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Entries in communion (6)


How the Incarnation Informs Germophobia in Worship

(An exercise in random applied theology...)

Over the course of my leadership at several churches, I have had to dig deep to help pastor people through both legitimate and illegitimate concerns surrounding their germophobia.  There are two places in the worship service where these concerns most consistently arise--greeting and Communion.  When many churches practice their "greeting time," usually it involves shaking hands, sometimes holding hands, sometimes hugging.  In all these gestures, physical contact is made, and germs, bacteria, and viruses are more likely to spread.  The same is often true for many forms of Communion.  Unless the elements have been completely individualized (pre-cut, even pre-packaged) or prepared by latex-gloved hands (notwithstanding latex allergies!), they often come to the table already "tainted."  And then, when people receive the elements--picking up a cup, pulling off a piece of bread, or (buhm...Buhm...BUHHHHHM!) drinking from a common cup (!)--no doubt further germs are exchanged, increasing the likelihood of the spread of germs.  

(This is a total sidenote...but my friend, guitarist, and mandolinist, Erick Young, while studying biology in college, noted an interesting article that determined that, of all the forms of Communion, intinction [which we practice] was the one which introduced the greatest amount of germs into the elements.)

So, the question is not whether or not certain practices of worship indeed facilitate the spread of germs and sickness.  They do.  We must move on to ask, "Should we adjust or eliminate those practices for the sake of public health?"  For instance, should we encourage people to not touch each other during the greeting and just "air hug"?  Should we assign an extra elder at each communion station with hand sanitizer and ask the rest to wear gloves and surgical masks?  In all seriousness, here are the things that I consider:

1) We live in a society with a generally high value of public health.

We enjoy great medicine and world-class doctors.  We have quick access to all kinds of drugs and vitamins, and many of our cities are saturated with places to sanitize.  What a blessing!  The majority world does not know this kind of health.  So, when making a judgment call about all of this, our context is key.  I tend to think that we are generally much more healthy than most and can therefore stand to share a few germs, if greater priorities behoove us.  Of course, there are individuals with auto-immune diseases who might have to think more seriously than the rest of us average folk...but I'm speaking about us generally.

2) So much of our culture has been "de-sarxed."

Sarx is the Greek word for "flesh."  Many cultural commentators have noted that modern society is experiencing greater connectivity through technology while at the same time experiencing less and less physical, human interaction.  We're calling, texting, emailing, Facebooking, tweeting.  But human-to-human contact may be at an all-time low in Western society.  In such a climate, it may be easier for us to miss or discount the value of human-to-human physical contact, such that germ-containment might move up higher on the totem pole of values than perhaps it ought.

3) Our physical bodies matter to God.

It is a heavy-handed Greek dualism, not a biblical anthropology, that tells us that only the spirit matters.  God created the physical world and our bodies.  He will re-create both.  Though we may wrestle through philosophical questions of our core identity being physical or spiritual, our bodies are highly valued by God as being part of our identity as persons--who we are.  

Both Matt Anderson's Earthen Vessels and Valerie Hess and Lane Arnold's The Life of the Body speak amply to this issue of the value of the physical body, and they both point not only to God's creation, but Christ's incarnation, as a valuable, informative doctrine on the matter.  

4) Christ's incarnation encourages us to keep touching each other. :)

When God the Son took on flesh, the Triune Community made a profound statement about how far They would go for physical connectivity.  Christ would connect and interact with us physically, even to the point of death.  When He took on flesh, a value-judgment by God was laid bare--God cares about the physical realm.  It makes sense then that psychologists point to physical touch as a necessary part of human development and flourishing.  Physical contact is part of God's design of the way things ought to be, and the incarnation is Exhibit A.

My opinion, therefore, is that, while we can use wisdom and the best ideas that modern hygiene has to offer, there's something powerful that we would lose if we hyper-sanitized our worship practices.  It may just be me, but I actually like knowing that there are germs in the elements of Communion.  That picture serves to remind me that the Lord's Supper juxtaposes a tension of "mundane glory."  It is a mystery and life-changing encounter.  And yet it is made manifest in earthy wheat, yeast, and fruit, which are broken and crushed, as Christ was.  In a small way, too, when I share in the germs of my brothers and sisters (perhaps this sounds twisted), I symbolize (and maybe actualize) my willingness to bear their burdens (Gal 6:2), as Christ did mine (Isa 53:4).  All the more, then, not only do I need to shake hands, hug, and share in the bread and wine for my well-being in the spiritual body of Christ, I want to do so, even at a little risk to my physical health.  I want to be wise in keeping clean.  But I also want to trust God for the details as He calls me into deep, rich, life-giving, albeit dirty, community.  

