September 5, 2021
The Power of the Spirt at Work
NOTE – On September Fifth, we used an adapted form of the Love Feast to focus on Communion. The service invites personal reflection and testimonies. For this day there are three of them – we have created separate pages for each.
PERSONAL WITNESS: Jeremy Ridenour
When Brent asked me to share a reflection on communion, I’ll confess, I balked. While I recognize the importance of communion as a sacrament, it has never been a significant spiritual experience for me. Growing up in an evangelical church, we only practiced communion quarterly because there was suspicion about engaging a ritual that could become rote. Often in evangelicalism, there is emphasis placed on the individual heart of the believer. On some level, this focus on the believer’s motivations for partaking in the ritual guards against it becoming empty. On another level, it puts pressure on the believer’s psychology and to place faith in their own faith rather than in the faith of the church, the communion of saints, and the faith of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, it puts too much emphasis on the individual faith of the believer and fails to recognize that communion is a corporate act of faith and memory.
So, rather than focus on my ideas about communion, I thought I would offer some reflections about serving communion as a deacon. Holding the cup is always a daunting task for a couple of reasons. First, there is something that feels vulnerable about serving others. Everyone comes to you, some even look you in the eye, and expects to hear the words “the cup of salvation.” In this brief moment of grace, I feel this powerful sense of responsibility and get to glimpse the power of people’s faith. Some people have trouble holding back tears as they reach for the cup. Others won’t even look you in the eye as they dip the bread into the cup. Perhaps they also find it too vulnerable to connect while taking the sacrament and eating.
Second, offering the blessing – the “cup of salvation” – can be difficult to profess. In this pronouncement, I am forced to confront the sins I have already confessed, and the ones I would rather forget. I also imagine that many of you are thinking about the sins that drive you to stagger up to receive the cup. Do we really want to drink from this cup of redemption? The bread of life is one thing. We all want new life. We are all hungry, in more ways than one. However, do we want to drink from the cup? Drinking from the cup is an act of both personal and corporate humility. It recognizes that we are all judged as lacking, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And yet, we rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Passover lamb who protects us from sin and death.
Third, sometimes Brent calls it the “cup of the new covenant”. Covenant is a word I’ve thought about a lot over the past year. I did a seven-month long Bible study where we studied the Bible through the lens of covenant. As best as I can tell, covenant is a formal recognition of a relationship between God and the church. Covenant implies that we are all yoked to one another and to God.
These ideas about covenant lead me to recall a particular Sunday in the spring when I was holding the cup. A church member came forward who had recently lost his wife of many years. I had gone to the funeral months earlier with my own wife, and I had not seen him for months. As he approached, he was having difficulty holding it together. I found myself on the verge of tears. It was clear that he had not taken communion since she had died. The grief was palpable. As he came close, I tried to mutter out “the cup of salvation”. His heart was broken. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). If we take the idea of the new covenant seriously, we are all joined together through this ritual as the body of Christ. His grief must be distributed throughout this body and, perhaps in the process, lessened. As Paul reminds us, we ought to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
In a small way, by offering this cup of the new covenant, I was able to witness the power of the Holy Spirit who joins us in bonds of covenantal love, our baptism into death, and our rising into resurrection. Thank God we have this act to remind us of our desperate need for life, repentance, redemption, and communion with God and one another.