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Eating some bread, drinking some wine


Note: this is an not an attempt to try and raise the maturity of this blog after the comments in the last post. It came out of conversation with a guy today... who lives in Palmerston North. Please pray for him, and for anyone else you know living in Palmy. If you have being there, you know why.

Does anyone else find Communion empty and boring? Does the very word “Communion” conjure up the most religious and dull of memories? Doesn’t it all sound so… Anglican?
Now I (frustratingly sometimes) love the Anglican Church don’t get me wrong, (I am a closet Anglican) but surely this ritual wasn’t meant to be so lifeless?

While I think the words in the Anglican liturgy are incredibly beautiful words, (warning: judgement alert) hearing them said in a monotonous voice from a guy who sounds as spiritually excited as a plate of sausages and bored witless makes contemplating this incredibly act of grace difficult. And then to have the same words repeated every week, year on year until they have had every bit of life beaten out of them seems to be adding insult to injury.
I am well aware that for many the marriage of liturgy and communion really is something that works for them. This is not the case for me, and I would argue that many young people struggle to engage with this expression (and if we are really honest many not so young).
Once every now and then when I haven't being to an Anglican service for a long while (as in right now) and it is a deep experience. Thrashed out every week, and before you know it I am thinking about everything but the cross, it becomes another empty ritual. C.S. Lewis disagrees with me and writes that the familiarity of these words makes it like a well-worn shoe in which one can easily dance. The familiarity of the words for Mr Lewis helped the act of contemplation, didn’t hinder it.

And then there is the Pentecostal churches who are just as bad in my opinion. It seems that whole command to do this to remember what Jesus did is a bit of a pain in the back side, and so they seem to quickly get communion over and done with, and do it every blue moon to tick the box. Throwing the bread and a thimble of juice down the aisle in between songs is as much an act of contemplation as the drive thru, and again seems to have cheapened the whole point of it.

So what’s it to be; the token or the boring?

Now all these conversations are fine if you don’t actually help pastor at a church. Alas, my theory, my rants, my frustration can actually be used to try different things. Unlike many, I cannot enjoy the satisfaction of being pissed off about something and enjoy stewing about it with out ever trying to make a positive alternative. The exploration of different ways of "doing" communion began in my old church in Karori in 2005, and was really emphasised at the beginning of last year as I began helping to lead at a church called Blueprint.

Like many emerging churches, Blueprint has being guilty of throwing out the baby with the bathwater in its exploration of what Church looks like these days. And so communion had hit the sack heap until someone piped up from the church and challenged the leadership on the whole deal part way through last year. Brook, my good mate saw the point and re-introduced the event. I can take none of the credit, but love the way that things have turned out and have learnt a lot. Let me explain what has being happening the last 7 months.

In between every series through out the year (or about every 6 weeks) there is a night in which we focus on grace. For a church filled with new Christians, or old munted ones (like me), I struggle to really believe the scandal of grace, and so this is a welcome reminder. Obviously central to grace is the cross, and at the end of the talk, or sometime in the night we spend a decent amount of time either in silence or with background music eating some bread and drinking some juice. I cannot overstate that they are the most powerful nights where there is a very tangible sense of beauty and a very deep sense of contemplation of this incredible act of love. The whole process of listening to someone speak on grace, and then to spend time with some physical elements and to consider that this God loves us that much, to consider the implications of the cross, and the implications of grace on our lives. This has brought such renewed life, passion and gratitude in the act of communion on a personal level, and a desire to see new life breathed into this ancient ritual that is filled with mystery, freedom and beauty.

In no way has blueprint got it nailed and if anything it is a church marked by its obvious and very real imperfections. The truth is that in every church there is the danger that we can very easily slide into ritual and loose meaning of important parts of the fabric that make "Church", but on the other side there are things that we can learn and grow from. And I know that no denomination or church has ever set out to try and make something loose meaning or disengage young people. My argument is that something so special and powerful as communion is worth having some hard yarns about as there is such a depth that we can easily loose when we have not spent time thinking about how we will create an atmosphere of contemplation and reflection.

My apologies for the judgemental tone of the post, I would be very interested in your thoughts and experiences in this matter, and look forward to my Anglican friends roasting me on a spit.

In other news…

A blog well worth checking out is my mates Dave “Bare Theology” (no its not the theology of nudistst…). Dave has some very impressive titles next to his name; dean of men, lecturer at the Bible College of NZ, writer for Soul Purpose magazine... etc etc. Dave was my flatmate for the whole time I lived in Auckland, we completed our degrees at the same time. The difference was that I was content with the mantra "C's get degrees", Dave actually studied... and after I graduated Dave stayed on, has just about finished his masters, and lecturers at the college to this day.

He has shamelessly advertised his blog on my comments twice, and seeing that putting his blog on my link page is not enough, I am going to advertise his site in the hope that this monkey will stop peddling his new blog on my blog... jokes its a good read. Although to be honest my brain cells get a little fried after reading to much of blogs like his, a reflection of my simple mindedness and his intellect. In fact, I would encourage you to find the comment I left on his blog, which was all I could think of at the time. His last post had me cross eyed.

But for those bored of the paddling round the puddle, and know its time to have a “real meal” and tackle some meaty issues, then head over to Dave’s blog. On top of his intellect he is a quality guy, we had some legendary times flatting together.

