The church in which we hold membership observed communion on a recent Sunday night. We’ve been present as the ordinance has been observed a few times since we began attending the church, and these services are substantive and meaningful. For whatever reason, I was reminded of the contrast between this Lord’s Supper service and a time a couple of years ago that we attended a local megachurch on a Saturday night to observe, and they had communion.
Entering the megachurch’s expansive venue, I noted on the hand-out that they were going to have communion at the end of the event. They were having a global outreach month, as I recall. The speaker that weekend was a thirty-something who was involved with a project in Mexico, and must have had an ongoing relationship with this megachurch. The topic for his talk centered on the value of remembering Jesus as our friend. He was an able and articulate speaker, but I began to wonder if there might be any use of the Bible before he referenced a few verses well into his talk. In the end, I wasn’t sure what his purpose might be for his mission or ministry. He did not really mention anything of the Gospel; I wondered if perhaps his concern was primarily social or benevolent.
At the end of the sermon, the lead pastor returned to the stage, and he and the speaker sat for a few minutes and chatted; I don’t recall much of the topic of the conversation, likely related to the value of the concept of Jesus as my friend. At the end of their chat, the pastor indicated that the communion elements should be distributed, and he reminded the crowd to remember the similarity between “communion” and “community.” I assumed that when the distribution of the elements was completed, the pastor would return, and there would be an explanation or discussion of the meaning and purpose of the ceremony. The band began to play a bluesy version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” as volunteers circulated buckets of pretzel chips and individually-packaged communion juice. A few people soon got up to leave, perhaps in a hurry, I thought. Then, as more people began to leave, I had an almost visceral reaction, as it occurred to me, this is over! These people in a supposedly evangelical church, designed to attract people who might not like “church,” have participated in a communion ritual without hearing anything of the Gospel, nothing about what the elements might mean. Volunteers at the doors collected the empty juice containers. I remarked to my wife that it would have been better to skip the communion elements and just distribute granola bars at the door at the conclusion of the chat.
The recent service at our home church was decidedly different. It was neither somber nor cheery. The congregation sang joyful and reverent songs appropriate to the occasion, songs about salvation from sin, songs about the body and blood of Christ that the elements depict, songs about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as payment for our sin. The pastor didn’t preach, but worked through the Gospel of Matthew, following Jesus’ movements that ended with his death and resurrection at Jerusalem. The elements were distributed by the deacons after the pastor spoke, and prayer was offered. Congregants were invited to stand and offer public prayers as we held the bread and juice and reflected on the symbolic meaning of those items before taking them together. The Gospel was declared, and God was worshiped as we participated together in this remembrance, as we considered the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the atonement for our sin, just as believers have for two thousand years. My thoughts went to I John 1:9, the joyful promise that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”