Clarence’s Clarion Call – Why Have Communion First?
by Clarence Rempel, WDC Conference Minister
“Why do we have communion in our first worship service instead of the finale of our worship?” The question came from one of the delegates at our recent Western District Conference Assembly in Waxahachie, Texas. I am not sure what I said in response, but here are some subsequent reflections.
I like starting out with communion as a declaration of our primary allegiance and our essential identity. We are an “in Christ” people. The phrase appears some ninety times in the New Testament as a primary designation for the people of God. Even the church at Corinth with all of its messiness was an in Christ church. This church had cliques that gave allegiance to human leaders. There was sexual disorder – a brother living in incest and members going to prostitutes. They had people getting drunk and pigging out at communion while poor folks had nothing to eat. They had lawsuits between members. Their worship services were disruptive and riotous. The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the church by audaciously declaring their essential identity.
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who all on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (I Corinthians 1:2). In an amazing affirmation of this disreputable church, Paul continues, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (vs. 4).
So whatever our present messes, misbehaviors, and conflicts, we are in Christ. We need this bold reminder. Whatever we might be on the fringe – progressive or conservative, orthodox or neo-Anabaptist – we are at the core of our being in Christ. We are at the core of our relationships together in Christ.
Communion also reminds us that we belong to God and each other by God’s grace. We didn’t arrive by our right behaviors, our right attitudes, and our right convictions. We arrived as sinners in need of forgiveness. Some of us came needing to be saved from our goodnesses like Paul (Philippians 3:4-11) and some of us needed to be saved from our evils like Paul (I Timothy 1:13-17). Communion guides us to the humility of the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And humility prepares us to engage better with one another particularly in times of profound disagreements.
So it seems good to begin with communion to embrace our essential identity as in Christ and to confess our essential need for Christ.