Come To The Table Part 3
A few years ago I had just come back from my Sabbatical, and one of our church members asked me what I did out there in the woods all by myself. I told him that I read a few books, and I spent some time studying baptism. My friend got a very confused look on his face and asked me, Why would you study baptism, you already know what the Bible says about that. Since I was baptized, preached on baptism, and baptized people why would I waste my time studying what the Bible says about it?
I understand the temptation and struggle of reading the Bible looking for confirmation for what you already believe. If you were raised in a Church of Christ you already know what the Bible says about baptism, worship, and communion. So when you open your Bible and read the passage, any passage, it only confirms your belief. Our struggle is that very often we read into the Bible what we already believe it says, and it becomes impossible to read out from the text what it actually says. It’s not that we intend to misread, or confuse the text. But we already know what it says, people we trust deeply have told us what that text says, what it means, so we read the text with preconceived notion.
In our text this morning, Paul is amazed by the Bereans, because they were willing to get back into the scriptures and study, not looking for confirmation for what they already know, but looking for instruction. When our Shepherds started looking into what was happening in our family, talking about why we are not growing like healthy churches do, we got back into the scriptures. We wanted to know where we needed to make changes, what needed to happen for God’s Spirit to move freely among this church again. We noticed that in the early church God was moving as long as the people where committed to, the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
Our Shepherds are dedicated to prayer. This Body meets every Wednesday evening so we can pray with and for one another. We are dedicated to fellowship, we have started a Come and See ministry where we can fellowship, share life together, and work on being and making disciples. Yet, there is a 3rd piece, and that’s communion. We knew that we needed to make some changes, which is scary because it is different. But different isn’t wrong when it brings us closer to God.
Secondly, we have been wrestling with these things for over a year. The danger we have is the fact that we can hear the song that we are trying to tap out for you. And I have tried to be as clear as possible, but we understand that there are going to be lots of questions.
I understand that some of the concepts we've discussed are new to many of us. But just because they are new to us, doesn't mean they are new. As a boy, I heard Shepherds, preachers, and Bible teachers say over and over, let Scripture be your guide. I am grateful for that teaching, and if we do not get back to scripture, all we have to go on is tradition. And tradition is nothing more than the way we've always done it. And just because we've always done it this way, does not mean this is the only scriptural way.
My intention in this series has been to go back to Scripture and look at it in a fresh way to see whether or not there are forgotten values we need to recover or accumulated concepts we need to discard. A lot of you have come to me and asked a number of questions. I am thankful that you trusted me enough to come and ask. So this morning I though it would be wise to address some of those questions, and then allow all of us to walk through this process together.
The first question, and the most asked, Who can participate in taking the Lord's Supper?
As many of you know, my grandparents were Catholic, and when I would attend mass with them as a child, I learned about a practice called closed communion. It is the practice that in order to be deemed worthy to take communion, you must have been baptized into the Catholic Church and be a member in good standing.
One of the main tenants of the Restoration movement, the movement that the Churches of Christ came from, is that we needed to give baptism and communion back to the people. The congregations that I have been associated with throughout my life have typically taken the don't ask, don't tell approach. Whether or not someone took communion was usually an individual decision.
But if we go back to scripture and look to see what Jesus did then neither of these approaches measure up to His standard. If you will take the time to read the gospels, you will notice that anytime Jesus was at a table everyone was welcome. This is seen in the Passover meal, where Jesus instituted the communion feast. The three gospels all mention that Judas was at that table, sharing in the first communion feast. During the meal Jesus acknowledged that Judas would betray Him in a few hours. So Jesus welcomed people who would betray Him to the table.
Jesus also welcomes Peter at the table, knowing that before the rooster crowed Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times. If Jesus is our model, then we must be willing to welcome those who deny Christ, are not sure about Christ, and those who have betrayed Christ.
If we practice closed communion then we forfeit the power and place to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Remember that Paul told the Christians in Corinth, For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing (Preaching) the Lord’s death until he comes again. (1 Corinthians 11:26).
That’s why I believe, based on the original intent of the Lord's Supper, I would argue that not only are all welcome to participate, but that we should encourage everyone to participate.
What are our children supposed to do during the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper began at the Passover Meal. In the Jewish Passover, the children not only participated but there are parts of the meal where they take a major role. In fact, one purpose of the Passover is to include the children in expectation that they’ll ask for the story of the Passover to be told. We have already noticed that Paul said The Lord’s Supper is a table event; a meal which proclaims the gospel.
Now, periodically Trista and I would invite the boys to share communion with us, because in our minds they already belong to the kingdom. They are kingdom people. They were on the journey of faith, and we used the Supper as a place to explain the Good News and as a tool to shape the growth and development of their faith. In our home the table was, and is, a place for the boys to ask questions and get honest answers. Around the table our boys heard the story of the gospel and participated in the elements. It’s where they heard what Jesus and His sacrifice means to older Christians, how we gain hope through the resurrection. We believed that the table prepared their heart for discipleship, encouraged the development of their faith, and assured them of God’s love on their journey.
But that was our decision. I believe that there is merit to inviting our children to participate because while baptism is an individual act of faith where they commit themselves to the way of Christ. The table is a community event where they learn about Jesus and experience His love.
But we believe that each family needs to make that decision for their own children.
What do we do with visitors?
When someone walks into our auditorium one of the first things they are going to notice are the tables set up in the back. I want to empower you this morning to do two things when you see a visitor walk in the back door. First, approach them and tell them that we take communion together every Sunday because we believe the Lord’s Supper is important. Explain to them what we do, how we participate. Secondly, invite them to sit with you during worship and at the table.
