One of my all time favorite books is For The Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann. (You should probably buy it and read it immediately.) I don’t think I could never do the book justice in trying to summarize it, but it really helped me understand and appreciate liturgy and sacraments. Since I grew up Protestant, I didn’t quite understand what those were and for the most part, thought they were just something that the Catholics practiced. After a few classes, spending some time in an Anglican Church, and reading through Schmemann, I came to really have a love for what a sacramental life cold be.
All of that is really to say that you should read the book. But, I want to share with you possibly one of the biggest things that I learned while reading it.
Communion is a huge deal.
Chances are, you’ve been told that before, and to an extent, know it. I think that the church has done a good job at trying to help its congregations understand the importance and seriousness of communion. But I think in a few ways, they’ve missed the mark.
Communion is also supposed to be joyful.
I feel like typically we take communion as a time of individual repentance and then thank The Lord for his redeeming work on the cross. While that is definitely and important part of communion, it is also very somber. While communion is a serious act, it should be celebratory. It also, in its nature is to be taken as a community! After all, The Lord’s supper was fist taken at a dinner table with Jesus and his closest friends.
The corporate nature of communion reminds us that we are a whole; a community doing life together. W come together before God and corporately confess that we have not measured up to what He has asked and we ask for mercy. Then we take time individually also to confess our sins. Then, we take the elements and remember the wonderful act of love that Jesus did for us. And together we celebrate.
Here is where Schmemann really opened my eyes to something I hadn’t thought of before:
For there in heaven they were immersed in the new life of the Kingdom; when, after this ascension, they returned into this world, their faces reflected the light, “joy and peace” of that Kingdom and they were truly its witnesses… It is only once we return from the light and the joy of christ’s presence that we recover the world as a meaningful field of our Christian action, that we see that true reality of the world and thus discover what we must do…it is today that I am sent back into the world in joy and peace “having seen the true light,” having partaken of the Holy Spirit, having been a witness of divine love.
When we participate in communion, we ascend into heaven and see life as it will be. We see the world to come. We commune with the Holy Spirit. Having seen the greatness and joy of the Kingdom and the life to come, we are able to go out into our world as it is and be the light we are called to be. Because we experienced the light in that moment, we see the issues of this world more clearly and are therefore moved into action. We are more motivated to try to do whatever it takes to bring the ways of the life to come to this life now, because of great it surely will be! How great it would be to have a world free of slavery! Imagine seeing that world and then coming back to this world. How could you not be motivated to do whatever it takes to end slavery here and now.
In communion we meet The Lord. And are then sent back to usher in the world to come. He has already commissioned us with this job. The scriptures are full of instructions on what to do and how to interact. But communion allows us a regular, nearly visual reminder of why we are doing what we are doing. The Holy Spirit reminds us that we are doing his work. That all will eventually be well.
And we anxiously await that day. And for now, we partake of communion, and experience the joy of The Lord, and share it with all whom we meet.