Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Come, For All Things Are Now Ready

Last Sunday I was at a new church.  Well, it wasn't really new, just new to me.   Anyhow, since it was my first time at this particular church, and you can only attend a church for the first time once, I was really paying attention to how the church appeared to visitors (accessibility, warmth, etc).  There will probably be another post about all that soon.  This one though is about a specific part of the service - communion.
This particular church was celebrating communion on this particular Sunday.  Since I was new to this church I was paying very close attention to what was happening during this part of the service.  I wanted to know who was invited to the table and how the elements were served.  Additionally, I was curious as to how they were framing communion, since it was being done at the beginning of the service, instead of after the sermon like I was accustomed to. (I had some other issues with how the service was ordered and what was/wasn't included, but that's not important now).
So I listened close.  The pastor went through the standard liturgy (okay, standard to me...not necessarily standard for all church backgrounds).  He welcomed all to the table who had made profession of faith in a Christian church.  This answered my question as to whether I was welcome (I was).  It also answered my curiosity as to whether or not baptized children were welcome (they were not).  However, I still didn't know how communion would be served.
I could see the (to me) familiar trays on the table, so I assumed the bread was pre-cut and the wine/juice pre-poured, but I wasn't sure if it was going to be brought to us in the pews and passed, or if we were to come forward to receive.  I listened intently. Finally he came to the end of the liturgy and said "Come for all things are now ready".
I stood up.  He had said "come".  At WTS, when the worship leader says "come for all things are now ready" it means it's time to to come forward and receive the elements.  This Sunday however, I quickly realized that "come" didn't actually mean "come".  It actually meant "sit and wait for the table to come to you".  It cause me to spend some time thinking about it (hence why you are getting a blog post).
How many times have I sat in church during a communion service and heard the words "Come for all things are now ready" and let them simply wash over me?
What message does it send when the Preacher says "come" and we all sit?  If the Preacher is speaking for G-d, then it could be said that G-d himself is saying "come" and our response is to sit and wait for it to come to us...
What does it say to visitors or people unfamiliar with our church tradition?  If they, like me, were listening to the words of the Preacher to try and figure out what to expect, how does this dissonance sound to them? It seems to me that we might be sending a message, that we as Christians, don't actually mean what we say. If we don't mean what we say when we talk about simple actions such as coming to the table, how can we be trusted to mean what we say when we talk about more complex and, in some ways abstract, things such as salvation?

I don't say this just in criticism of the church that I attended, but in questioning of many church traditions.  I realize that it might not be practical in all church settings for congregants to actually come forward to receive the elements.  I just wonder if in those situations we would be wise to change our worship words to better reflect the reality of what is actually happening in our churches.

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