The Eucharist and Unity

I’ve been mulling over an idea since I first heard it mentioned by Rob Bell on a Homebrewed Christianity podcast. When asked what he would do differently if he were planting a church again today, he said they would practice the Eucharist (Communion, Lord’s Supper) more often. Why? Because, he said, the eucharist was a check against divisiveness. It is a reminder that we are all a part of a family bigger than our nation, bigger than our local church, bigger than our denomination. It is a reminder that we might disagree on many issues – even serious issues that affect our lives in many ways – but we are also all still brothers and sisters. Typically we talk about the Eucharist primarily in terms of the individual before God, but this is a completely different dimension and one that is clearly there in Scripture.

All in all, I have to agree. I have never put a big value on the Eucharist, or on much else that qualifies as a ritual. I’m typically more of a free-flowing worshipper. However, there have been a few major exceptions where I found it incredibly powerful, and they all have the same thread in common: a strong sense of unity including with brothers and sisters who I didn’t agree with.

When I was 17, I went as part of a short-term mission team to Venezuela. The team was consisted of teens from both the United Church of Canada (where I was at the time) and the Anglican Church of Canada, and we were hosted by a former Presbyterian minister. On our final day, we took Eucharist together in a very meaningful way: we went up to the table in pairs, hugged each other, then served each other the bread and the cup. This was another way in which the horizontal dimension of communion was powerfully demonstrated.

A look at some of the people at Urbana 2009

Twice I attended the Urbana mission conference in St. Louis. This is a conference for 18-30 year-olds, primarily but not exclusively to do with missions. There were over 100 countries represented among the 23000 people at the 2006 conference (I think about 90 countries among 18000 people in 2009). It is pretty safe to say that there were at least as many denominations represented, although they never announced those numbers. On the last night, we culminated a long worship service with the Eucharist. I’m not sure if all present took it – some traditions discourage taking the elements outside of their tradition – but it was still incredibly powerful to be sharing in this moment with so many, including many who would disagree on many points of theology.

Every year, many churches take part in Worldwide Communion Day. The idea is that every denomination around the world takes communion on the same day. The purpose is exactly what I’m writing about here, to capture the unity of the universal church. Maybe this doesn’t rank as highly as Venezuela or Urbana for me since I’m not actually in the room with my brothers and sisters from other traditions and other nations, but it still is far more meaningful to me than the average Eucharist.

Finally, I want to encourage my American brothers and sisters to come together on Election night for Election Day Communion. It is such a common theme there that Christians attach their worth as Christians to their political views. Both sides of the political aisle do this. So somebody came up with the brilliant idea of holding a communion on election night. Whoever you voted for, you come together as family to be reminded that it is secondary to the unity which we have as followers of Jesus. I’m not American so won’t be taking part, but if I was there, this would be a huge priority for me as a way to keep our political differences in check.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Matt Spaanem

    I would like to see the eucharist incorporated as part of a meal or feast, after all that’s the context for the first eucharist as instituted by Jesus himself. I know that’s not practical to do in a large or even medium sized church service setting but it could certainly be done via small groups within the church. Speaking to the interdenominational unity aspect perhaps a large meal + eucharist could be hosted by multiple churches or by a non-church affiliated group inviting all Christians. What engenders fellowship more than a good meal?

    • Lots of very good ideas. I don’t think we need to only think of the Eucharist one way just because it has been that way (with minor variations) for such a long time. In a new age, we should be open to new ways to capture these messages. One thing my church does do every once in awhile is a “love feast” which is closer to the original idea of the Eucharist – a few hundred people get together at the main site for a giant feast and time together. We also do the Eucharist ritual primarily in homechurches, sometimes around a regular meal and sometimes still with the bread and cup passing around.

      • Matt Spaanem

        that sounds awesome.

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