Wednesday, April 27, 2011


This past Maundy Thursday, I had the privilege of assisting the senior pastor of my church in serving communion to the flock. While most of the time communion is served in the more usual fashion of taking serving trays up the aisles so that the people can partake from their seats, in our church, we generally do the 'intinction' method each Maundy Thursday. In this method, people get out of their seats and form a line to come to the front to receive the elements from one person who holds the bread loaf, and another person who holds the cup for the people to dip their bread in. I held the cup.

While I don't have any problem, theologically or otherwise, in bringing the table to the people (in effect) by having the elements passed pew to pew, I do think there's something to be said for having the people come to the table as well. I know this is commonplace in the Roman Catholic tradition, but it is a more seldom occurrence in the Protestant services I have attended over the years. Perhaps because it is not the common way of doing it, the intinction approach is something I find quite moving for a number of reasons.

In my role of serving the elements, the privilege of serving the people actually becomes a bit more real for me in the intinction method. I'm physically closer to them, I converse individually with each of them, and some of them converse with me. It seems far more intimate, personal, relational, and (for me at least) meaningful than the practice of passing the elements down the pew.

I also think that it's often more meaningful for the flock too. The intimate relational aspect of having the pastor quietly say something affirming and hopeful directly to you, and often referring to you by name, seems to make what we're doing more real and understandable. It seems to give more gravitas to the moment, where deep seriousness, deep joy, and deep thanks all come together and are internalized by the one who partakes. By making communion feel less like an assembly line operation and more like a real relational celebration seems to personalize its significance for people. There were a number of folks quietly weeping for joy as they took communion on Maundy Thursday, and I rarely see that when we do communion the usual way. True, some of that was likely the result of the whole service and Holy Week. But clearly, communion was a critical part that a number of folks clearly found quite moving to them.

I also must confess that from my vantage point as server, it is a very moving sight to me to see people voluntarily get up out of their seats and form a processional line to come to the front to partake in the elements. No doubt, people have any number of motivations for doing this. But I have always seen it as a powerful visual of people publicly expressing their need for God's grace, without saying a thing. As I assisted in serving the people, I was overcome with this feeling that all of us were collectively bonded together expressing a deep need for grace and were so thankful that we had found it in Christ. It felt very much like a 'family' meal.

I certainly understand that for many churches, including ours, the intinction method isn't very practical as the normal mode of serving communion. And I also realize that if it were to become the normal mode, it might well become rote and lose the significance it currently seems to conjure in our fellowship. But in the Christian life, we say a lot of things and do a lot of things, without having such things be impactful either on the world or within ourselves. So when those brief moments come along when there appears to be a genuine collective movement of faith towards the One who deserves complete, total, and absolute allegiance, I find myself wanting to see so much more of it in myself and in the flock I associate with. During communion last Thursday, I felt the kind of transformative power that made me believe that this flock really can change the world when the Spirit is moving in our midst. That's a feeling that's tough to top.