Monday, December 1, 2008

on church going and communion

It's hard to find a church.  The church we've been to the last several Sundays has a few things I really love, and it has things we're unsure about.  Michael and I don't even agree on some things.  It's easier not to go at all.  

But still, yesterday I got up compelled to go again.  I want to go somewhere so much.  At this church it's the music and communion that keep me coming back.  The music is contemporary like I'm used to.  I love hymns.  Love them.  But there's something about the kick of the bass drum and hum of the electric guitar.  My previous pastor said you will tend to always find God best in the way that you first met him.  Maybe that's why I like the style of music we had in my church as a girl.

But the other thing that keeps me going back - is the communion.  I first really learned to appreciate communion at a big church in another town.  I knew almost no one there, and it moved me immeasurably to watch so many faces stream towards the cup, dip their bread in it, and be told it was the body and blood of Christ broken and shed for them.  At the church we've visited lately, they do communion every single Sunday.  So no matter what you think of the sermon or the electric guitar or the announcements in the bulletin, you get that moment where you center on what it is we all believe.  They don't even do the beautiful communal cup with actual wine.  It's regular old grape juice in a plastic cup, and you drink it with a cracker the size of a Tic Tac.  You do it in your own seat at your own pace, reflecting on the sacrifice you believe was made for you for as long or as little as you need before you partake.  I miss the streaming of people to the front.  But yesterday, after I had taken it, I looked up and watched as people throughout the room took their bread and ate it and then raised the cup to their lips.  One here, one there, two or three at a time.

It's my favorite part.  I think somehow despite all our differences about church, all our various reasons for why people should go to church at all and what a church should do and preach and be, in that moment I get why we go.  I get why we want to be somewhere together celebrating what we believe.  I used to have much fancier reasons to give.  And I think for some churches that moment of clarity comes through other means than communion.  But for me, for now, that's when it comes.  I like how the taste lingers afterwards.  Sometimes I think it's a crazy tale on which we're hanging all our hopes.  It's a little bit Hollywood to think one man paid a price for us all that secured our place with God in some sort of paradise for all eternity.  But I believe it.  And I like being surrounded by other people believing it too and drinking that juice and eating that tiny cracker with the reverence only that belief could produce.


Haley Ballast said...

I feel the same way about communion. We also do it every week and it is such a blessing. I want to encourage you on your path toward finding a community of believers and a place to worship with them... push past the hard part! I know you'll find your home. God bless you as you go.

Anonymous said...

I think you captured the community element of the Lord's Supper that we sometimes leave out. Thanks for sharing. My prayers are with you as you and your family seek a place of worship.

zanne said...

i've always thought of church-seeking as dating. it takes a while to see if there's a fit of the values, the hopes and dreams for the future, the common understanding of this Love we all center our lives around... and it's for a family, not just one person. if the kids don't fit--doesn't work. if the parents can't find their place--doesn't work. but God is good, and He knows what you all need to flourish in your life in Him. and it looks like He's happy to shower you all with grace until you're sure!

Matt Bowman said...

I agree that communion is the heart of Christian community, and I love it just as much as you although perhaps for a slightly different reason. You said,

" get that moment where you center on what it is we all believe."

The interesting thing to me is that, in the modern sense of believing a certain proposition or interpretation to be true, we don't all believe the same even about what communion represents. But there is another definition to believe. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the idea of belief as "mental acceptance of something as true" really arose in the 16th century. Prior to that, belief meant "trust in God," something rather different. This older understanding focuses less on mental assent and more on action.

If we are talking about the more common modern understanding of believing, I see communion less as a common belief than a common invitation. That is, we are welcome to receive the divine mystery whether we understand fully what it means or not (I suspect none of us do.), whether we are "worthy" or not (none of us are), and whether we believe the "right" things or not (who is arrogant enough to claim complete understanding?). To me, this is the great beauty of communion: not what we bring to it, but what we receive from it: divine welcome, no matter who we are.

If we are talking about the older understanding of believing, I agree with you. We are all there because, in different ways, in different measures, we each have a response to a hunger in us, a response that ultimately is, at whatever level, an act of trust. This act of trust, this partaking of the divine, in the midst of human confusion, questions, and doubt, is, in fact, the one true commonality between our disparate and diverse experiences, beliefs, and values.

Or, so I see it. :-)

Kathy said...

Well-spoken, Matt. I appreciate this examination of belief. It is beautiful in both definitions, as is the sacrament of communion.

serenity said...

Well, Matt, as beautiful as your words are - and they truly are (I love the part about the invitation) - it actually diminishes my sense of calm a bit that not everyone believes the same about what communion represents. I kind of thought I could count on agreement (among Christians) in just that one thing.

Haley Ballast said...

Serenity I hope you don't let the lack of complete agreement among Christians on the nitty-gritty details of communion keep you from experiencing the blessing of The Table. The true blessing is not about all of us human (read: sinful) Christians agreeing on specific little details... the blessing is in the presence and glory of God, come down to us in Jesus Christ, remembered and honored in the taking of the bread and cup.

serenity said...

Oh, I won't mind that people differ on the practice of communion. But I did think that however we practiced it, we did agree on the fact that in some way it represents Jesus, his death and resurrection, and that we are saved by that. That's what I was assuming (as I watched people take communion) that we were all agreeing on. Is that what you meant, Matt? The practice of it?

Matt Bowman said...

Rather than a straight answer, here are some questions. :)

--Do you think communion is possible among people who don't agree on just what it stands for?

--To say it another way, are we made one by what we think is true or by something else?

--The Bible speaks of marriage as two becoming one. How do you and Michael always express your "oneness"? Do you always agree on everything?

I hope you'll forgive my indirect answer, but I think questions like these have significant ramifications for how we see ourselves, how we treat other people, and how we prioritize our lives. For what it's worth, they are questions I ask myself as well as you!

serenity said...

Thanks for responding again, Matt! I thought you might be saying more than just that people disagree on the practice of communion. I don't really know how to answer your questions, so I don't think I'll try here.

Fortunately, if your second question is answered by its second part, than I guess I don't need to know the answer to the first.

I'm a wee bit concerned that you feel these answers have serious ramifications for the way I treat other people, because I really don't know how to answer them. On a large scale, I think you know that I don't feel everyone needs to agree on everything. When it comes to communion, though, I'm afraid I don't leave as much room for interpretation as you might be suggesting. But perhaps we're just misunderstanding each other because of the weakness of the blogging medium.

Matt Bowman said...

I agree the blogosphere isn't necessarily the best place for more detailed answers to these kinds of questions. I don't know that I have some kind of final answers to these questions myself, so I'm not especially concerned if you don't either. Of course, if you figure it all out, I'd appreciate it if you would let me know. :-)

Kierkegaard wrote, "There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys: they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked the sum out for themselves."

With regards to the "serious ramifications," I mean considering the questions as much as answering them. And I'm all for counting "I don't know" as an answer. Realizing what I'm not sure about definitely has an affect on how I see myself, others, and the priorities of life!

So, no, I'm not especially worried about you; you are one of those who considers, who wrestles with God as in the story of Jacob. To be honest, I was at least in part getting at what Haley Ballast said after my first post. So I'm sorry if I freaked you out (sort of); just stopping to consider with you.

serenity said...

Oh, I love that "I don't know" part. And I so appreciate being reminded to stop and consider.