Monday, October 12, 2009

Does the form matter?

Check out this article in the Wall Street Journal about churches abandoning the common cup and even getting rid of the ritualistic handshakes because of swine flu fears (the handshake is replaced by an “elbow bump”?!) in the Lord’s Supper. Especially in the germaphobic West, the idea of sharing a cup of wine with a bunch of other people is already icky. Add to that fears of the H1N1 flu and you have a recipe for people panicking. Really, does anyone else think that this obsession with sanitizing everything, vaccinating for everything, taking antibiotics and other medicine for every sniffle, etc. all make us eventually at risk for an even worse disease? It is OK for little kids to get dirty and have the occasional runny nose with pumping them full of zithromax and dousing them in hand sanitizer. But I digress…

The question this article raised for me was: does it matter? More specifically, does the form of the Lord’s Supper matter? Is a whole loaf and a common cup “better” than a cracker and a tiny cup? Is there something inherently better about unleavened bread versus regular bread or in wine versus grape juice? This is an area where I have come to a radically different view than I used to have. I get that we want to be as close to the original as possible but even in the most liturgical of churches the Lord’s Supper is little more than a ritual. Where is the pre-meal footwashing? The reclining around a table? The loving fellowship. How can we have a grim agape feast? Doesn’t that seem to be contradictory? We worry about the incantation of certain words but seem to have lost the purpose of the Supper in the first place. We have clung to our idea of being faithful to the form but have done so at the expense of the meaning and purpose.

I tend to think we spend too much time worrying about the form of the ritual and not enough enjoying the Supper for what is was intended, i.e. a joy filled fellowship meal where the people of God gathered to break bread and have a meal with one another. Everyone is so uptight about the Supper that it becomes more of a chore and less of a joyous occasion. I gave taken the Supper in a number of churches and there is lots of solemnity but not much joy. What kind of fellowship is there in a bunch of people sitting rigidly in their pews, looking straight ahead and waiting for a plate to get passed to them in silence? Heaven forbid someone crack a smile. You would think we were passing around plates of broken glass and cups of castor oil.

Next time you celebrate the Supper at church, show some joy. We are redeemed from an eternal hell and raised to newness of life in Christ. Rejoice in that if you are going to rejoice in anything! Smile at your wife who will share eternity with as your sister in eternal fellowship with the Son. You can have the perfect liturgy and just the right elements and not have a Biblical celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We are joined together in a celebration of our common salvation in Christ, not sentenced to a lifetime of nibbling bread and chugging little glasses of juice. You can be solemn and exhibit the proper gravity without looking like you are sitting through an 8 AM Econ class.

Try joy on, you might like it!

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1 comment:

Steve said...

I don't think that the form is so important.

However, we ought stick to what scripture tells us to do, and that is to partkae in the bread and the wine (unless someone is an alcoholic), the body and blood of Christ.

Jesus said that "if you do not eat my body and drink my blood that you do not abide in me."

So, I think there is more to it than just sharing a meal of fellowship.

The true fellowship that matters is the fellowship with Him, which He provides in that meal.

So, while the form may not be all that important, the promises attached to the meal...are. And trusting in those promises that He will be there, in them, for important.

Otherwise, it is just fellowship and sharing a meal with other...which we can do afterwards in the fellowship hall, or down the street at McDonalds, anytime we choose to.