You said that the sermon will always lead to the table. What happens if someone wants to respond?
I have often been told that we offer an invitation because of what happened in Acts 2. Peter is in the middle of his sermon and the people were convicted and shouted out in verse 36, What shall we do? But, have you ever noticed that Peter never asks the people to respond. It seems to me that Peter is in the middle of his sermon and the people were convicted and called out to him.
Actually, the first time I can find an invitation used at the end of a sermon was in 1742, when George Whitfield was preaching in Scotland and he asked whether anyone wished “to take Christ for their husband.” If they did, “Come and I’ll marry you to him just now.” Several people came forward and a trend started that grew in the United States. But I cannot find an invitation in scripture.
The way we have practiced responding in the past, someone would come forward, we would line up, give them a hug, tell them we are praying for them, and then move out of the way so the person behind us could do the same. As we walk away we find someone else to talk with, start thinking about lunch and go on with our lives. It’s not our intention to forget to pray, but we are forgetful people.
But that could change if we responded at the table. As we take the bread, as we take the cup, we can express our need for prayers, for someone to help hold us accountable. Then at the table as we take the cup, we can be reminded of God’s forgiveness, Then we can take some time to pray for one another, we can look at our brother or sister in the eye and promise them that we will hold them up in prayer. As we take the bread, we commit to building the body of Christ up as we walk with one another through our trials. Now, I am invested in your struggle. Now, I will remember pray for you on Monday. I’ll check on you on Tuesday. At the table we come together to remember the power of the Cross and the power of being in the body of Christ.
One more Question: What will this look like?
First, let me say that we did spend some time looking at different options. I contacted other congregations who are making these kinds of changes and talked with them about what they did and what worked. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, we wanted to redeem our time at the table.
Most of us were raised in the tradition that communion was supposed to be a time of personal introspection, a time just between me and God. We don’t want to sing, we don’t want to be disturbed. Communion is the only quiet time we get with God in our week. Plus, if you will just look at what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11 you can see this is the way it is supposed to be. Paul says we are supposed to take the emblem and spend some time examining our hearts and minds.
But, if you go back and read out of the text what Paul is saying you will notice that’s not what Paul meant. He writes in verse 28, A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. Paul says the introspection is important but it must happen before we ever get to the table, and not at the table. You need to have some quiet introspection when you wake up, on the way to the building, or during the sermon. If you wait until you have taken the emblems you’ve waited to long.
Traditionally our worship practices are based on the way we assemble. In our building we have our pews set up in such a way that it looks like we are going to a theater production or concert. We have a stage, an audience sitting in pews facing the stage, and a few specially approved performers while everyone else just sits and quietly watches the show. We adopted this format and turned into an unwritten, unspoken pattern believing this is what God intends.
We ignore the fact that the early church met in homes, without a stage or pews. There were chairs, and floors where people sat. The home had a kitchen and table. And believers gathered to eat and drink and pray and worship together, around a table. Communion was done face to face.
I talked to sever congregations that have set up Communion stations; they placed tables with bread and the cup along the sides or the back of their auditorium. The Church would singing for about 20 minutes and when ever you felt inclined you could get up and go to a station and serve yourselves, or allow a shepherd to serve you. You would move quietly to a station, take some bread, take a cup of communion, and return to your pew. But if this is supposed to draw us closer together, we didn’t think this was better that passing it up and down rows. Actually it sounds worse. Now we’re communing staring at the wall while standing, rather than sitting among friends and brothers.
Some churches still sit in rows, but they hold the bread and cup until everyone has been served so they can all take the emblem together. I was told this is how they make sure they fulfill Paul’s command to wait for each other. But, if you go back and read 1 Corinthians 11, I am not sure that’s what Paul actually meant. Plus, some of our members hands shake a little, and holding the bread or cup is difficult for them. So we decided that this is not the best way to fulfill the command to commune together.
Once again I want you to know that the idea of changing makes me a little nervous. But, I believe that we have been called to share life together, and that begins at the table. We believe if we are going to fulfill the command to take communion we need to change the setting, and the ideal setting for communion is sitting around tables.
We must remember the point of communion is to remember and proclaim. The power is not in the elements but in Jesus and His transforming Spirit, who will use the elements to shape us to be more and more like Jesus, the same Jesus who ate with publicans and prostitutes and Pharisees. The same Jesus who was condemned by the religious authorities for those with whom He broke bread. That’s the Jesus we are to become like.
So every Sunday the sermon will lead to the table. As the sermon comes to an end, we will ask you to move to the tables. We are not in a rush, we have time to wait on our members with mobility issues to join us. The folks in the sound booth will have time to turn off the screens, and sound board. The security team will be able to come in and sit at the tables with us.
Once we get to the tables, the person who led us in out time of giving will stand and offer a prayer for everyone. Then those at the tables will take a piece of bread from the center bowl and anyone who wishes to, can talk about what the body of Christ has meant to them in the past week. It is a time to share and celebrate what Jesus has done our lives and express how knowing you are in the body of Christ gives you hope.
After 5 minutes, someone will stand to pray for everyone and we will take the cup. We will talk about the blood of Christ and what the grace of God means to you this week. It will be a time to share where we really need Jesus our life right now.
And after 5 minutes we will have another prayer and the services will be over. I want you to see what this looks like, and then today we are going to participate in communion together.