As we get closer to our first Communion Sunday during this time of physical distancing (at Emmaus Communion Sundays are always the first Sunday of each month), I thought I’d share some thoughts related to how we at Emmaus will be celebrating the Lord’s Table during this time.
As you may know, I am encouraging everyone who will tune in to our live stream service to participate in communion wherever they might be. This will mean that families and individuals will be preparing the elements of communion on their own, and that they will be serving communion to one another or possibly to themselves during our live stream service. (For more information on how to do this watch my instruction video.) Not every church or church tradition will practice Communion in this way. So here are six reasons why we encourage people to practice Communion wherever they are as they tune into our live stream Communion service.
This is a way we can practice the priesthood of all believers. Our understanding of the New Testament is that anyone who knows Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is a priest. Again, ANYONE! (Can I get an “Amen!”) As such, anyone who is in Christ can perform priestly duties. This includes: baptisms, weddings, funerals, prayers and, yes, also Communion. At Emmaus, moms and dads have baptized their kids. “Lay people” have performed weddings, have provided spiritual direction and have also served communion. While not all people feel called or gifted to perform all functions all the time, let me encourage each one of us to take up our priestly inheritance in Christ during this time of physical distancing so that we can partake in Communion together on Sunday. (Let me also note Jesus instituted Lord’s Supper during a passover meal. This celebration was not given by God first to the priesthood. It was given first to the community and to families to practice together.)
Emmaus is a congregational church. Basically this means that at Emmaus we govern ourselves as a church. There is no denomination or “higher authority” that dictates how we at Emmaus are to practice Communion together (beyond God’s Spirit and the Scriptures, of course). Thus, we as a community of believers are to determine the hows, whens and whos of communion. At Emmaus, the practice of Communion is guided by God’s Spirit, the Holy Scriptures and our shared values.
Our church constitution requires monthly Communion. Okay this one may make Communion sound like something to simply “check off the list”, but it goes deeper than that. When Emmaus drafted and voted on our current constitution, the people of our church at that time held a common value that Emmaus practice Communion together once a month. (This value is anchored in Emmaus’ understanding that Christian Communion is an ordinance: a practice that Jesus commands his followers to do regularly). As a unified body, Emmaus wanted to ensure that our faith community would not neglect remembering the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. So Emmaus baked this practice into our constitution. By continuing to practice this sacred act on the first Sunday of each month, even if we are physically distanced from one another, we are affirming and honoring not only our past, but also this shared conviction.
We believe that the elements of Communion are symbolic. I mentioned this belief in my instructional video. Our understanding is that the bread and juice/wine used during Communion are not the literal body or blood of Jesus. Rather, we believe that these elements represent the body and blood of Jesus and the new covenant that God made with God’s people. For this reason, we have the freedom to take ordinary, every-day bread and juice (or wine) from our pantries in order to practice Communion. In fact, this “ordinary” aspect of communion can be a powerful reminder to us that the presence of Jesus comes to us in the ordinary places and times of our lives.
Gathering together online is still gathering together. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Colossians 2:5. “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” When we gather together online, watching a live stream, we are gathered together. Tuning in to a live stream is still us gathering together as a body. In this way, Communion is still communal. It is something we do together.
We believe that Communion is open to anyone who calls on Jesus as the Lord of life. In the bible, who did Jesus order to leave his table? Children? Sinners? Pharisees? The answer is consistent: nobody. Jesus welcomed all. In the gospels, Jesus did not get in trouble for turning people away. Rather, Jesus was criticized for showing hospitality to whomever showed up. If you are reading this and you wish to commune with Jesus then I want to remind you that it is Jesus who invites you to participate in Communion. Communion is a time when we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on account of his love for us. So even if we are not in the same physical location, go gather some bread. Gather some wine (or juice) and join us in remembering our precious Lord.
I hope that if you participate in the live stream during Communion Sundays (again, at Emmaus this is always the first Sunday of the month) that you will participate in Communion with us. I hope that your participation in this sacred act will be an encouragement to your faith. For by remembering Jesus’ death we will be reminded of God’s love for us and we will bring him glory. Amen and amen.