I can't believe two and a half weeks have already gone by! A lot is happening, and much more is on the way - I just discovered today that the other intern (Andy) and I will be teaching a 3-week series/leading a small group on 'Godly Singleness,' a topic in which the two of us have a good deal of experience at the moment :-D though I must confess, I feel as though I have a lot more to learn than to teach.
The tasks that are proliferating all seem to be of the public speaking sort - Andy and I will be alternating as the preachers at the Wednesday noon Eucharist every week, and will also both be speaking at a large group fellowship meeting on July 29th for some of the older members of the church (who are affectionately referred to as the 'veterans of the cross,' not to be confused with 'cross veterans'). We'll also have some opportunities to speak to some groups at local retirement and nursing homes. Next Thursday I'll be doing some teaching at a fellowship group on 5-point Calvinism (T.U.L.I.P., though I'll probably have to destroy the acronym by changing the 'L' to a 'D' or 'P'... more on that in the future). And I'll be preaching a few sermons on a Sunday (which means you'll be able to hear them), though that will probably come in August.
Like I said, it was an eventful past week and a half. I participated in an ordination service as a candle-bearer and table waiter for the sacrament. The service was quite memorable - everyone in bright red, marvelous singing and chanting. In fact, the music was perhaps what made things most memorable: the songs were for the most part contemporary worship songs ('The Days of Elijah,' 'How Great is Our God,' etc.) and the clergy and choir (among whom I stood) were belting out the lyrics and swaying and clapping, all quite powerful... I described it to Rev. Cathie as a real liturgical rowdy-dow... It was the first ordination I'd ever seen, so those in the future will have a lot to live up to. It certainly showed me that ancient liturgical forms of worship don't have to be outdated or dry if they are used properly.
I also went with a bunch of the staff at St. James to a program over in Los Alamos called 'Teen Challenge,' which combines evangelism and instruction in the word of God with rehabilitation programs for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. All of the support these people receive in their fight against drugs and alcohol is powerfully Christ-centered and bible-centered, with something in mind along the lines of the Psalmist's words, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Ps. 119:11). They equip these young people not only with all the support and help needed for people trying to overcome addiction, but also with the strength to endure that process that a relationship with Jesus and a deep knowledge of scripture can provide. Their success rate in enabling people to fight off addiction and preventing relapse is quite high for such an organization - over 70%, and many of the graduates of the program become pastors. At the meeting, we sang some worship songs and then Rev. Cathie gave a message based on the disciples' walk to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35), about what it means to walk with Jesus in one's daily life. There were a lot of us leaders there, so we divided into pairs and went around praying for the people in the program based on their individual needs, asking for the Spirit's presence to give them saving faith and to equip them in their struggle with addiction.
On Sunday night, Andy and I went with some friends to Rock Harbor Church, a non-denominational mega church - Pastor Richard suggested that we experience some of the other options for church in the area and think about the different approaches to 'doing church' that we find. All told, Rock Harbor was more or less what I expected from a modern mega church comprised mainly of teens to thirties, though there were a few surprises. The preaching was very good (I don't mean to imply that this was a surprise... unfortunately, though, it was their preaching pastor's last Sunday there). The way we shared communion that night quite interested me: the wafers and little communion cups (with grape juice) were passed out and we were encouraged to sit for a while, holding them in our hands and examining ourselves inwardly. Then, after praying for us in a way that explained what it means to receive each of the elements, the pastor would then say, "Rock Harbor - the body of Christ, broken for you" and "Rock Harbor - the blood of Christ, shed for you," and at precisely the same moment, hundreds of people received the body and blood of Jesus together.
That got me thinking. Does our way of doing communion in most churches (coming up to a rail, kneeling in a straight line, and receiving the elements from a priest or pastor; or, lining up in front of a priest or pastor and doing the same thing) really convey all that the Lord's Supper intended? There are several things that I think we ought to be holding together in our minds as we go to the Lord's Supper, and I feel as though the replacement of the table with an altar in many churches (particularly Anglican and Catholic ones) perhaps obscures some of them. First, and most fundamentally, I remember at communion that Christ died for me - that he gave up his body to be broken and allowed his blood to be poured out in order to forgive my sins. Through receiving this body and blood in the holy mystery of communion, I receive Christ in my soul in a profound way, uniting myself to him so that his body and blood nourish me spiritually, causing me to recall my sinfulness and look with gratitude to God, who pardons me on the basis of what Christ alone has accomplished.
That's the core, I think, of what goes on when we receive communion. But I think that at the Lord's table we're invited to behold the wonder of this deliverance from sin and death in the context of a communal reality. The fact that communion is a deeply personal act need not make it an individualistic one. Holy communion not only displays my partaking of grace, but that of the whole church - it is truly the very thing that constitutes the body of Christ. We remember not only that through communion we are members of Christ, but also of one another (Eph. 4:25); we are fellow heirs and members of the household of God, and the same Lord who died for me died also for everyone else I see around me at that table. It seems to me that churches ought to do everything in their power to make communion something the church does together, so that we recognize the fact that God's purpose is not only to redeem me from my sins and to grant me eternal life, but also to create a people who are to be stewards of his redemptive purposes, a spiritual nation through whom his promises for the whole world are to be carried forward. That is why communion isn't only a memorial of our redemption, but also a 'feast of the kingdom,' a point at which we look not only back but also forward, to the day when we will join with all God's people in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).
This is one of the reasons I love the way my church in Grand Rapids does communion. First of all, the altar is not an altar - it is a table. Thus we aren't mislead into thinking that Christ is being sacrificed again (as in Catholic theology). Second, we approach the table and stand in a circle around it, and the communion is not distributed until everyone is there (1 Cor. 11:21a comes to mind). And last of all, the pastor simply gives the elements to various people around the circle, and then they pass them along; so everyone in the circle has the chance to say to the brother or sister in Christ next in the circle: 'the body of Christ, broken for you' and 'the blood of Christ, shed for you.' Communion is done in such a way that it is simply impossible not to take communion together, or to think about one's own redemption without thinking also of others'. I don't know what kind of problems a model like this would encounter in an Anglican church, but how I wish something like this could be done in lots more churches! It runs powerfully against the grain of our culture's individualistic consumerism, which I think in some ways has infiltrated even the way we do communion...
Those are my thoughts at the moment, and soon I'll be putting up something about a great book by Lesslie Newbigin that I just read. Have a blessed day!