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Contemporary Worship: Commune with Me

United Methodists do communion four times a year, and this past Sunday was one of those for some of us doing contemporary worship in the heart of Dixie. At Frazer UMC’s contemporary worship service, we used the entire service (which dovetailed off last week’s Abide with Me) to remind ourselves why we practice the sacrament.

I don’t have time to detail each part of the service as I’ve done before, so I’m just going to highlight the basics, especially the format we used and some basic points made during the service.

Using “point and play”
While much of the content of the service came from a rather traditional approach, the structure of the service was different than most—a format called “point and play.” Simply put, it means a point or idea or teaching is put out there and then we worship to meditate on it. Why do it this way? Because, as our contemporary worship teaching pastor John Schmidt said well, “music powerfully moves the heart and confirms what we’ve been talking about.” Amen.

The “play”
The worship band had basically four sets: the early part of the service, in which they led us in a few songs (including a new one to us, Holy is the Lord); the set (Amazing Love and, after a brief break to take up offerings, Majesty) between points one and two; a one-song set after points two and three and during the communion (Come to the Table); and a one-song-set at the end of the service (How Great is our God).

The “points”
The first point unpacked the basic meaning behind the two elements (wine and bread) of communion, which Jesus commands us to do to so we’ll remember the ultimate sacrifice that he’s made for us (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

In particular I appreciated the explanation of what is behind the whole idea of sacrifice. Up until Jesus, God’s people operated in a sacrificial system that went back to the first or “old” covenant with Moses and the 10 Commandments—which quickly revealed a problem: give us commands and we break them. And the penalty for breaking these commands (for intentionally disobeying God and doing things to hurt our neighbor) is very serious: death. So God provided a temporary method for men to take care of sin: sacrifice (Lev. 17:11, Heb. 9:22). What did this look like? A prize animal was chosen from the herd, its blood drained in a bowl and that blood sprinkled on the people by a priest. It was a life for a life.

Now, if you’re thinking that’s rather harsh, John pointed out, you’re right. And that’s why we take communion: so we don’t forget how serious the situation really is. Our culture tends to take sin lightly, like a collection of parking tickets stuffed in the glove compartment. But God looks at it like cancer. It will kill us. It will destroy us. Jesus’ death and resurrection (which form a “new” covenant) heals us—his blood and body the ultimate sacrifice. And the two elements are meant to remind us of that.

Points two and three focused on how communion reminds us we are connected to each other. First, Christ’s death and resurrection have made us one with both him (John :53-56) and other believers (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The bread and wine we eat and drink become part of our own bodies, helping us to realize how completely and wholly we are identifying with Jesus. All who do this—young or old, male or female—are surrendering their lives to Jesus. As we do these acts of drinking the wine and eating the bread, we are remembering that we are one not only with Jesus but also with each other—each and every one of us needing Christ (Eph. 4:4-6).

Second, taking communion reminds us that the forgiveness we get from Christ is meant to be passed on. Communion is an opportunity to examine ourselves to make sure we are living rightly with each other (1 Cor. 11:26-29)—which includes forgiving each other (Col. 3:13). If we are harboring a sin that we won’t let go of or a grudge we are unwilling to forgive, our hearts aren’t right. Communion gives the opportunity to do that—to rededicate our lives to Jesus, confess our sins and make relationships right—so that we are freed for joyful obedience.

Communion itself
Our bread was freshly made and came out of a bread warmer on the stage. As we came forward to the communion tables during the band’s song, the media screens displayed a small table at the edge of the stage which held a wine cask, goblet, lit candle and plate with a broken bread loaf. After everyone was served, John led us in taking the elements, also asking God to be with us in all we say and do and be as we go from the church into our week. There was also an invitation for anyone who wanted to be a part of a fellowship of believers to come forward during our closing song.

Final thoughts
I found the service a rather traditional approach to communion, but I appreciated a) unpacking the sacrificial system behind Jesus’ actions, b) the emphasis on living rightly with others and b) the use of the “point and play” format to help us meditate and experience the meaning of the sacrament rather than passively receive a teaching.

As I reflected on the service, however, I wondered if perhaps we couldn’t unpack the sacrament in a fresher way—like the fresh way we unpacked Easter this year (as you can see from this great video). So, during our evaluation of the service a couple of days later, we threw around the idea of using two or more of the following communion Sundays to do just that—and charged me with coming up with some ideas. (Me and my big mouth. Sigh.) So, if you have experienced a service that approached communion in a new or fresh way and wouldn’t mind sharing that, post them here or e-mail me.

(Image: pastorbuhro at flickr.com)

Comments

revabi said…
I don't understand this taking communion 4 times a year. The church I presently serve takes once a month. Yea. The previous church started a weekly communion service. John Wesley believed in taking it as often as possible for the power that lay in the sacrament.

When I was at Aldersgate in Huntsville, we struggled with how to make anew and fresh without losing its power. I'll see if I can find what we did there, and email it. But you are on to something. keep up the good thinking.
carmen said…
i was used to taking communion far more than 4x/year in the mennonite/mb world. thanks for looking into fresh ways -- any suggestions/links/whatever would be greatly appreciated. and thanks for stopping by :) blessings.