Weekly Bible Devotional
“Why We Gather: Practicing Communion”
September 5, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Notes on The Text:
The book of Acts is the second volume written by the same author of the Gospel of Luke between the years 75 and 100 CE. The goal was not just to tell of the story of the ministry of Jesus but also to tell the story of the communities of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Acts is the story of the birth of the Church and its spread from Jerusalem to Rome and from its Jewish roots to its Gentile (non-Jewish) branches/communities. Acts contains sermons/speeches and events.
There are several summaries in Acts about the life of the early community. These summaries provide a general picture of the activities the new believers engaged in when they congregated under the leadership of the apostles. Our text, 2:42-47, the first major summary, follows the massive baptism that results from Peter’s first speech at Pentecost. We have in this text from Acts 2 a description of what a Christian community looks like when they are living in the Spirit of God and when it is at the heart of what they do. The early followers of Christ were so focused on the love of God that their lives were so transformed for the whole world to see their amazing witness. Touched by the Holy Spirit,
- They generously shared what property they possessed.
- They broke down the social barriers between economic classes, ethnic groups, and men and women.
- They shared bread together. The table of Christ became their spiritual practice and ritual where they visibly and intentionally practiced love for one another regardless of all the social barriers that separated them. The table of Christ brought them together.
- They prayed together and had deep spiritual friendship around an incredible message of the good news of God’s love!
It is interesting that the table of Christ became so essential to all Christian gatherings. Sharing bread with someone in the Middle East is a sign of friendship and connection. That is why this kind of sharing was so important.
This week we begin a new sermon series called “Why We Gather” inspired by Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters. In the introduction Parker writes, “The way we gather matters. Gatherings consume our days and help determine the kind of world we live in, in both our intimate and public realms…We spend our lives gathering…And we spend much of that time in uninspiring, underwhelming moments that fail to capture us, change us in any way, or connect us to one another.” Parker hopes that through being intentional about purpose and design of gatherings people often find more ways to gather well.
Part of being in Christian community is gathering for worship, prayer, service, and growing in faith. At the heart of what we do in community is sharing in the table of Christ to break down barriers and to experience the unconditional love of God. Unfortunately, because of centuries of practice, layers of interpretation, and lack of focus on our purpose, the community and table of Christ have not lived up to the values of the kingdom of God. In fact, the communion table has become a symbol of separation from others. I know that many times, when we gather with other Christians, we can share in every aspect of worship, except in communion. We sometimes even fight amongst ourselves about how and when to celebrate this feast of God’s love. Sometimes Christians put barriers around the table allowing only those who are “worthy” to come and participate. Sometimes our barriers are unintentional because we forget to welcome all to the table. We may assume that others feel welcome, but in reality, our gatherings and tables have hidden social codes that exclude and alienate others.
We are invited this week to learn from the example of the early church and how they stayed focused on the purpose/ heart of their sharing and the coming together, namely their common experience of the Holy Spirit and their ability to extend that hospitality and experience to others.
By going back to the purpose of our gatherings of experiencing the love of God together, we can refocus our methods and attitudes to fulfil what we seek to do. By coming together with all of our pain, struggles, joys, and diversity, we practice Christ’s radical kind of love and communion where love trumps all of our human conflicts and divisions. We are united through the great force of the universe, and nothing can take that away from us. This kind of spirit of community is desperately needed in our world today as we face many challenges. It is easy to vilify others and to divide ourselves based on our fears, but the call to intentional community that is gathered around the Spirit of Love helps us to step outside of ourselves to see our common bonds and the potential for loving beyond our social barriers and limitations. Practicing communion is a ritual and a sacrament that brings us back to who we truly are, especially when we forget.
In her book, Take This Bread, Sara Miles reflects on communion and becoming a part of a Christian community at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church saying that it was all “terribly inconvenient,” and yet she believes that “You don’t get to practice Christianity by hanging out with people who are like you and believe what you believe. You have to rub up against strangers and people who frighten you and people you think are misguided, dangerous, or just plain wrong.”
Core of Community
(Acts 2: 43-47)
With you as the nucleus
Of every group that gathers,
Differences are respected
And tensions are overcome.
Those speaking from the edge
Gain a listening ear.
Egos maintain a low profile.
With you as Core of Community
Peace abides and love abounds.
~ Joyce Rupp in Fragments of Your Ancient Name
Accepting the Sacredness of All
You are the source and resource of all purposed and created life.
In an attitude of gratitude I accept your forgiveness and grace to forgive myself.
I accept your encouragement to learn what it means to be authentically human and make peace with my own humanity,
So that I can accept the sacredness of other beings.
With thanksgiving, I accept the spiritual, ethical, and moral responsibility for my own inner healing and joy.
I embrace the mystery of healthy loving relationships
As I learn to be an agent of change, reason, and tenderness upon the earth
That is an outpouring of your love for all life.
I accept your help so that I may learn to live honorably in covenant community,
Lifting my voice in care over criticism.
— Adei-Mai Morningstar Greenpastures, Frances Sheridan Goulart in God Has No Religion edited by Frances Sheridan Goulart