In the far north of Germany, a bitterly cold day in those flat, wind swept fields, we were gathered in the upper room of a large wooden house for communion. Seated in groups, cross legged on the floor, large ceramic bowls were filled to the brim with good German wine & handed out.
Being the polite English guests, & not being sure of the custom here, we allowed our German hosts to drink deep first. To our amazement, they lifted the bowl high, their faces disappearing into the rim as they drank straight from the vessel. Smacking their lips, the bowl is passed along - the atmosphere serious, sober, no noise - this was a holy moment, Germans were meditating on truth & nodding serenely to one another as they passed the bowl.
Finally, the bowl came our way, by now, drained almost empty having been passed right around the room. John sits oppposite me, lifts the bowl in accordance with all he has observed, & starts to drink, tipping the bowl & his head back further & further in order to get any liquid from the dimishing supply. Then, pulling away with a grin, he holds the bowl out to me, his long nose dripping red droplets of wine back into the bowl!
Worse still, the remaining slurry of wine is contaminated with more than just the contents of John's nose - it is thick with a slick of German lipstick. Without a thought for our Lord Jesus, & aware that the whole room is looking at me, I knock it back, trying to look as religious as possible - my attempt rendered futile as John throws back his head again & begins to laugh, contageously, the the mirth in this mad moment releasing tension. Those poor German believers, they thought we were getting filled with the Holy Spirit & began thanking the Lord!
Wherever I've been in the world, I've seen communion done in funny ways, strange ways, mystical ways & dead religious ways. I've also taken part in some incredible moments of deep intimacy that have left me hungry & thirsty for more.
As a part of our 21st Century Worshippers series, I'm taking a fresh look at how communion fits in our busy, contempory churches. It is, when you stop & think, a strange religious ceremony that is baffling to post moderns. Even Jesus seemed to frighten people off in John's account, when He speaks of eating His flesh & drinking His blood. What is this stuff? You Christians want to ban Halloween, yet you get up to this behind closed doors!
How do we combine the ancient & modern in modern worship, without being unbiblical or without drifting into unthinking, empty religious practise? How do we avoid those well intended moments when we pass bread & wine along the line, whispering pious words that fail to resonate with faith or meaning - just hoping to get the form of words right, doing what we've always done, surely missing the point in our futility? Devoid of joy, far from celebration, little sense of transendence!
How has it come to this? Or consider that communion has been the breeding ground for all kinds of division, disunity & dodgy theology over the centuries – the very opposite of what Jesus intended when He simply sat around a table & broke bread with his friends.
Isn’t it time we started thinking clearly about this aspect of our worship? Time to rediscover the richness of sharing Christ together in this way, time to let go of anything which is familiar but ultimately unhelpful? Isn't it time to go on an adventure with John the Nose Dipper of Schleswig-Holstein.....who knows, to this day maybe all the Germans now dip their noses in the drink & laugh?