So, in a society where human touch is at a painful, spiritually emaciating low, for Christ's sake (literally), don't give up the few chances we have in worship to model what the kingdom of God will look like when our Lord brings it to the fullness of consummation.


Open Our Eyes: A Worship Song Based on Luke 24

Emmaus Road (Stained Glass)The Story

Ever since my conversion to a more sacramental understanding of the Lord's Supper, and upon reading Henri Nouwen's, With Burning Hearts, I've been captivated by that odd encounter that Jesus had with two downcast sojourners on the Emmaus Road after Christ's crucifixion, recorded in Luke 24.  

Several things about that encounter keep fascinating me:

  • The sojourners "were kept from recognizing" Jesus for a long time (v 16)
  • Part of what began lifting their spirits was when Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (v 27); so Jesus "preached Himself" from the Old Testament!
  • While Jesus preached, their "hearts burned" (v 32)
  • God allowed them to recognize Jesus only after He broke the bread (vv 31-32)

Good exegetes who look for "authorial intent" would notice that Luke's description of this whole encounter is loaded with early Christian worship language.  Emmaus Road is an encounter of Word and sacrament, the two main pillars of Christian worship from the beginning (read Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship for more on this).

When I heard that the Gospel Coalition was summoning submissions for worship songs based on the book of Luke, I felt a nearly immediate summons to figure out how to capture chapter 24 in music.  I also knew that my good friend over at Cardiphonia, Bruce Benedict, would be the perfect songwriting partner, (1) because he shares my passion for this understanding of Luke 24, and (2) because many of his songwriting strengths shine where mine are weakest.  (Read his post on the song.)  Bruce emailed me, in short order, the anchor verses, and then I added a few more verses and a chorus and set those things to a simple tune.  Bruce tweaked the tune, tweaked my verses...then we went back and forth on some finer points of precision about theology and themes...and then Bruce passed on the words and music for the bridge, and voila, we had a song.

What I Love

Here's what I love about this song:

  • Musically, it's singable, fairly simple, and has a good dynamic and melodic contour
  • Textually, it's dense with both experience and Truth, and it's loaded with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ and the theological vision of the book of Hebrews
  • Experientially, it makes corporate the individuals' experiences in Luke 24--burning hearts, opening eyes
  • Theologically, it embodies the Greek concept of remembrance/anamnesis with a strong emphasis on the Trinitarian causality of that remembrance (the Trinity causes us to remember Himself in Word and sacrament)

The Song

In my opinion, this song works great alongside celebration of the Lord's Supper or as an Offertory or song of preparation leading into the preaching of the Word.  It works equally well at the top of a service as the call to worship or song of gathering.  It's quite flexible, I think.  

I recorded a simple demo with piano and guitars, and afterward Bruce and I received some great constructive feedback from our friend and gifted author, musician, worship leader, and songwriter, Greg Scheer.  The recording doesn't reflect some of the subtle melodic changes from Scheer's comments, but the below text reflects those minor revisions in the lyrics that post-date the demo.  Bruce and I hope you enjoy it and maybe even utilize it in your worship.

Listen to it

(Download/listen to the mp3


When we see the risen Savior
In the bread that He has blessed,
He becomes the living Servant, 
Heavenly food for holy rest.

Stay with us, for day is fading,
Feast with us, O secret King;
Show to us how Scripture's story
Speaks of You in everything.

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Jesus, show Yourself the author 
And perfecter of our faith;
In Your living and Your dying,
Consummation of God's grace.

From creation to the exile,
Incarnation to the grave,
Resurrection to ascension,
Come, Lord Jesus, come to save!

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Open our eyes to see You, Christ,
Risen, ascended, reigning high;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You.

Feed us with living bread above;
Bind us in union with Your love;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You. 

You're the Word that spoke creation;
You're the End of Moses' law;
You're the Goal of Abra'am's blessing;
You're the King whom David saw.