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“Eating some bread, drinking some wine”

  1. Anonymous microboss Says:

    Thanks for kicking off a much-needed yarn. The issue isn't liturgy or no liturgy, thats simply a matter for personal preference. I agree that the key thing is to find ways to engage with the huge reality of scandalous grace, 'cos if we do that, it will change us. Communion should be not only engaging but transformational. Thats the point!

  2. Blogger Gareth Bezett Says:

    OK, I'll bite.

    So you don't find the communion liturgy done badly entertaining? Perhaps you'd prefer a 20-something, who really, really believes, talking about how "amazing" God's love is. Maybe his voice could almost break a little bit as his emotion about "what Christ did for us on the Cross" overwhelms him?

    I've seen communion done a number of different ways. Now I don't like page 404 of the prayer book done from start to finish without even pause for breath anymore than you do, but I prefer it to anything I've seen from another church.

    What I object to is enthusiastic Christians standing up and rambling on for 5 minutes about what they think communion is about. There maybe have a vague understanding of one or two aspects of the communion itself and no appreciation of what is represented in the rest of the Anglican ministry of the sacrement.

    How much of your reaction is your Church Baggage?

    And what's your beef with the marriage liturgy? Tracey sat down and wrote our marriage service using bits from all three marriage liturgies in the prayer book. I was delighted with the results.

  3. Blogger Sam Says:

    Thanks for biting Gareth, that didnt take long, and I couldnt ask for a better fish. You're a keeper! For all us fisherman, it is a reminder to use the right bait.

    Alright, lets respond.

    Firstly, an apology, you are right. The truth is that most of that post is a reflection of my church baggage, 25 years living breathing Anglicanism, growing up in a church home, with vestry meetings being part of my world since I can remember etc etc it has definitely left me with a bit of baggage.
    I am thoroughly enjoying being part of a church that is a diffrent flavour after that long, it has being very very healthy for me. However in time I know there maybe a call back to the ol mother ship.

    I would like to underline that I have huge amounts of respect for the liturgy, as I said in the post I think the words are incredible, well thought out and the product of many years of hard yakka. I have spent time during my years studying looking at the history of the prayer book, its formation, depth, which certainly helped grow a healthy respect for the red book. I hope that was made clear at the beginning of the post.

    Secondly, in regards to your question about emotionalism my answer is Yes! I do want to hear something of the wonder of what we are talking about creep in to the voice of those helping us contemplate this part of our faith. I'm tired of emotionalism being seen as a bad thing. These emotions are God given, and I would argue that when people encountered God in scripture, talked about God, and certainly shared about the cross, there is and was a huge amount of emotion involved in the whole process. I desperately want to see a fire in the eyes of the people sharing this, a passion in their voice. It appears that my youthful passion is something that is wrong. The truth is that I don't want to grow up and get all boring. In fact my experience has being the opposite. As I have discovered more and more who Jesus is over the last eight years following Him, I cant help but be moved to the core of my being. Why on earth is that not the case for those reading these words? What does that model to us? It feels like we have taking the wonder our of the proceeding, that we have removed emotion from a very emotional act.

    And lastly, the whole marriage liturgy comment takes me a bit by surprise. I didn't mention that at all in the post. In fact that actually supports what I am trying to say. I love the marriage liturgy, I love the idea that you meshed together something for your wedding. They are truly remarkable words that express far better than something we could make up for those moments.
    But I would struggle with the marriage liturgy if I had to hear it every week. It would start to loose its beauty, the words would start sounding a bit cheap. The great things about the marriage liturgy is that we hear it every now and then, with great impact.

    It would be nice to re-write the post, for the sake of integrity I'm going to leave it there, baggage and all.

  4. Blogger Gareth Bezett Says:

    Right, you said "marriage OF liturgy and communion", not "marriage liturgy and communion".

    So what is your emotional person going to say about communion? If you're only going to have communion a few times a year, are you going to make an effort to provide a full understanding of the sacrement? Or will you have the same trite cliched "from the heart" stuff?

    For all their flawed usage, the communion services in the prayer book are a full experience of corporate Chrisrtian worship. If all you ever do is three soppy love songs to Jesus, a sermon where scripture is only refered to to back up the preachers points, and finish up with three soppy love songs to Jesus, what are you teaching your flock about worship?

    What do you want out of worship? Are you judging it on the "experience", on how you felt? You don't need formal liturgy to have a "bad" service. You don't need liturgy to get repetitive.

    I agree that a lot of the use of liturgy in the Anglican church is not far short of terrible. I don't think the answer it to throw out the prayer book. Not a day goes by that I'm not tempted to leave and find a church that I like. But after I find it, what happens when a better church comes along? If I left my wife because something better was on offer elsewhere, I'd just find myself in the same position a few years later. There will always be a better church.

  5. Blogger Sam Says:

    Woah dude!! Its time we took this conversation from its rather public place at the moment, to a cafe somewhere. Obviously things are getting very mis-understood, and becoming pretty personal. Im not going to grace your comments about my commitment to church with an answer (suffice to say they really stung with the amount of sacrifice made over the last years) or repeat stuff that i have already said that you misunderstood or have not read. Comments are closed on this one for you Gareth

  6. Blogger Sam Says:

    For those wondering (and most likely surely enjoying) the biff between me and Gareth, I must disappoint you. We are flippin good mates, though both have a tendency to get a bit warmed up from time to time. Anyhoo we are catching up for a coffee this week which should be entertaining for all involved (namely me and g dog).
    Good times :)