2/22/2010

the communion of saints

In this season of my life, my weekly church experience is small and simple. No buildings, worship bands, Sunday school classes, children's programs, etc. Just me and MM and some friends endeavoring to read, contemplate, pray, both alone and together, and coming together to share how the whole following Jesus thing is going.

Part of our weekly experience involves communion. MM and I actually celebrate communion twice. We have our own time on Sunday or Monday night, and then we celebrate again on Wednesdays with our friends. We do so simply, crackers or bread and wine or juice. A few simple words and a time of prayer. No fancy music or sermons. Just good friends passing a bit of bread or a cup and reminding each other, "...broken for you... shed for you..."

Celebrating communion with such intimacy speaks to me about what it means to follow Jesus in community. We don't just sit in the same section of pews once a week. We are connected to each other. We know each others stuff. Weaknesses, fears, hopes, successes, failures, frailties, and joys are in plain sight, and getting plainer the more we interact like this.

Large group settings do not offer the same opportunity to "bear one another's burdens." To extend grace and mercy to one another. To even "one another" at all. That verse telling us to "first be reconciled to your brother..." (Matt. 5:23-24) doesn't really hold the same meaning in a gathering of 400+ people as it does in a gathering of four. If our fellowship is broken, we will feel it! And, hopefully, make amends. In larger groups, fellowship is often broken, but no amends can be made because the problems go unnoticed.

Celebrating communion with such frequency reminds me how receiving grace is a daily thing. We are - I will just say it bluntly - sinful creatures. We hurt each other and ourselves and "turn each to his own way" daily, and are in constant need of restoration. Remember that you are loved. Forgiven. Restored. Renewed. Again and again, remember. "...for you."

It is good, this communion of saints. I'm glad to be in this place.

4 comments:

  1. So fantastic. Would so like to see this replicated over and over.

    My question/fear is that so many of us have experienced a breakdown in the group of 400 that we will walk away and find our small communities of comfort born out of pain and un-forgiveness, able to move on again when it gets tough, especially in a society where social contracts, even marriage and denominational commitments are negotiable. I still want to figure out how to help us not easily walk away and do the hard work of walking through...maybe committing to smaller intimate communities first will ultimately get us there.

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  2. Yes, this is totally the "rub". Smaller communities means more chance to be with each other in our sin and brokenness. Which is great when you need help, comfort, encouragement - not so great when it means putting up with someone else who has problems.

    This is a place to learn how to "bear with one another" and not just head for the hills at the least sign of trouble.

    At the same time, I wonder about the weird "fabricated intimacy" of these groups.

    Normal, organic relationships are born of common interest, mutual affection, family relationships, or even geography. Those relationships develop slowly, and allow the members to unfold their hearts carefully. There is time to determine if the other person is safe, wise, on the same page, a "kindred spirit," or whathaveyou. We are able to unfold our hearts slowly, and figure out where that person fits in our lives - how intimate we can be.

    Church groups are just sort of glommed together out of whoever has interest in whatever topic. And some of that is good - we are challenged to love others and listen to other viewpoints that we might not naturally be drawn to.

    But some of it is just plain awkward! Especially when attempting to go beyond the weekly 10-question inductive bible study model. We want to be deep and authentic, but we're doing so, essentially, with a bunch of strangers. At least until we get a bit of time together under our belts.

    And how do we figure out time frames in this new model? In the old way of doing things, the study lasted 9 weeks, or for a semester, and then, if these people bug me, I can just move on to another study or group or class. This sort of house church experience has no end date scheduled.

    We aren't used to doing church this way. Communion, fellowship, community means something very different in this new way.

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  3. I'm not sure the answer to all the questions, but this is our current model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missional_Communities) and even almost 2 years later, I'm still sitting in the shallow end on the steps. But I'm watching and it's working...I think because it's morphing organically and slowly. I like the MC model of 20-50 in a common purpose...that's gives me enough to choose from for my intimate/personal spaces.

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  4. Thanks for the link. I do like the missional community approach. And this is a great explanation.

    I remember sitting in a Perspectives class years ago as the speaker talked about 'up, in, out' being the approach that missionaries take on the field, and getting all fired up and full of angst that churches here often miss the mark on that.

    Then I started reading memoirs and blogs of people who were trying missional approaches in their own communities, and got frustrated all over again that no one *I* knew was doing it, or able to make it work. I considered moving to Santa Cruz just to attend Vintage Faith! (In light of recent developments (!) soooo glad I didn't move! :D)

    I think that b/c our group is in the beginning stages, I'm musing a lot on the stark differences in this experience from the ones we all grew up in. Its like we are having to relearn how to just be people and to not fall back into the ways that we'd been told were normal. To throw out all the "church is like this ___" rules and do something profoundly simpler is really quite challenging.

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What do you think?