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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Reimagining Communion

Written by: on February 11, 2020

It was a warm August morning at the retreat center. I was one of thirty women gathered for a weekend of leadership training and fellowship. We spent hours laughing, learning, and growing in our love for one another and Christ. On Sunday morning, I woke early and went for a two hour walk beside the river. I was to host communion later that morning, and while God had given me words to share, I knew the Spirit had more for me and my fellow sojourners. It was through the gentle, rustling sounds of the river that I began to hear Spirit whisper Her message.

After breakfast, the women gathered on the back deck of the retreat center around the Communion Table, which was beautifully set with Bread, Wine, and Word. I opened our time of worship with prayer and an invitation to listen to the sounds that surrounded us: birds were singing, crickets were cricketing, and the buzz of bees filled the air. Off in the distance, the river, low from the dry summer days, could be heard, singing her quiet song, encouraging us to settle into Presence.

The silence was gently broken as passages of Scripture were read. I then encouraged the women to close their eyes and listen as I painted a scene of communion for them with the following words:

“Friends old and new gather under a canopy of trees, surrounded by grapevines as far as the eye can see. It’s a warm evening, growing cooler as the sun sets. The table is long, covered in pink and orange striped linen, with candles and small bouquets down the center. Wine glasses, water glasses, and silverware sit at each place setting.

Early in the evening, conversation is easy and laughter-filled, but shifts to things of the heart as time, fine food, and wine pass. Tears and laughter are intertwined, woven together like a basket holding an abundance of Grace.  

In that space we remember losses, gains, and gifts. We wonder about Christ’s prayer for Oneness with the Father, and His promise of freedom and abundant Life. We remember all this while sitting in the reality of brokenness: the brokenness of Christ, the brokenness of the world, indeed, even the brokenness of ourselves.

As we remember, we are transformed, sustained, and emboldened to move from that place refreshed, united in the common goal of making the Gospel of Grace known to the world through the tangible outpouring of the love of Christ. We leave that table knowing communion with God and others happened.

Reflecting on the Lord’s Supper, NT Wright notes:

“Sharing a meal, especially a festive one, binds together a family, a group of friends, a collection of colleagues. Such meals say more than we could ever put into words about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys we share together. The meal not only feeds our bodies; that seems in some ways the least significant part of it. It says something; and it does something, actually changing us so that after it, part of who we are is “the people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant.’”[1]

Jesus invites us to partake of a bountiful, communal meal, yet we often choose to stand in our individual bubbles, sustained by crumbs as we grasp the passing plates for miniature crackers and grape juice in plastic shot glasses. There is no lingering, no allowing the elements to spread over the tongue, no tasting the sweetness of the grains and the bitterness of the grapes. But today is different.

At the Spirit’s prompting, step up to the Table to join us for this meal. After everyone has received their portion and consumed it, please sit in communal silence, allowing the goodness of the Lord to be enjoyed and embodied.”

 

It’s been over two years since I hosted that Holy space of Communion, and yet women still approach me and remark how transformative that time of worship was for them in their understanding of God, themselves, and others. I believe this is because within some evangelical churches, the Communion experience is devoid of meaning and intimate relationship, the antithesis of what Jesus modeled at the Last Supper.

In Jason Clark’s doctoral thesis examination of the relationship between Evangelicalism and Capitalism, he notes how his “focus is on how Evangelicals might get their own house in order, and not about the dismantling of capitalism.”[2] Despite the tangled consumeristic relationship between Evangelicalism and Capitalism which Clark so carefully maps out, Clark believes, “Evangelicalism contains within itself resources for a soteriology and theological anthropology which can place the desire for God into more affective worship practices. Worship practices that are, despite their previous problems, able to train and orient our desire ‘rightly.’”[3] He argues this is done, not primarily through the Eucharist or better liturgies, as suggested by other scholars,[4] but through a Spirit-led, whole-of-life social imagery experience that reorders our affections for Christ through co-creation and resistance to the capitalist markets in which we exist.[5]

Clark cites Ward in saying that, for Protestants, “the dislocation between sign and symbol in the Eucharist…lent itself to an undoing of an Augustinian understanding of the relationship between sign and symbol. (Hence, we) see perhaps the early cultural and market forces around faith, the mechanisms of commodification…, where the real presence moved into the consumption of symbols, such that reality was not in the symbol itself but in something that lay beyond it.”[6]

While not an end-all solution, reimagining the Eucharist, or Communion, in a way that restores identity to Christ’s Presence in the meal, while also restoring identity to Christ’s people who gather together and are transformed by the meal, is an excellent place to begin moving Evangelicals closer into a non-commodified relationship with God and others. For as Clark notes, “what we love, not what we give intellectual assent to, is what we do, and what we do is then what we become in our experience and imaginations.”[7]

How might our affections, imaginations, and identity be forged by physically gathering around the Table with God’s people, the Body of Christ, partaking of the real of life with the realist of foods, transforming the commodified into community through Communion?

And then how would our communities be transformed through a reimagined Communion, hosted not only on Sundays, but daily, as God’s people gather with the faithful and the faithless, celebrating the holy hard with one another? I must conclude that when we actually love doing the work of intimately communing with Christ and others, then we will effectively become the people of Christ for others.

 

[1] NT Wright, Mark for Everyone (Great Britain: Nicholas Thomas Wright, 2004) 193.

[2] Clark, Jason. 2018. “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogenesis in the Relationship.” PhD diss., Middlesex University. 174.

[3] Ibid., 218.

[4] Ibid., 193.

[5] Ibid., 224, 230.

[6] Ibid., 207.

[7] Ibid., 228.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

12 responses to “Reimagining Communion”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Darcy, that’s a beautiful picture of Communion.

