Mike Novotny - Why Do We Take Communion?
So this week we are wrestling with really good questions about church and faith and the Bible. And I had to smile when someone wrote me this question. "If Jesus came to our church, would he have to talk with the pastor before taking communion"? Well, first I want to say, when Jesus comes back in glory with tens of millions of angels, I think we're going to be okay. I don't want to have to answer that question. But I have a hunch I know why this person asked it. It's not the tradition In every church, but in my church, we do ask people who aren't members of our church family to talk with the pastor before they take this meal that celebrates our union or our communion.
And sometimes that frustrates people or it feels offensive to people so I think the question was, "Pastor, why do you do that? Why do we do that as a church"? Let me tell you a quick story and then give you a scripture to explain my practice. Really early when I was a pastor, you know, just learning things in my first year or two, we were celebrating communion as a church and I kind of said a few words before we began the celebration. I said, "If you're a guest here and not part of our church family, we'd love to celebrate communion with you. I want to make sure that you're in union with what we believe and teach about Jesus. So just catch me afterwards and as soon as we can, we'll celebrate this together".
Well, of course, because God has a sense of humor, there was a family that came up even though they weren't part of our church family. And of course, because God is hilarious, like, the whole group of people before them left. So, it was just like this guy, his fiancé, their three year old, and I should mention that she's about eight months, eight and a half months pregnant. So there they are and, for better or worse, I decided to give them communion. I say, "Take and eat the body of Christ". My assistant comes along with the wine. "Take and drink. This is the blood of Christ". The pregnant woman, she grabs the cup and she looks at me and she whispers.
"Pastor, is this real wine"? And I glance up and I notice that all the other people in this big church are not like, looking at their hymn books to sing the song. They're looking at the new pastor to see exactly what he's going to do. So I tried to respectfully say, "Yeah. It is real wine". And her fiancé started to get embarrassed. And he says, "Just drink it". She says, "I can't. I'm pregnant". And she's wrestling back and forth. And, finally, she looks at me with these big eyes and she says, "Pastor. Will this hurt me"? And her fiancé, so embarrassed, he says, "Fine". And he drinks his cup. He grabs hers. And he slams the other on,e too. He gets double communion. And I said to them, "Go in peace? Maybe"?
You know, thankfully, a few months later they joined a Bible class and we talked about communion and I remember her hand going up saying, "Pastor. I'm not sure if we totally understood what was happening". And maybe it was just early in my ministry, but that story made a lasting impression on me. You see, both those people had grown up in church. Both of them had celebrated communion before. But when I actually talked to them about what communion was, neither of them really understood it. They didn't know what it was Or, exactly why they were doing it. They just kind of grew up in churches where it kind of happened. And that's why I take communion really seriously.
I want everyone to receive this great gift that Jesus intended, but I also know that some people just grow up in religious homes. And they don't fully grasp what this is about. I think about what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11. Which, by the way, is probably the best chapter that talks about communion. Near the end of that chapter, it says, There's something really interesting about communion. It, It apparently can bless you or it can hurt you. It can forgive your sins or you can actually sin while taking it. It's almost like a prescription medicine. Right?
In and of itself, it's a good thing that can really help people. But I'm guessing the last time you went to the doctor, the prescription meds weren't in the lobby for you, yourself, to decide what you should take and what you shouldn't. No. You took someone who knew the medicine, who would examine you, and help you figure out if the medicine fit. And that's why I do what I do as a pastor. It's not the only right way to do it. But it's just my way to make sure, as best I can, that what I experienced early in my ministry, doesn't happen Sunday after Sunday.
That hopefully we can have a quick conversation or two, express our union in Jesus, talk about the beauty of communion. And then really celebrate it together. Not wondering, "What is this"? But knowing exactly what this is. So, however your church practices communion, I hope you take it seriously. It is a great, serious gift from God. It's a wonderful way for God to connect with us and forgive us of our sins. And we thank Jesus when we do it well and biblically. Let's pray:
Dear Jesus, there's no appendix in the Bible to know exactly how to do communion or how often to do communion. Or all the right things to say before we take communion. But we really do want to be faithful. We don't want to question people's faith and we don't want to be overly judgmental. But we do want there to be a real union with you and with one another as we celebrate this gift. So, give me wisdom as a pastor. Give all of us wisdom as people of faith to know how to do this in a way that honors and glorifies you. Finally God, I thank you for great questions like this. I thank you that if people are frustrated they feel like they can ask and hopefully find great answers in your Word. We ask all of this, Jesus, in your incredible name. Amen.