Friday, July 08, 2005

Fresh thinking on communion

Michael Bird's blog - Euangelion - is a welcome addition to the blogsphere. He is soon to be resident in Scotland, teaching NT at the Highland Theological College. Recently, he put up an excellent post on communion which really set me thinking.

'The way I understand table-fellowship in Jesus' ministry and the early Palestinian church is that, for a start, it took place around a whole meal,' he says. 'Furthermore, Communion is not meant to be an intermission between singing and preaching, it was a symbol of the radical inclusiveness of all those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus and it foreshadowed who was going to be vindicated in the future age. When the early church sat down at their table-fellowship meals they were eating the hors d'heuvres of the Messianic banquet!'

He even cites the wonderful Robert Jewett: 'The purely symbolic meal of modern Christianity, restricted to a bit of bread and a sip of wine or juice, is tacitly presupposed for the early church, an assumption so preposterous that it is never articulated or acknowledged.' (Robert Jewett, 'Tenement Churches and Pauline Love Feasts' Quarterly Review 14 [1994]: 44).

This view is not controversial among NT scholars, but is unheard at Baptist church meetings. This is a pity because communion really does need rethinking in our post-Christendom context.

It seems to me that we are missing an opportunity to tap into a desire among many in our culture for symbols and mystery, intimacy and fellowship. We tend to tag communion on to the end of our services in our Baptist tradition - a prayer, a crumb and a sip before the closing hymn. I wonder if this is a fitting way to remember Jesus.

Jesus was a man who spent a lot of time having meals with friends and enemies, meals that involved food and conversation, that symbolisejust jiust his view of fellowship, but the creation of that fellowship through people relating to him.

It would be good to find new ways of celebrating communion in our churches that reflected some of Jesus' practice. It might open the door for us to offer intimacy without sex to a generation that seeks connection in all the wrong places. It might enable us to get to know people, share their lives, in ways that our current structures don't. It could be a way for Jesus to touch people in a way that our songs and sermons don't.

It's just a thought. Maybe people who've tried new things could share their stories

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