Communion as Reconciliation

Don't you love it when you don't have to prepare for something? You can just show up and receive? It's that part of parenting sometimes when the most prep we have to do is get the kids out the door to their game, and we sit and watch Sally net another goal into the corner of the net! Life is good.

But, do you come to the weekend, having left the cares of the office or classroom behind, with little concern to prepare for Sunday worship? After all, it's a day of rest. What more should we have to do? Coming to worship shouldn't have to feel like a work of righteousness that earns us favor with God (or at least a comfortable spot in the pew).

Because of the public nature of our discipleship, gathering to worship isn't just about throwing some clothes on, straightening the hair and making sure you're caffeinated. Sure, it may seem that getting kids out the door or getting the snow off the car is a miraculous feat.

If you could prepare for Sunday by taking the time to take inventory of your relationships in the pew, then how much sweeter might singing and supping at the Lord's Table be? Alot I imagine. But "How?", you ask.

"Holy Communion is for the Holy Community."

Pastor Tim Shorey (who's dying of cancer) has written a helpful little book called The Communion Truce: How Holy Communion Addresses Our Unholy Conflicts. It has the feel of a counselor chatting with us at a fireplace, an almost extended communion meditation in and of itself. Shorey boldly asserts that "Holy Communion can help address our unholy conflicts and can lead toward peace whenever difference, dissension and distance threaten the unity of Christ's Church" (p.8).
All of us would happily affirm that the meal Jesus gave us, at the very least, is designed to remember his cross work and thus assure us of his forgiveness. It "reminds us of who and whose we are" (24). But less known is the relational component that the Lord's Supper addresses. In remembering our Lord Jesus on the cross securing our justification, we must realize that "our warfare with one another is something Jesus died to end" (25).... Communion interrupts our relational bloodletting" (23).

With an epic reference to a World War 2 ceasefire between Allied and Nazi forces on Christmas Day, Shorey co-opts the idea of that truce and applies it to the thing most sacred to Christ: his Church. He writes that "frequent communion 'truces' should: 'make us uncomfortable with our strife... provoke healthy shame... and confront our hypocrisy" (25). This may sound really bizarre to you, especially if you see taking communion as a kind of religious snack or a private religious moment between you and God.

Communion is no less than about 'me and God,' but it's much more. It's because Jesus didn't merely die for a 'you' but for an 'us.' And that changes everything about how you live Monday-Saturday and come to worship God on Sunday. Because communion symbolizes our corporate participation in Christ and reminds us that the "one loaf" and one cup is what we all are a part of, we ought to, Shorey contends, "turn Holy Communion into a relationship assessing-and-healing event.... Practicing communion as a bond of love shortens our conflict accounts by compelling us to make peace before returning to the Table" (39).

So, when the apostle says not to eat in an "unworthy manner" (1 Corinthians 11:27) and when Jesus demands that you "leave your gift at the altar" (Matthew 5:24); or when the minister discourages you from taking communion if you're cherishing more fight in your heart than forgiveness toward a fellow member, what will you do?

How and when must you attend to the reconciling aspect of the Communion picture? After, during or before communion? Well, yes, and it depends. What I can tell you is that a token moment of silence while you're waiting for the others to be served the elements is often insufficient to do the minimal reconciling that our Lord instituted in order to receive communion worthily.

The wrong thing to do would be to not come to church. Come to worship, but if you must, refrain from receiving the Bread and Cup.

Yet, with all sincerity and earnestness, pursue a time and place where you and the other brother or sister can address your unholy conflict. Could it be that grabbing someone out of line is appropriate? Maybe. What if you texted or called the person the night before and said: "Hey Jamie, I know we're at odds, or at least I feel it. Not sure if you do. Can we meet a half hour before the service starts to talk and pray?" If you know the conflict is your fault, then, wait till after communion to approach the person (especially if you're doing it last minute).

The point is that on this side of heaven, we are never going to have perfectly peaceful relationships, but in the body of Christ, we should try to lean into our reconciled identity by pursuing peace (Romans 12:18, 21).

Shorey says that "we are never worthy [of the Lord's Supper], as in deserving. But we can be unworthy, as in disqualified [from the Lord's Supper because we refuse to reconcile, p. 46].

Beloved, prepare for this Sunday and the next by reckoning with your church relationships. It may mean you have to sit out one Sunday but at the very least, you can get busy taking advantage of the communion truce. Your relational wholeness is a matter of Christ's life and death. And it should matter to you, too.

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