While countless gallons of ink have been spilt on the biblical-theological issues related to the Eucharist, I’ve found that less work has been done on the “how to” aspect of celebrating Communion. So I started a series laying out a variety of models and issues connected to the Lord’s Supper, beginning with an introduction and the “Open Communion” position. I followed that up with the “Communion Served” approach. This week I want to briefly consider the implications of the relationship between the Eucharist and the charismata…
Communion and the Holy Spirit
While I don’t have the space to articulate a deep theology of the Spirit and sacraments here, let me just state for the record that I believe that as we partake of the Bread and Cup, the Holy Spirit is at work in a profoundly mysterious and powerful way. As we receive Communion, we experience God’s presence and we encounter the grace of the kingdom.
If this is true (and it totally is!), why not “thicken” the Communion space and be *gasp!*… charismatic! So after everyone has received the Bread and Cup and has remembered and proclaimed Jesus’ death by eating and drinking deeply, welcome the Holy Spirit’s presence and encourage the church to move in the “manifestations of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:12). After all, the sacramental space of celebrating Communion has been connected to outpourings of the Spirit many times throughout history (cf. the excellent work by William de Artega, Forgotten Power).
Positives: One of the most common objections to the regular celebration of the Eucharist is that if you do it every week, it becomes a “rote ritual” that not only lacks meaning, it lacks doxological purpose (I’ll address this in more detail below). The concern for people is that we don’t want to see people in our worship gatherings “just” eating bread and drinking juice/wine (mostly because that is not what is happening!!). Therefore, creating space for the Holy Spirit, specifically by inviting him to spontaneously distribute spiritual gifts, during Communion can be an effective way to avoid this aspect of worship from being “rote.” And, by the way, if the Spirit’s presence comes in power and people experience healing, prophetic words, empowered prayers, mercy, encouragement, and any other “gracelets” that God might want to provide, it’s a win!
Negatives: In certain circles of the Pentecostal and Charismatic tradition(s), it is assumed and/or taught that Christians can essentially make the Spirit work. Thus, church leaders may say, “Okay, as we receive the Lord’s Supper, start to heal people and speak out prophecies.” We must remember that it is the Spirit who sovereignly distributes the spiritual gifts as he wills (1 Cor. 12:11)! So perhaps this isn’t so much a negative as it is a caution in that whoever is leading this space needs to make sure that she doesn’t put undue pressure upon the church to “perform.” This is more about creating space for people to pray for each other and to welcome the Spirit’s presence around the Table for the building up of the Church.
Recommendations: In the gatherings where I’ve led this aspect of worship, I have been very clear about what we’re doing. After blessing the Bread and Cup and calling attention to the Eucharist, I then say something like this:
It’s no coincidence that Paul taught on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11 and then immediately began to teach about spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14. Communion is a sacrament where the Holy Spirit is present renewing us and reminding us of Christ’s cross and the future meal we’ll share with him when he returns. So Jesus is present with us by his Spirit, right? And because the Spirit is present with us, I’d like for us to take a moment and ask him to come and build up Jesus’ church.”
Then, I’ll lead us into a regular “ministry time.” Pastors will have to discern the best way to do that in their specific context (e.g., people praying for each other, leaders praying for people, people coming forward, etc.).
Next week we’ll explore the relationship between Communion and liturgy. Feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions in the comment section below…