How will we ever change?
By Pastor Marty Troyer
Rush, rush, rush. Busy, busy, busy. Eat, sleep, work, play, shop, be bombarded by images and voices and messages from everyone but God. Pay the bills, clean the house, put the kids to bed, than crash on the couch to zone out in front of the TV for even more mindless media consumption. Get up one morning a week and drag the family to church. Sound familiar? The endless onslaught is like the inertia-movement of a flowing river: nearly impossible to resist.
The modern Christian’s notion that we can live our life like everyone around us and be deeply connected to Jesus is nothing but a myth. It’s just too good to be true. Our Jesus-centered faith tells us that we need to remember Jesus, to be re-membered to him. But what, in the face of such opposition, could possibly sustain a daily life of being membered to Jesus? In the cacophony of voices we’re bombarded with every hour, how will we ever hear the still small voice of God? When every billboard and facebook ad ties self-worth to chasing The Dream and one-upping the Jones’s, how will we ever trust that we are of immeasurable worth in the eyes of God?
When one thinks of our church in its various facets, these are the questions that demand our attention. We too often allow ourselves to get bogged down in the minutia of operating an organization, evaluating ourselves (if at all!) based on what we have done (we have SS, preach a sermon, have meetings, etc..). But is what we’re doing working? Are we loving God, self and neighbor more completely? Are we as individuals and a church actually being transformed? What, if any, resources do we have that can form us to be more like Christ?
Over the last six months myself, church council, and worship team have been wrestling with these questions, with a commitment to see HMC not just survive, but thrive. In asking ourselves the question “How will we as individuals and a church be transformed?” we continue to come back to the need for a more focused ritual that expresses our faith and forms us into the image of Christ. With that in mind, starting on January 16th we will be “test-driving” the weekly celebration of communion during our worship service for 6 weeks. After this initial introductory period we will evaluate the meaningfulness of such a weekly practice and whether or not to continue weekly, or return to monthly communion.
In connecting the bread and cup with himself, Jesus gave to us a material prayer method that re-members us to the Story of God. The physical act of breaking and pouring remind us of the whole story of Jesus, his willingness to be broken for us and poured out into our lives. To touch, taste and see these symbols is a spiritual act of resistance to the screaming media barrage; displacing it with the powerful message that his sacrifice, life, death, and resurrection were all done with us in mind. Likewise, these metaphorical acts are meant to be our example, “As the Father has sent me into the world, so I send you; Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (John 20:21; Philippians 2:5)” This is our identity, nothing less and nothing more will do: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are called to be like Christ.
When Jesus tells us to “Do this to remember me” and suggests we should do it every time we gather (1 Corinthians 11:25,26) he’s not talking about sermons, singing, or sharing time. He’s referring to communion as the central act of worship, or what is perhaps better called The Lord’s Supper. We come to the table because we are invited by God. But we’re drawn to the table by the transformative love we find there: a love that breaks the bonds of spirit and emotion and entered the physical world, and invites our prayers to do the same. In other words, there’s a spiritual power present in the formational practices of the church. It’s not empty ritual or blind subservience. Stuart Murray says “this table may become the place of commitment, from which new disciples rise to be baptized to express their faith and to commit themselves to follow Jesus.” In her book Communion Shapes Character she tells her own story of falling in love with the weekly practice as she experienced “the grace and energy of the Spirit flowing through more frequent communion.” The witness of the church is that communion does indeed shape character and help us realign our lives to Jesus.
January 16th is still over a month away. We’ll take that time as a gift to explore the why’s and what’s of returning communion to a more central role in our worship. My next Newsletter article will attempt to answer various questions and concerns that might come up. Such as: Aren’t rituals bad? Won’t celebrating communion weekly make it bland, rote, and drain it of meaning? Isn’t that Catholic, or Lutheran, or at least not very Mennonite of us? Do other Mennonites do this? A third article will look specifically at the value of worship symbols and rituals, and what worship theorists call a “practice.” I’ll also say more about the logistics of how we will practice communion weekly, including that it’s a test drive and not an edict, how it doesn’t mean our worship will be longer, how we’ll keep it creative, etc… Through the series itself we will highlight other articles and provide deeper resources for discussion and discernment that will strengthen our ability to evaluate communion as it is practiced at HMC.
In the meantime, you might find it helpful to read through the gospel stories about the last supper upon which our practice is based. You can find them in Matthew 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22:7-13, and John 13. You can also find an account of the early church’s practice of communion (or is it a potluck?) in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
“In all you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to god the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).”
 Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom, Paternoster Press, 2004, pg 212 note 23.