Tonight I attended the weekly service at the local international evangelical church. We attend there sporadically, maybe once every three months, as we have been worshipping at the Orthodox Church, hoping to learn more and participate in the primary church of Egypt.
Since it was the first Sunday of the month, as is typical in many evangelical churches I know, it was also communion Sunday. It was the first time in awhile that I had taken communion, which is somewhat strange since this is offered every week in the Orthodox Church. Due to doctrinal differences, however, but mainly to the fact that we haven’t been baptized Orthodox, while we are welcome to attend the service, we are not welcome to partake in communion.
It was an interesting experience for me after being away from it for so long, and witnessing a different tradition in the meantime. Many thoughts ran through my head:
“Oh yes, the first Sunday of the month … communion Sunday.”
“The pastor said we would come to the front to take communion … something a little different. Why is it that the churches who do communion less frequently (such as evangelical churches who often do this once a month) are the ones who find the need to ‘change up’ the method of distributing communion? Meanwhile, the church which does this every week, or even more than that, will never change the way it is done. Ironic.”
“The Orthodox firmly believe that the elements become the physical body and blood of Jesus. They believe they are participating in Jesus’ suffering on the cross as they take into themselves the holy body and blood of Jesus. They can’t let a crumb drop to the ground so they cover their mouths with a napkin after the priest puts a piece of bread in their mouth. And yet that is not my tradition. I simply see these elements as representing Jesus’ body and blood. Something He told us to do to remember His suffering. So as I put the juice-dipped bread in my mouth, I asked myself, or rather, asked Jesus, ‘Who is right? Are you pleased with this? What is the point of this ceremony?’”
I have often struggled with seeing Jesus’ death on the cross in a real way. Sure, I believe it happened and I believe He did it for me, and it was a horrible, painful thing for Him. But I’ve rarely been able to really appreciate what He went through for me. I think it comes from growing up in the church and Jesus’ death on the cross being part of my life from childhood … it has become so familiar. So I understand my evangelical friends who try to “change up” the way communion is presented so that it doesn’t become rote and without meaning. We don’t want to be passive and do things out of habit. Making us get out of our seats and walk to the front of the church gets us somewhat involved, rather than waiting for the elements to be passed to us. And yet, we can still remember Jesus’ death in a real way, as we wait for the elements to come to us in their silver plates and miniature cups.
Another experience I’ve had was in Jordan. Jayson and I really enjoyed our times of communion at the church we attended there. This evangelical church followed many Brethren practices, so we had communion every week. It was a small, intimate service which included hymn-singing and a short challenge, followed by all of us, anywhere from 15-40 people, gathered around the Lord’s table, passing along a piece of bread and breaking off a bit for ourselves. Then we would pass around the common cup of wine, drink a sip, and wipe off the cup for the next believer to partake. There was something special about standing there in a circle, being able to see the faces of our fellow worshippers, reciting together the passages from Corinthians regarding Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper and partaking from the same loaf of bread and common cup. Maybe I felt more of the fellowship of the saints, rather than the suffering of the Saviour, but it was a special time.
And now, unable to be part of such a fellowship on a regular basis, does this keep me from remembering Jesus’ death? How often should I specifically seek to remember his death? He told us to “remember His death ‘til he comes.” My tradition seeks to do this once a month. Others partake of the Lord’s Supper each week. Either method leaves room for forgetting Him in between, or doing this out of habit. Lord, let me remember your death daily, thanking you and serving you for your sacrifice for me.
Postscript: Following a post a few days ago on a similar subject – This Also is True – an Orthodox reader from the United States commented with an impassioned and Biblical defense of their view of communion. For those interested in this subject, I encourage you to take a look and consider what he says. Unfortunately, we cannot provide a link directly to his comment, but if you click on the title above and scroll down, you will find the dialogue between us. Here or there, please feel free to join in, be it to reflect and consider, support, or challenge what he has to say.