Communion In the Time of Corona

I miss sharing Communion. 

Up until mid-March, the church that we attend offered Communion each Sunday. The way they did it was select members are stationed at the front of the sanctuary holding baskets of bread and a cup of juice. The congregants would come forward to take a piece of bread and dip it in the juice and then return to their seats. As the bread is taken, the church member holding the bread says, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.” Then as you dip the bread the church member holding the cup says, “This is Christ’s blood shed for you.” Some people would eat their bread right there and some would wait until they returned to their seat. The whole thing was participatory, intentional, Christ-centered, and spiritual. And I looked forward to it everytime.

Now, we still take Communion but instead of walking in reverence to the front of the church, we stay put and clumsily and loudly open small baggies of bread and peel off carefully, so as not to spill all over ourselves, the tiny cup of juice. We forget the order we are supposed to go in and no one is telling us as we partake what the bread means and whose blood this is. It is disorienting and awkward and not much like the process that I love. It feels like we are eating one of those packaged and sealed ration meals that serve as food but in such a clinical and unsatisfying way. Damn you Coronavirus for taking this grand gesture and holy ordinance away from us and for reducing it to a “Lunchable” version. 

I am grateful for the chance to attend church, to sing with other believers, to hear the gospel proclaimed, and to take Communion, even this watered down version. Still, I long for a chance to join my fellow believers in the procession to the altar to receive the bread and the cup. I long for the chance to respond to the invitation to join the meal, not from my seat, but looking into the eyes of a fellow pilgrim and telling them thank you as I take and eat. I long for the chance to trail after our daughters as they join the meal and have that gratefulness that they are welcome at this table and are ready participants.

Despite my longings, this Lord’s Supper, even in its watered down version, is not about me and my preferences and good feelings. This Communion is about God’s Grace that will not be hindered by death, by disease, by upheaval, by broken leadership, or by my high capacity to screw things up. This Grace that keeps sneaking through no matter what is blocking its way. This Grace that comes to me even though I haven’t earned it and do not deserve it. It is a gift that requires only one thing from me – to receive it and enjoy it. I may not have much control over the circumstances of the times that we live in but I can still accept this Grace with open hands. 

My hands are open, Lord, for your Grace. I may not like the packaging and the presentation but I will take it. Give it to me, I need it.

The Quest For Approval Is Killing Me

Several years ago, I remember going to the first sessions of the Apprentice Experience.  These sessions were led by people that I truly admired and had learned so much from. Instead of sitting under their teaching and soaking in the wisdom and the potential for insight that God would provide through them I found myself trying to come up with impressive things to say and keen insights that others would find clever and deep. I wanted others to know how spiritually mature I was and that I was on par with these great teachers. 

How quickly my superficial and shallow make up showed up in a setting that was supposed to be spiritual and full of learning and experiencing God. I discovered I had a lot of Growing Up to do in the area of seeking approval and attention.

The word approval looks so innocent on the page or the screen. You would never know that its power has caused such misery across human history. Our efforts to find approval, even from people we don’t even know, has so consumed many of us that our own personalities are lost and our true selves are put to death. I have known men and women whose sole criteria for the worth of an institution like a church, a job, a small group, or a set of friends was how much praise and attention they got out of it.

Photo credit: Princess Productions / J Paul / Flickr / Creative Commons

I am not much different. I am often jealous and envious of others who receive praise and attention or always seem to be the apple of people’s eyes. I like to demean those people in my own mind and argue to myself and sometimes others why they are not so great. What I am doing is playing the comparison game. With 7.8 million people in the world, this comparison game will never stop and I will always find someone that gets more attention, is more appealing to others, receives more praise, and accomplishes more. There is not a more unwinnable game on earth than the comparison game.

When I find myself seeking attention and wanting people to notice me and trying to impress others, I also notice that I am weakened, fragile emotionally, straining and grasping and exhausted. This is no way to live.

To get me out of this rut I have to turn to scripture because within scripture I find words, stories, and truth of who I am outside of the approval of others. I have to seek Jesus and know that he is seeking me. I love the classic benediction of “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” I find favor in God, I find attention from God, I find love and compassion from God, and I find peace. Dallas Willard often talked about the experience of Jesus coming right up to you and saying, “I love you! I approve of you!”

In my life, I have been controlled by the approval of others and when I don’t receive it then I can get bitter and resentful very quickly. I have to remind myself that my ultimate approval comes from God not from anyone else. For God so loved me that he has given me his own son to love me, teach me, befriend me, and die for me. 

