I vividly remember the weekend when my view of communion changed. It was a three-day spiritual retreat in rural Dooly County, Georgia. I was not sure what was going to happen. Those who had sponsored my trip had been rather cryptic about it all. I don’t really remember if I had any expectations. What I can say today, is that what happened, I definitely did not expect.
The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus as a reminder that we should spend time with him and God the Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit, and with one another. When we gather around the Lord’s Table we are invited to celebrate and to commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and the gift of salvation provided in and through his shed blood. I have described the celebration of communion as the Gospel acted out.
Now, I could get into the historical and theological debates that surround this sacrament of the church. Even using the word sacrament can be complicated, but I will leave it at this. Regardless of what your particular branch of the Christian family believes or does during communion, the one thing I believe cuts through them all is that there is (or there ought to be) something significant happening when we partake. When the people of God gather together to participate in communion we are embodying more than just ritual. We should be demonstrating what we believe as well.
I came across a post over at Blogging Theologically that really provoked my memories of that spiritual retreat in 2010. The author was commenting on how taking communion more had enhanced his awareness to the meaning and significance the Lord’s Supper. I have to agree. I find myself desiring to take communion more not less. Something that I found surprising after my spiritual retreat.
It is possible to stay at the surface level of our faith. To perform the mechanics of faith, but never dive deeper into the implications of what it all means. It really is a choice to float at the top of God’s infinite ocean of truth. To never risk diving deep into what God has offered to us in himself and through his word. But, we should not be satisfied with that.
The way God orchestrates the circumstances of our lives can be shocking at times. Sometimes it is because of the events that take place. Other times is the discoveries made as we come around the bend of life. What I have found is that in my life at least, God has a way of catching me completely by surprise. This is was the case when I learned to savor not just the material substances of the Lord’s Supper, but also the spiritual realities and truths they point to.
As I read the article I mentioned above, I realized that in the event of the Lord’s Supper, all five of my senses are engaged. They are called into action as I hear the declaration of the Gospel declared.
During communion, I see the bread and the wine (or juice, depending on your church). I see the congregation gathered and the pastor officiating and leading us through the process. I am called to look at the physical elements of communion and to consider, reflect upon, and meditate on the realities they point to.
My mind is called to imagine the circumstances of that fateful night Jesus was arrested and condemned. I am taken to a different time and place. I take my seat at the table and see the others who have also taken a place for themselves. It is a moment where we all have to consider what Jesus said to them then and says to us now.
Not only can I see these things, I am invited to touch the bread and the wine. I am called to take hold of the elements and to prepare myself for the words of blessing that are to come.
In touching the piece of bread or communion wafer I am given, in holding onto the small cup of juice, I am reminded that of the way we all share in the guilt that cost Jesus his life. But not only that, I share in the promise that these two elements point to. They stand as emblems of the sacrifice of Jesus and that because I am consuming them I am agreeing with God that I need the blood of Jesus imputed to me.
Every time I take communion I stand as a witness to my own sin and as a recipient of God’s grace. Jesus identified with the sick and the lost by touching them. And when I touch these elements I am connected to Jesus and the promises of Calvary.
Of the five senses engaged, the smell is the one that is most often missed or simply ignored. I have celebrated the Lord’s Supper in a new building, in old chapels, hospitals, and outdoors. In each of these settings our sense of smell reminds us that regardless of where we are, life is happening. The smells that surround us give us a context that infuses the moment with a particular meaning.
We really take our sense of smell for granted when we come to the Lord’s Table. The smell of the bread or wine/juice. The smell of the building. Of the people around us. All of these are just some of the pieces that give our memories shape. Engaging our sense of smell also requires us to be aware of our surroundings, not just pushing them into the background.
Try taking a deep breath the next your church is taking communion. Smell the bread and the wine/juice. Smell the air around you. Try and be completely present, living in the moment. Not thinking about lunch or the game or race later that afternoon.
This is probably my favorite sense. But it is also the most distracting. Through this sense, we hear the words of the pastor and sounds around us. We are told of the meaning of the events of Jesus’s last meal with his disciples. We receive that information and are called to consider the implications. We hear the of the Gospel retold, again.
But hearing can also be a distraction. The baby crying in the back. The children chatting behind us. The misplayed note by one of the musicians. Any number of sounds can pull our attention from the reason we are in that moment. Rather than allowing our minds to drift, we should learn to appreciate what all these sounds contribute to the moment we are spending with God.
At our church, we use communion wafers. One of my favorite moments is when the pastor says, “The body of Christ broken for us,” and we all SNAP the wafer at once. It really has become an intense moment for me. The sound is a powerful reminder that Jesus endured great suffering so that I might enjoy fellowship with God.
The final sense is Taste. This is when we finally consume the bread and wine/juice. When we finally take the elements of communion we have employed all of the senses we have been given to live. We are not merely remembering with our minds, we are interacting with our whole bodies. I would even argue with our entire being.
I am reminded of what King David wrote, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). During communion we can actually fulfill this admonition in our worship of God and the celebration of his grace!
I am not trying to make more of our senses than is prudent. I am trying to remind us that we should not forget or overlook how each of these senses can help us fully engage in our worship of God. If after reading this you experience communion differently I will be overjoyed!
I would love to hear from you. What does celebrating the Lord’s Supper mean to you?