You're the Day the prophets longed for;
You're the covenant of grace;
You're the hero of the Scriptures;
Now we see You face to face.

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

You remember God the Father,
You remember God the Son,
You remember God the Spirit
In the hearts of those You've won. 

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

So Jesus, show Yourself the Prophet,
Jesus, show Yourself the King,
Jesus, show Yourself the Priest,
All in all, and everything. 

Words & Music: Bruce Benedict & Zac Hicks, 2012
(c) 2012 Cardiphonia Music & Unbudding Fig Music 

The Theology

A final set of thoughts, if you care to read on.  Here are the doctrines and theological ideas explored in this song. See if you can find them in the text (some of them I've already pointed out).

  • anamnesis / remembrance
  • Trinity
  • the three-fold office of Christ
  • union with Christ
  • covenant theology
  • typology
  • active and passive obedience of Christ
  • eschatology
  • sabbath
  • eucharist as festal celebration
  • soteriology - significance of not only the crucifixion, but the resurrection, ascension, and second coming
  • heavenly session of Christ at the Father's right hand

Maundy Thursday at Pictures

(Special thanks to Paul Adams Photo for the oustanding photography!)

Our annual Maundy Thursday Family Service at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver is probably one of the more unique times of worship that I've ever been a part of.  It is an interactive, multi-sensory, truly intergenerational experience.  We started doing it in this format four or five years ago, and it's quickly become a tradition.  Several years ago, God convicted our staff and leadership about our lack of attention to children as full-fledged worshipers.  We began a slow but persistent overhaul of how we thought about and engaged children in worship, and the Maundy Thursday Family Service was a part of that process.

We observed how high and formal our Good Friday Service was, and we wanted to be able to allow for a service where our kids would feel less on the outskirts, straining to understand, and more in the inner circle, quite literally.  So we devised a more informal worship service that included dinner as a part of the worship service. Dinner...yeah, it's biblical...and maybe it's especially appropriate for Maundy Thursday, a day commemorating the happenings in the Upper Room and Christ's great mandatum (where we get the word "Maundy"): "a new command I give one another."

As best as we can, with the supplies we have, we transform center court of our multi-purpose center into a replica of what the original Last Supper table might have looked like.  The seating most likely would have been a Roman triclinium setup, with a U-shaped table, where those participating would have reclined forward on cushions.  We modify this idea, creating a center table on floor-level where, during a portion of the service, the kids come to gather for an interactive teaching time, bringing pillows around the table's edge, where the kids, while munching, learn about what the Last Supper would have been like and what Communion is all about (the adults end up learning a bit, too.)

With circular dining tables surrounding center court, we create a pretty communal atmosphere.  People share a meal that would have (slightly) resembled a typical first century meal: fish, chicken (because fish is scary for some), dates, grapes, bread, and a few slight variations like hummus and cheese.  And that's how the service begins, with people eating, talking, and enjoying one another's company.  We opened the meal in prayer.

Zac Hicks (guitar), Lucille Reilly (recorder, hammered dulcimer), Paul Adams (percussion)This year, as dinner was wrapping up, our ensemble (me on guitar, a percussionist, and a hammered dulcimerist) led some music (Rich Mullins' "Creed," to connect communion with the Apostles' Creed), with the congregation joining in on Matt Redman's "How Great is Your Faithfulness," interspersed with amazing, lengthy recitations from three of our kids on God's faithfulness in Christ through every book of the Bible.  The people cheered each kid on, and we were all moved by God's faithfulness from Genesis through Revelation.

We gathered all the kids around for the table experience, which is always a magical, unforgettable encounter, led by our Director of Student Ministries, Chris Piehl.

Our senior pastor, Brad Strait, then taught briefly on Communion and instituted the elements.  As our people came forward to receive the Lord's Supper, whole families came, and kids not ready to receive Communion were invited to take from a cluster of grapes that one of our youth were holding alongside our elders with the bread and cup.

We played an instrumental version of "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," adapted for guitar and recorder, pulling from J. S. Bach's arrangement along with some of Paul Simon's variation on the tune in the last verse.  

