- Communion and Community
As I have listened to the news over the last few weeks, a word has been spoken rather frequently. It is the word “Community”. One woman was being interviewed regarding the devastation caused by the fires that have been blazing across the West. She spoke about the dislocation of her and her family, she spoke about the destruction of her home and the loss of belongings. And then she said, “And what is worse, we have lost our community.” The families who lived close to one another have lost their homes and so may not return to their small village, and for this woman the home and belongings were easily replaced. But community, she saw that potential loss as the most devastating.
During the same week I heard people being interviewed in down-town Toronto. They were speaking about the creation of a red-light district to get prostitution out of residential communities. The voices said the practice is driving people indoors, and we are losing our community. It was still there physically, but the sense of community was being devastated so that the area was becoming only a collection of houses, and not a sharing together of life.
These people are acknowledging that community is crucial if life is to be meaningful.
The Cruciality of community
Jesus felt that. He came into our life, but his first act was gathering some companions. That gathering was not just creating a team of fellow workers. It was a gathering of needed friendships because loneliness is a terrible thing, even for the Son of God. Hear his words as they gather for their last evening together before his death. “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you.” These men are not just his colleagues or his disciples, they are his companions, they were his community. Of course, that is what made the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter and the desertion of his friends particularly painful on that first Good Friday.
The story of St. Paul tells the same story. Paul is not a loner. Everywhere he goes he travels with companions. As he bounces across Asia and Europe visiting the communities of other people, he needs a community to belong to as well. When you read his letters the presence of friends is a great joy. When they absent it is a great sadness. In fact, one of the words that recurs with a stunning regularity in Paul’s letters is the word “together” as in “We are workers together with God.” But his last letter as he approached death rings a sad note. He writes to young Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica, Crescens has gone to Galatia and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you.” Here is a man missing community.
The great poet T. S. Eliot knew of the terrible damage being done to his England as the sense of community disintegrated. Listen to part of His poem “Choruses from “The Rock.” I’ve made a few alterations to make it meaningful to our geography.
I journeyed to Toronto to the time kept city
Where the roads flows with endless traffic..
There I was told: We have too many churches,
and too few restaurants. There I was told
Let the clergy retire. People do not need the church
in the places where they work, but where they spend their Sundays.
In the city we need no bells;
Let them waken the suburbs.
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor
to Port Dover or the Muskokas.
If the weather is foul, we stay at home and read the papers.…
In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed
that the country now is only fit for picnics.
And the church does not seem to be wanted
in country or in suburbs, and in the town
only for important weddings. ….
What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community
And no community not lived in praise of God.
Even the hermit who meditates alone…
prays for the church, the body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads
and no one knows or cares who is his neighbour
unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
familiar with roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
but every son must have his motorcycle
and daughters ride away on casual pillions.
James’ Concern for His Scattered Community
But let us look into the letter that James writes. He writes to Christians who have been scattered all over the place. They were once part of the church community in Jerusalem. Then persecution had erupted, and they had become refugees scattered across the Empire. They have lost one community, but they have been gathered into smaller sub-communities and have found life together with fellow Christians. But James is well aware that we can have the form of Community while denying the power thereof. We can have all the trappings of a family, but none of the heart of a family. And if there is one concern in this entire letter, it is the damage that is being done within the Christian communities.
In chapter 2. People playing favourites is destroying community.
In chapter 3 The abuse of speech is disabling the community
In chapter 4 James speaks of conflicts and disputes that leads to war and violence
He also speaks of a friendship with the world that causes them to break covenant with God.
In chapter 5 he speaks of their grumbling against one another and passing judgement on each another.
James knows what damage can happen to community if these matters are not resolved. But as he closes his book, he wants to sound the notes that offer health to the church family.
“Are any of you suffering?” He says, “then pray.”
“Are any cheerful?” he asks, “then sing songs of praise.”
“Are any of you ill?” Then call for the mature leaders of the church to pray and anoint you with oil. Their prayers will help the ill to recover.”
“Are any needing forgiveness?” then bring that to the church as well he says. “Confess your sins, your faults, your weaknesses, to one another so that you may be healed too.”
“Are any wandering from the faith?” then the church family should attempt to bring them back into the fellowship of the church.
Community is too important to let petty differences or even large differences cause the fracturing of the family of God.
Communion & the Healing Community
But what does community have to do with communion? Much in every way. The early church community broke bread from house to house. There is an ancient custom that if you eat bread with another person, you can no longer do them harm.
The word “companion” is an interesting word. It comes from two Latin and French words “Com” means “with” and “Panion” means “bread”. A companion is one with who we share bread, or share a meal. It says that these are people who put their feet under the same table. Share from the same loaf. Drink from the same pot of coffee or flagon of wine. These are people who put their elbows on the same table and are in communication with each other.
It is this that made the Massacre at Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands so very terrible. The McDonald clan in Glencoe had entertained at their tables members of the Campbell clan. They had eaten together for over a week. And then one night, the Campbell’s massacred the McDonalds. It had been premeditated from the beginning. It was terrible enough that clan would war against clan, but to do it after sharing a meal together was the highest act of duplicity and deceit. For 300 years that act of infamy has been remembered whenever Scotland’s history is reviewed. To eat together and then hurt one another is a great evil.
Among other things, Communion is an opportunity for a restatement of the “Communion of saints” It underscores the fact that we are connected together into a community that wills only good, and not evil to all that gather at the table of the Lord.
By the way, it is the table of the Lord. We find our unity in Him. We find community in him. We may not understand each other. We may not even like some people who gather at the table of God. That is not crucial. But we are brothers and sisters nonetheless, bound together by our common allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are tied together on the same mountain face with one rope. We can resist one another and learn to be increasingly uncomfortable with one another or we can learn to work together, learn together, and find ourselves increasingly bonded to each other as companions on the way.
Let us share together in the Lord’s supper and affirm our intent to be a true community of God.