Christians can never worship in isolation

Thinking a bit more about worship lately and came into a conversation with someone who shared that she disagreed with my definition of worship. For her, worship is not limited to a corporate experience and that she can worship by herself in the beauty of nature.

I stated that while that I beautiful I would not call that Christian worship. Devotion? Sure. Worship, no.

Worship is never done in isolation. It is not something that is a part of the Christian experience. Even Jesus worshiped in the community and never alone.

What became apparent to me in my conversation with this woman I respect was that for many people "corporate" or "community" means having people around. So when going into a closet and shutting the door means one is not in a corporate setting - that person is alone.

Here is the kicker, in Christian thought we trust we are not alone. We have the Advocate (Holy Spirit) we are surrounded by the "great cloud of witnesses" we are in communion with God in Christ.

Every time we are alone and we are in a worshipful spirit, we are never alone. Our worship is a constant celebration with a community that is fully present. Christian worship is never done in isolation.

With that in mind, there are times in our lives when we are truly alone. When we are abandoned by all, but these times are not worshipful. Abandonment is something that Peter Rollins takes on full force in his book Insurrection - which I hope to post about soon.

Give me a big piece!

There is a guy at our church who, every Sunday when communion is celebrated, he comes to the front and kneels like everyone else. The difference is this guy, Jimmy, is never satisfied with the usual ration of bread. He always says, "Big piece. Give me a big piece."

And no matter how much you give Jimmy, he seems disappointed that the portion you gave him did not meet his "big piece" requirement. He always seems to want a bigger piece.

I shared this with a group of friends I meet with each Friday and the two people who heard me both smiled and affirmed in me what I think is awesome.

Jimmy, although he is on about a 3rd grade level, understands communion. At least he understands communion in a way that I have do not (or maybe ever will).

Joy Roberson suggested one communion Sunday to celebrate by giving people giant portions of bread. "Jimmy sized" pieces, if you will. This action then be used to talk about the banquet of God in which all have in abundance and no one is hungry.

That might not be a bad idea. What do you think?

Clean/Messy - We need both within worship...

Two Sundays ago AHUMC had communion in both worship services. The difference is this time we had communion with the wafers and little cups (Comedian Dane Cook calls the wafers "Croutons-o-Christ" or "Jees-its"). This is the first time this has ever happened in my time at AHUMC, and I was excited about the idea of doing communion in an alternate way.

Then last Sunday AHUMC had communion by the method of intinction. That is each person received a piece of a larger loaf of bread then dipped their piece into a common cup of grape juice and ate the juice soaked bread.

It was after this past Sunday that I realized how messy Communion via intinction is. I have purple stains on my stole, there are crumbs on the floor, there is juice on the floor and rails, bread is torn. Even the "dishes" used (the cup and plate) are rustic pottery which makes it look somewhat messy.

However, the wafer communion was very clean. No purple stains. Not a single crumb. Unused juice remains in plastic cups. Bread is neatly stacked in a tray. The "dishes" are brass and ornate.

Juxtaposing these two images of Communion got me to consider something. The Catholic Church uses crucifixes (which are very messy), but have a wafer communion (which is clean). While AHUMC has empty crosses (which is very clean) but bread torn Communion (which is messy).

Do we just naturally have a need to have both a clean, orderly and sanitized visual as well as a messy, unpolished, and sloppy visual in worship?

What does it mean to have communion in a "clean" way? What about a "messy" way?

Is confession needed before we come to Christ???

Prior to the UMC's communion liturgy we have these words that says, "Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another."

We then have a prayer of confession which is said as a community.

No big deal, right?

However, I was in class last week and one of the professors said there was a scholar she read who says something to this effect:

What makes Jesus different from other teachers of his day is that Jesus does not require people to repent prior to being in his presence. When someone wants to see him or be healed, Jesus does not require that person repents and then that person can eat or becomes healed.

This idea was powerful for me to consider how we "do" communion, conversion, and evangelism. We require that people first repent of their sin - the prayer in a communion liturgy to the "sinner's prayer" on a Biblical tract. Then AFTER repentance are you in communion with or move closer to Jesus.

But is this backwards?

Requiring people to repent makes the Christian life look like a religion of requirements in order to get grace. Rather than a religion which promotes grace and out of grace we repent.

When that person encountered Jesus, that is encountered grace from God, they repented out of that experience. Perhaps that repentance meant more to the person as it was a response to the overwhelming grace they experienced even as a person who is "unclean", "sinful" or "outcast".

I don't know, but what would it look like if the prayer of confession in the UMC communion liturgy came after communion rather than a prayer of thanksgiving?