Saturday, 19 May 2012

Communion: How Did we Turn a Feast into a Funeral?

Been doing a little research into the practice of communion. Up until about 400 years ago, it would have been inconceivable to meet as God's people and not include the "breaking of bread" aka communion in that gathering. The early church put it on a par with teaching, fellowship and prayer (Acts 2:42). These days evangelical churches in the UK that do it more than once a month are an exception rather than the rule.

But then, given the way we celebrate it, who can blame us for not wanting to do it that often. Communion often feels more like a masonic funeral than a feast, more like a tomb than a table set for a banquet, more like self-flagellation than celebration. And who, in their right mind, would ever invite you to a meal and then think themselves a hero when all they had given you was a crumb and a sip?

If you gave me the choice of participating in either an Old Testament Feast like Pentecost or Tabernacles, or the New Testament Feast (ironic) of Communion as we have done it for the last 1000 years in Europe, I think I'd rather go Old Testament. Consider Moses' command / invitation in Deuteronomy 14...
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.
In the Old Testament, God's people publicly rejoiced in the goodness of God, feasted at his table in his house and shared what they had joyfully with each other under the administration of the Levites. They came in hungry and went away very satisfied.

These festivals are a prophetic forerunner of New Testament fellowship and communion.  So what happened to the festal theme? Who turned the feast into a funeral?

The promises of the New Covenant (Heb.8:6) may be better than those of the Old, but the culture we have freely created to welcome, honour and celebrate them over the last 1000 years definitely isn't. Whilst no one can charge the modern church with not following the letter of the law, it feels like the spirit and guts of what was intended to give it meaning, just might have been wholly removed.


No comments: