactic used by the Borg in Star Trek, our computers end up assimilating us. We spend so much time online chatting with friends that the Internet slowly replaces flesh-and-blood contact. We may be connected, but we are not connecting with a sense of authentic communion.

Consider these statistics from one study I read: only one in every four people has someone in which to confide. Sixty-one percent of people say they have only a few close friends. The Internet is giving us a sense of community, but is not providing the connections that make up sustainable support systems.

The recent film “Up In the Air” explores this theme. In it, Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, makes a living by traveling across the nation to lay people off from their respective employers.

A young, inexperienced efficiency manager figures out that if Bingham and his coworkers fired people via Webcams from their home office, then Bingham’s company would save money by cutting travel expenses.

Bingham opposes the Webcams and argues that online interactions with clients not only robs them of the dignity of the “firing,” but removes the personal support required for a sensitive moment of loss.

The movie teaches that we cannot conjure relational depth by simply logging onto each other’s lives. We require intimacy and nuance, awe and enchantment. Without real human contact, we miss out on the beauty of storytelling, the dance of non-verbal communication, awkward silences, moments of divine inspiration and sudden bouts of irrational laughter.

Even though my computer helps me remember birthdays, it does little in helping me find the relational intimacy to which I, and every other person in God’s creation, aspire. I just hope that, in the end, resistance is not futile.