    One of the things I was reflecting on as I read your post was the communal nature of the sacraments. Communion itself is a symbol of the body of Christ to which all believers are members. We are baptized into the community of believers.

    What would a sacrament of community look like? As I reflect on my time in Hong Kong, I’ve often recognized how the deepest and realest communities I’ve been part of were forged over a table. When my friends and I were trying to figure out what we were going to do for New Years Eve this past year, an idea occurred to me: What if we went to the restaurant we frequented most and spent time there reflecting on the passing year? The name of the place is Tequila Jacks, where the food is okay, but that’s fine because the margaritas are strong. So many memories and conversations have been had there; it’s almost a temple of sorts for my friends. Even last night when we were there, we were reflecting on how this little dive bar has become holy ground for us.

    All that to say, when the Hong Kong advance occurs we’ll have to have an LGP10 communion at TJ’s over nachos and margaritas.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      YES!! You get it. There’s something very Holy about gathering around the Table, and if nachos and margaritas are served alongside tears and laughter, then all the better. I look forward to joining you in that holy space when we convene in HK for our advance.

  2. mm John McLarty says:

    I commented on another’s post about how even communion has become commodified as people complain about the kind of bread that’s used, the method of offering the sacrament, the frequency, etc. Thanks for offering a hopeful picture of the power of community and what we might find in authentic expressions of our faith.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      You’re welcome. God keeps removing the veil between sacred and secular for me. Communion is an area that I believe has to be incorporated into our daily life, rather than just a Sunday ritual. As Jason noted, imagination is needed in helping redefine practices that have become empty of meaning. How do we invite people into an abiding, communion rich relationship with Jesus and others? It’s not about clever strategies. As we’ve learned, the answer is often in the simple.

      • mm John McLarty says:

        I think what people loved about Jesus was the simplicity of the message- it might have been a difficult path, but it was not hard to understand- at least for those in most need of liberation and hope. On the other hand, the religious establishment sought to complicate the message in order to maintain control and looked to simplicity as a means of keeping people in line. Jesus looked like chaos to them.

  3. mm Steve Wingate says:

    “but through a Spirit-led, whole-of-life social imagery experience that reorders our affections for Christ through co-creation and resistance to the capitalist markets in which we exist.”

    I truly believe that part of the transformation is to engage those that come for a show on Sunday mornings into the order of service. Maybe there could be a q&a? I know, as a pastor, that could be a bit scary.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Steve,
      You might appreciate following Bo Sanders, if you don’t already. Bo pastors a church here in Portland that functions differently. He calls it interactive church. I think some of the dynamics he employs are similar to those Dr. Sweet mentioned in my advanced preaching class. Trusting the Holy Spirit is scary. Giving space for people to interact during times of worship is perceived to be dangerous, maybe even reckless. You have to have big faith to step into those waters.

      Here’s a link for Bo’s church: http://vermonthillsumc.org

      I also know another pastor who does interactive church, but in a different way. Communion is a meal served after the singing and sermon. Those present gather to eat dinner together in the round. They invite dialogue around the sermon content and impact. I preach there on occasion. I absolutely LOVE hearing how the words God gave me to share were heard by those listening. I also love the community they have developed in that space. It has taken time and intention to do it, as well as a leader who is willing to deal with his own internal junk and become more self-aware and emotionally healthier. It’s a very vulnerable space. https://www.bethechurch.net

      I would argue many pastors aren’t that emotionally stable nor are they willing to be vulnerable before congregants. I think you’d appreciate these two models though. I know I do.

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy,
    Beautiful post. Communion in many churches including my own has become a periodic event and often done is a rush to stay on time. I miss the more intimate approach of my younger days in ministry. One of the things we always do at major family gatherings and events is communion. It has become a very meaningful time.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Greg,
      Is it possible to invite others into the sacred space similar to that of the one your family shares at gatherings? Can you cast a vision in your community of faith that would invite them back to the simplicity and beauty that comes from spending time with Jesus at the Table? People are hungry for it. We just need to invite them into the more.

  5. mm Jer Swigart says:

    I so love Clark’s “what we love….” quote.

    Thanks for reflecting on Eucharist in your post. If you were extrapolate a bit further, how would you imagine Eucharist (an experience of who we love) shaping a rule of life for a community? What are the values that you see at the Table and how do you envision them showing up in the life of the Church?

  6. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Jer,
    There’s a church I am invited to preach at on occasion. They have incorporated a shared meal into their time of worship. Its not a pot-luck or an add on. It’s a time to share how they are, how the message impacted them, voice questions, and pray for one another. This meal is part of their spiritual practices and an integral component for their community life. Participating has given me hope for the church and breathed life into me in new ways. I think this is a snapshot of what it looks like to love Jesus and love others.

    I think some aspects for Communion at the Table include confession, lament, honesty, trust, authenticity, gratitude, celebration, questions, careful listening, tasty food and beverage, diverse company, songs of praise, reading of the Word (though often the Word surfaces in action more than actual scripture reading), and prayer. The Church is big, so one-size will not fit all. Communion is fluid. Sometimes its 1-1, other times it can be experienced in small groups. Connection is key. So many feel isolated within their church walls and in their community groups. I just don’t see Jesus setting up special ministries and programs to connect people. Instead he lived Communion, by abiding with God and others, all while walking through his days. Sometimes it happened at a Table, other times it happened at a well or in the synagogue or even a wheat field. How do we expend our definition of what it means to participate in Communion, or the Eucharist, for a world that is lost, alone, broken, and filled with hopelessness?

  7. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Nice move beyond “imagined communities” to “imagined communion.” What did you think about Miller’s closing pages causing suspect of the Eucharist being a consuming event (we eat and drink) and contributing to a consumer culture? I would argue a difference do living a dependent life versus a consumptive life, but would be curious to know what you think.

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