Communion is not limited to the past or present. In fact, it points forward with the resilient hope that Christ is making all things new.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught me one thing, it's to lean into my comfort foods. Most recently, it’s been late-night pizza bites. Before that, it was peanut M&Ms; before that, chicken strips. OK, fine, maybe all three are currently happening at the same time. But uncomfortable times are the reason why comfort foods exist in the first place.
When a half dozen members of the Washington D.C. Christian Reformed Church, wearing masks and spaced six feet apart, opened Chinese takeout containers filled with saltine crackers and grape juice in a courtyard on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about our uncomfortable times. The Lord’s Supper is a familiar reminder of Christ’s redemptive work; in my life, for three decades; in the life of the Christian church, for centuries. But this time, it certainly felt a bit unfamiliar.
I was thankful that it marked a much-needed tangible reminder of the realness of the gospel, the church and Jesus Christ himself. In ordinary times, the bread and the cup remind us that the resurrection is physical. It reminds us the Holy Spirit’s presence with us is as real as the elements we taste in our mouths. In extraordinary times, though, when most human interaction comes via Zoom, it reminded me that the church is still real. The body of Christ on earth is not just on a screen.
As we moved through the liturgy, one beat in the familiar rhythm of the communion celebration in particular stood out to me. The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving tells the story of God’s people. It is an epic prayer, laying out God’s faithfulness to God’s people through the ages and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. One worship handbook describes the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving as “rhapsodic”—like a grand, emotional poem.
The most thorough Great Prayers of Thanksgiving rattle through story after story, laying out the indisputable case that God has been unquestionably faithful to God’s people through the most difficult times in human history. The inescapable conclusion is to find ourselves surrounded with moments of God’s redemptive work from creation to consummation and everything in between—including our own moment.
It was that dimension of the Lord’s Supper that I couldn’t get out of my head when I left our Chinese takeout-style communion on Sunday night. God had kept God’s promises to God’s people again and again, through floods and disease and war and political turmoil. Trying circumstances are no stranger to God or God’s church throughout time and space.
Communion is not limited to the past or present. In fact, it points forward with the resilient hope that Christ is making all things new. It points to our hope in the day when we will open our Chinese takeout containers to find a feast with Christ in heaven. So as I left, I hoped, in the most robust sense of the word, that our Chinese takeout communion will someday become another rhapsodic line in a future Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, telling the story of how God proved faithful yet again to God’s people. And that’s even better than late-night pizza bites.
- Harry Boonstra, “Old-Fashioned Innovations: There’s More Than One Way to Celebrate the Lord’s Supper,” RW 22.
- Peter Kelder, “Until He Comes: Six Themes for the Lord's Supper,” RW 15.
- John Witvliet, “A Single Sentence Elevator Speech about the Lord’s Supper,” RW Blog, April 13, 2015.