Lesson 10: A Nourishing Community

A Gathered FamilyI began my ministry at a time when the liturgical renewal was urging congregations to celebrate Communion every week. Coincidental with this was the house church movement in which small groups began sharing meals and and conversation. Sometimes this was done as an extension of the local parish and sometimes as a replacement.

How interesting that we find ourselves in a very similar situation. TIME reports 16% of Americans regard themselves as “Nones.” Although they are not affiliated with any organized religion, a number still meet for dinner and Christian or spiritual conversation. Some of this obviously stems from dissatisfaction with organized religion, epitomized by efforts to shun or excommunicate those who do not fully support institutional positions. How ironic that this is done by those claiming to follow Jesus who clearly practiced an open table.

In addition, an increasing number of parish groups meet for dinner and conversation. I imagine some of this results from most congregations having a hard time enacting the Communion meal with all the time limitations of modern life. Too often Communion seems to be individuals receiving magic food and drink rather than the sharing that is essential in Acts 2 or I Corinthians 11. Or, it resembles modern day fast food that is task- rather than people-oriented.

I see these developments as evidence that people seek a “nourishing” community in every aspect of the adjective. You can see how important this is to Christianity by simply starting to recount biblical stories. You’ll find many, many of them involve food or dinner. Even in the Resurrection, Jesus is known in the breaking of the bread. No wonder the earliest account of the church says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… Day by day…, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” (Acts 2: 41-47)

The formula in the New Testament is taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and sharing. It acknowledges how dependent we are on God and each other as we give thanks for all those who provide food. There is also a subversive element as the competition of the society has no place around a dinner table. We are forced to look across to people who are part of the community but not like us except in sharing the table and the Lord.

The dinner table expresses Christian love. In fact, it was often called a love feast. It enacts the friendship, community, and hospitality that are part of our faith. When all are welcomed, it expresses God’s grace and acceptance.

How about giving some thought to better ways we could practice the meal in our Sunday services, ways that help us know Jesus in the breaking of bread at church and in our homes. If you come up up with good ideas that better express the purpose of the sacrament, share them in the comments.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Concordia Hoffmann says:

    Receiving communion the old fashioned way with a group kneeling at the altar promotes a feeling of spirituality and belonging. Of course, this method would take more time than is now practiced by lining up to receive bread and wine, separately one- by one.

  2. Don Motaka says:

    I remember smaller settings, like retreats or Wednesday evening devotional services at school, where the elements are passed around the entire group gathered together, each person communing the person next to them and then passing the bread and wine along. I rather doubt this would be much of an idea for anything like a regular Sunday AM worship in even a small congregation, though. Not the least of the objections would be, what about all the crumbs that would be left on the carpet.

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