Article by Matt Carver
When I first came to Calvary Chapel Living Hope, I was perplexed concerning how often they took communion. I wasn’t against it, I am a Christian after all. I think it was more that I couldn’t keep up, it seemed overbearing, perhaps, or made things seem somber unnecessarily.
On top of that it seems that every time we took it somebody was suppose to share a word on communion. I remember reflecting on this “how can somebody share a different communion message everyday, there aren’t that many passages in the Bible that talk about communion?” I would say, “communion is just another thing in Christianity, just like prophecy, or spiritual gifts, or baptism. Why this overbalance? Grace was just one topic among many, it didn’t have a priority.” I was constantly asking why, in our conversation at church, we couldn’t get past talking about Jesus’ death and on to better subject matter. I was missing the only subject that matters.
All of these thoughts were evidences that the cross represented something peripheral in my Christianity.
It might be asked, then, what was indeed central to me in my Christianity? The answer I have now settled on, with humble regret, is that it was myself. I had been lured into that deceitful snare that history had told me about again and again of using religion for my own ends. I had learned a lot about Christianity, but I had not in my heart approached the central point of Christianity: death to self, life in Christ. The cross needed to become central so that God himself could become the end. Not only did I need to be taught, but my whole paradigm of “do that which was most expedient” needed to be torn down.
For this God used the relentlessness of communion.
There are many lessons that have lead me to advocate for more communion, below are three:
1) First our physical life is intrinsically tied to our spiritual life.
Since we are bodies as well as souls, what we do with our bodies brings into (or out of) focus certain spiritual realities.
Why do we get on our knees when we pray? Why do we lift our hands when we praise? Why come together when we eat? Why do we find quiet peaceful places when our souls are disturbed?
It’s not just that the physical act responds to the state of the soul. It is also that we begin to do the physical act precisely because we are desiring a certain state of the soul. It might be that feel humbled in a time of prayer and get on my knees, but it might also be that I can’t seem to humble my soul enough in a time of prayer and therefore I get on my knees.
Those physical commands that Jesus did give are intended not to be simply a response to the reality in our hearts, but to awaken our hearts to reality. Communion is one of the stokers for the fire of the heart—the cross is the fire.
Everything inside us and outside us tells us not to glorify a crucified Christ, therefore we must take communion more often.
“God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it." -C.S. Lewis. “Mere Christianity.”
2) The cross is both a receiving and a becoming, the benefits are for us, and a work is done to us.
Therefore we eat and drink communion, because in eating and drinking we both receive and become what we eat.
I have been confused throughout the years as I have taken communion. At moments sitting with the elements the cross seems to be a wonderful gift of friendship. It speaks of forgiveness and God’s offering of himself to be fellowshipped with. Of course I would take opportunity to be reconciled to God! When I take counsel with him, when he establishes my heart, when I find myself casting my sins upon him and knowing that sweet taste of freedom again and again—all of these are worthy of communion reflection.
This is all illustrated in communion for in the acts of eating and drinking I am fed, I receive.
However, there are other moments in which the over-abundant gift is shadowed by an inner question, “hey bro, what are you signing yourself up for?” The Bible comes at me with phrases like daggers threatening my soul, “crucified with Christ…” and “baptized into his death?” Well in answer to that question, I’m not sure I did know, but I’m sure thinking about it now. Why? Because I’m eating it and drinking it in communion!
Because whatever I eat I do not only receive, I become.
The great truth of the cross is that in my receiving the life of Christ, he will make sure to conform me to his death. He will not leave one ounce of corruption left to dominate my soul. The dish cannot be cleaned out, the residue is too sticky, it must be re-fabricated completely. The hardest and most wonderful truth that communion teaches us is that in our death with Christ, there, right there, is the life. The receiving comes with the becoming.
My pride might keep me from receiving the gift of the cross, my fear might keep me from becoming conformed to the cross, but I take communion as much as I can, and God levels them both to ground zero and makes me into new creation.
3) Communion brings us to the table of fellowship.
It is “eating” after all, and since ancient days eating has been used as an excuse for people to sit together in fellowship. In fact Christ gave us communion at a feast of fellowship.
The question, therefore, must be asked concerning why Christ would see the need to remind us with a physical act of communion to fellowship with him. Wouldn’t we already want it? Shouldn’t it be easily deduced as a beneficial thing? Wouldn’t we think that the invitation to come and enjoy some time with a friend would be often taken advantage of? Why should we have to be reminded that the point of this whole thing is “to know him.”
Unfortunately the track record of religious humanity tells us a different story. From priests to the people, from popes to laymen, from mega church pastors to country church members, from high church to low church to high, and from paganism to pantheism, and from California to China, humanity does not desire God for God’s sake, humanity desires to use God for his own sake. “You seek the scriptures for in them you think you have life, but these are they which speak of me, and yet you will not come to me that you might have life.”
What does communion teach us in the midst of this? Come to God to enjoy God at a table of fellowship. The idol depresses us and the idol exalts us, but at the table of joyful fellowship with the Lord, we forget us, because we are enamored with Him for his own sake. We need Him as often as we can have Him, therefore we take communion “as often as we drink it, in remembrance of Him.”
JESUS: “The trouble is that you have been thinking of the quiet time, of Bible study and prayer, as a means for your own spiritual growth. This is true, but you have forgotten that this time means something to me also. Remember, I love you. At a great cost I have redeemed you. I value your fellowship. Just to have you look up into my face warms my heart. Don’t neglect this hour, if only for my sake. Whether or not you want to be with me, remember I want to be with you. I really love you." - Robert Boyd Munger from “My Heart—Christ’s Home”