What more approval do I need?

Bold Christianity is Not What You Think

I have a fear for new believers or younger Christians who have experienced the saving work of Christ on their lives and are now looking for models of how to behave as a Christian. These new Christians are sincere and dedicated and they want a behavior to match their bold belief and enthusiasm. 

The problem is that the most outspoken and in your face believers they probably see in their churches, on TV, or on Social Media are highly into politics, or are pushy and legalistic when it comes to “Christian” cultural touchstones like homeschooling, parenting, and the latest theological debate. 

So, these new believers, in a quest to be bold and to show off their new found excitement, join these bold examples not knowing that this is “fool’s bold.” The boldness demonstrated by the most vocal Christian on your Facebook feed or the most celebrated family in your church does not often match the boldness talked about in scripture or the most important characteristics of a community of believers in the early church.

Just a simple search for the words bold, boldness, or boldly in the New Testament comes up with references to speaking and declaring the Good News and the Kingdom of God. The apostles were bold in their declaration of Christ and his saving work. They talked of Jesus and what he has done and what he is still doing and what he will do. That was the model of boldness among the early believers – their making known the message of the Gospel.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Also instructive is to look at the prayers that Paul has for the churches he is writing to. He does not pray for their political voice, their dedication to causes, or their correctness in apologetics. Instead, he prays like this:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:9-14

In another letter, Paul praises a church because of their imitation of the Lord Jesus and for being messengers of the faith to the point that they were listed as “models for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

A bold church and bold Christians are those that are full of people Growing Up, discovering new things about God, practicing thankfulness and joy, serving others, demonstrating patience, celebrating God’s mercy, and making Christ (not a poor substitute for the Good News) known.

If you are longing for a deeper commitment and feel compelled to take on a more intense version of your Christianity, take heart, you do not have to fit some characterized and stereotyped version of an American Christian who is full of false righteousness, loud mouthed political takes, and Christian cultural fads that are more hype than substance. You can simply and humbly dedicate yourself to imitating Christ, loving him, serving him, generating the Fruits of the Spirit, and gently telling others of what Christ has done for you.

This is biblical boldness. The kind of boldness that may not get you much attention or followers but will honor God and spread his Kingdom.

The First Job of A Christian

The word glory and glorify is used over and over in scripture but do we know what it means to glorify?

I don’t think I could have given you a definition until yesterday. In the Reservoir devotional that our staff has been going through we read this definition, “to glorify means to cause the worth of something to become visible and acknowledged.”

As a Christian, it is my job to glorify Jesus Christ and not myself, my virtue, or even my church and its accomplishments. How do we do this?

First, we have to understand the worth of Jesus so that we can recognize why he should be glorified.

Jesus is God’s Son who humbled himself to take on flesh and live among the sinful, selfish, ignorant, and foolish human race. He healed, loved, taught, served, and sacrificed for these humans that didn’t appreciate it half the time and often tried to attack him for it. He lived a perfect life and took that perfect life and gave it up to death as a perfect sacrifice for all of those humans who loved him and even the ones who hated him.

That death was an atonement for all of the sin and the propensity to screw things up that should have brought punishment and death for us humans. After entering death in our place, Jesus defeated that death and rose from the grave to demonstrate the power of Christ to overcome all that this evil world could possibly do to destroy us. Jesus now dwells in those that have committed their life to him and is directing his kingdom to have done what needs to be done in the name of God and for the blessing of the human race.

Now that we know the worth of Christ, we then make that worth known to others. We tell his story, we point people to him, we praise his name, we sing about him, we study him, we pray to him, we listen to him, we confess to him, we place him at the center of our existence, and we humble ourselves in relation to his greatness.

I like the simplicity of the word “acknowledged” in the definition. Acknowledge is a surrender to the truth. When we glorify God, we surrender to the truth of who Jesus is and we direct others to discover that truth as well. I surrender that I am lacking and powerless to change myself and those around me without the might and power of the resurrected Christ. I am humbled and through my words and actions, Christ is seen as the only hope and truth for a dying world. Then Christ’s name gets glorified even more.

As Christians, we try to replace our one job of glorifying Christ with countless other things, some good and noble and some just frivolous and detrimental. If Christ is your savior then glorify him today in all that you do. Make the glorified Christ known and acknowledged. Humanity is starving for the hope that only Christ can bring.

Glorify him.