Our music moved into one of our favorite Communion songs at CCPC, "We Will Dance," a Vineyard song by David Ruis that does a really nice job bringing the festive, eschatological themes of the Eucharist to the fore--lots of longing for the Second Coming and the marriage feast of the Lamb:

Sing a song of celebration, lift up a shout of praise
For the bridegroom is come, the glorious One
And oh, we will look on His face,
We'll go to a much better place

So dance with all your might
Lift up your hands and clap for joy
For the time's drawing near
When He will appear
And oh, we will stand by His side
A strong, pure, spotless bride

We will dance on the streets that are golden
The glorious bride and the great Son of Man
And every tribe and tongue and nation
Will join in the song of the Lamb 

Words & Music: David Ruis; ©1993 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing

The final part of the service was an interactive time of people grabbing a few inches of chain from the center of their tables, tying red ribbons on them, symbolizing sins that we're holding, burdens that we're carrying, and bonds holding us down.  Then, while singing "Amazing Grace," people came to center-court and threw our chains down.  

It was a moving experience to hear the chains slamming against the table; it made the freedom of the good news God's grace through Jesus all the more visceral.  After a prayer and the benediction, people left with a strong sense of the "heavy joy" of Maundy Thursday evening.

We musicians shared in communion together at the close of the service.


Is the Lord’s Supper a Funeral or a Feast? (Injecting Communion Repertoire with an Upbeat Song)

I’m not trying to sound crass, here, but Communion often feels like a memorial service for a deceased loved one.  I remember growing up in my (wonderful, life-giving, Christ-shaping, God-exalting) church back at home in Hawaii.  The Lord’s Supper came once a quarter, and up front would be a table covered with a large cloth.  When it came time to receive Communion, the church leaders would come forward.  I remember a lot of them wearing black suits.  Two gentlemen would ceremonially lift and fold the table’s cloth, revealing the elements beneath.  The suited men stood reverently in a line, hands folded in front, as the pastor would talk seriously and somberly about what we were about to do. 

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Songs for the Supper: Great New and Old Communion Songs - FOR FREE

Cardiphonia has produced a feast for the ears to strengthen the Feast of Christ in the modern church's worship.  Not long ago, Justin Taylor, when posting about our song, "Lord, I Believe," commented: "I’m not aware of many hymns that are specifically designed for celebrating the Lord’s Supper."  This observation is typical and appropriate for those of us (myself included) reared in the modern evangelical church.  Our tradition, by and large, has downplayed Communion.  We speak of its importance.  Some of us even believe it's more than mere symbol and memorial. However, the importance of the Eucharist, for many of us, is not necessarily displayed in the frequency of our observance of it, and it is certainly not a large part of the body of literature of modern church music.  

The irony of all of this is that many of our (Protestant) forefathers and mothers just a handful of generations ago were committed to writing songs for the Lord's Supper.  Cardiphonia has unearthed many of these old hymns and has encouraged new ones to be written.  This is Cardiphonia's most robust, most polished project to date: Songs for the Supper. And, as always, this record is FREE.  But, if you do contribute something to the project, all the proceeds go to Stop Hunger Now.  In celebrating the Meal, let's give others a meal.

Some notable artists on this record: The Welcome Wagon, the old Red Mountain Music gang (Brian T. Murphy, Clint Wells), and The Ironsides (Matt Boswell's outfit).  The songs by these folks are great, but they are by no means the only good tracks.  (I especially love the first track by Bobby Krier and Justin Ruddy.)  With this being the third "flash recording project" of Cardiphonia, we're watching each of these artists improve in their songwriting and production.  There are many great, great songs on this album.

I had the privilege of contributing a few songs to the record: (1) a folky remix of "Bread of the World in Mercy Broken," from our album The Glad Sound(2) a new tune for a forgotten hymn by Charles Wesley, entitled, "All Glory and Praise."  I'll post my musings on this second song in a few days.

So go get this free record!


Pascal’s Wager and Christ’s Presence in Communion

The most recent edition of RELEVANT Magazine contained an intriguing article by Jason Boyette, author of the “Pocket Guide” series of books…and a Baptist.  Boyette openly wrestles with his tradition’s take on the presence of Christ in communion.  Most Baptists traditionally believe that communion is purely symbolic and merely a remembrance…there is no special presence of Christ (whether spiritual or physical) in communion.  This is sometimes called a “memorialist” position.  Boyette offers some great thoughts as he entertains certain challenging Scripture passages and the majority tradition of the Church. 

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