This post is not an in-depth exploration of the topic at hand; more a series of thoughts as they form in my mind. Thus, there may not be the kind of order that some crave (or that I crave).
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the significance of communion in the context of worship. Much of that thinking stems from a book I am reading at the moment, called “Worship is a Verb”, by Robert E. Webber. It’s a good, theologically rich book on the biblical roots of worship – including the significance of communion. That in itself is an important statement, since some of us may think of communion as an adjunct to worship, rather than being a means of worshiping God in its own right. We need to be reminded that communion is a form of worship. By participating in it, we are making a declaration about what God has done in and through Jesus Christ. It may, of course, be a non-verbal declaration; but a declaration it is. True worship is declarative in form, since all worship worth its salt should tell the story of God’s gracious act of salvation through his Son, whereby he gave himself up for sinful humanity, making atonement, and being raised to life once again. That is a simplified version of the great narrative that is the gospel, but it is something that proper worship publicly declares through word, sign and song. And that is what communion does. In it, we are actually giving a sign to people that Jesus died for us; that he gave himself up unto death for our sin; and that in him, God condemned sin once and for all so that we might enjoy salvation.
This kind of thinking resonates with what we find in the New Testament. Think, for example, about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:26. It comes in the context of his criticism of the Corinthian church for their unholy attitude towards the Lord’s Supper. By eating it as they had been, the Corinthians had actually maligned the word of God and trampled on the sacrifice of Christ. Paul outlines all this, and chastises the church for its error. But in the particular verse I mentioned, Paul says that whenever one eats and drinks communion, one is “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes”. Thus, communion is not something private; it is not something done behind closed doors; it is not something that simply takes place between God and the individual believer. Instead, it is a public act, in which we (and I use the word “we” very deliberately) use symbol and sign to “speak” about what God has done. If worship is all about declaring God’s truth, then surely communion fits the bill?
That is why communion should be an integral part of every worship service, and why it should be integrated as such. We ought not to consider it as a separate part of our service, but as the natural visual companion to the verbal forms of worship that are embodied in song.
Another couple of points are worth mentioning. Speaking about communion as a form of worship should alert us to the fact that honouring God and offering him praise go beyond the singing of words. Although I do not want to go too far down this track (since it would provide material for a whole new post), it is important to remember that worship is conducted in all kinds of ways. Celebration through song is certainly important. I mean, that kind of worship is pervasive throughout scripture. From the singing of the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt, to the myriad Psalms that honour God through music and the lyrical quality of song, it seems that singing is one (very important) way in which the people of God can honour him. But that should not define or constrain the boundaries of worship. The very fact that communion can be seen in this light ought to remind us that various forms of worship are legitimate. They may not necessarily use words, but they still communicate a message that is just as powerful and just as profound. And of course, what are our entire lives if they are not forms of worship before God, where every deed and act communicates and reflects something of the divine nature? I’ll leave that last point hanging, but it is something worth remembering.
I guess my goal in this post is to alert us to the fact that worship needs to be conceived in ways that go beyond our narrow, traditional definitions, and I have used communion as a kind of “window” that could help us do that. Words are vital, but our worship cannot be confined to those acts that make use of them. Communication is an act that is multi-faceted. That is true in all contexts, but it is certainly true when it comes to life with God.