Since my China visit I have been privileged to break bread in all kinds of contexts, always discovering some new nuance of this rather special ‘means of grace’ that looks both back and forward.
Following the pattern of Acts 2:41-47 etc, we have celebrated communion in our house churches in different ways: at the beginning of a shared meal, in the middle or at the end. Or sometimes apart from a meal.
As we have discovered, communion is not reserved for a special ‘holy day’ (first and third Sunday?), an almost separate thing tacked on to a busy ‘service’ (serve us?), in a ‘holy building’ called a ‘church,’ conducted by a ‘holy person’ (professional clergyman).
We have followed the NT pattern because its roots lie in a common meal and are anchored in reality and community.
You see, our faith is as down-to-earth as a piece of bread (Dietrich Bonhoeffer once famously said‘To be a Christian means to be human. Christ created us human, not a specific type of human…’).
Furthermore, family is central to God’s eternal plan in Christ, so why not gather in a home setting? There is participation by all in an equal kind of way – after all, we profess the ‘priesthood of all believers’ under the unique priesthood of Jesus.
And so in our house churches, again and again, we have experienced intimacy with Christ and one another.
[Bonhoeffer reminds us also, in his little volume The Life Together, of the unspeakable privilegeof the communion of the saints. Many around the world would give life and limb for such fellowship, even if with just one other!]
Then there was the 2011 year-end family get-together in our home, with children, grandchildren, in-laws and out-laws. We had been playing, chatting, eating and drinking. Quite naturally we found ourselves bringing out a fresh bread roll, a bottle of grape juice and a bottle of sweet wine (low alcohol!). We served each other, celebrating Jesus. I wish I could tell you that we heard the sound of angels and carols and drum rolls. What I can tell you is that as a result of that meal an even greater family bond ensued. We had some interesting conversations. Some members returned home with a new understanding of ‘church.’ Something broke in the heavenlies that day, and throughout 2012 we have seen the benefits.
An in-law present at the above event (call him X), some time later, shared with me his desire to share the ‘good news’ with his terminally ill brother and pray with him (Y). He was afraid lest he become emotional and bungle the opportunity. Bolstered by prayer he obeyed. Such was the impact on Y that a few days later he phoned X to thank him profusely for his visit, suggesting they include in their weekly breakfasts an older brother (Z) who attends a very legalistic church, a highly critical man. They did this. Soon afterward, X invited me to breakfast with them one Wednesday morning. And so, perched on bar stools around the kitchen table, we enjoyed meat pies and coffee and banter. Then, with their permission, we shared in communion. I explained how the bread and wine signified Jesus and his broken body and shed blood. Something happened between us in that hour. An amazingly tender bond formed between X and Y and myself – Z seemed open to meet with us again.
[A few weeks later X, Y and I met for breakfast, this time at a coffee shop in a leafy garden setting. The sun was shining, a light breeze blew. It was a hearty breakfast. Then again, we took a bun and some grape juice I had brought along, and together gave thanks for Jesus and his love. I had asked the attending waitress for permission – she had probably not had such a request before. Renewed in every way we left her smiling and assuring us we were welcome in the future!]
A last example. Recently a believer friend of mine I had lost contact with, phoned me to share with me the news of a possible home break-up. Over the years he had made some serious mistakes. He asked that he, a Christian friend and I gather at the latter’s home. Absolutely broken, he confessed his sins to us and the Lord right there in the lounge – in detail. We were back in James 5:13-20. Gut-wrenching sobs of shame eventually gave way to tears of joy. Past mistakes were buried and faith was renewed. The host brought out a slice of brown bread and a bottle of ice-cold, sparkling grape juice! We celebrated our mutual friend’s deliverance. The home challenge remains colossal, but he has committed to serve God ‘whatever.’
Do you know how many shame-shackled believers sit in pews week by week, year in and year out? Why? Jesus died for our sins and shame…
Following Jesus’ parable of ‘The Farmer Scattering Seed,’ his disciples asked why he so often told stories when he spoke to people. Jesus responded in Mt. 13:11/NLT, ‘You have been permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others have not. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away…’
Thanks for journeying with me!