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Entries in eucharist (8)


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.


More Communion, More Roots: David Crowder's Final Album and the Trajectory of Modern Worship

Worship Leader Magazine recently published an interview of David Crowder shortly after the release of their final album, Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]).  (Even the title carries with it our modern generation's characteristic mixture of reverence and irreverence, being a requiem with a not-so-subtle reference to Spinal Tap...I know that's not everyone's cup of tea, but it sure is mine.)

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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.


Review of White Flag, by Passion

Passion, White Flag (sixsteps/Sparrow)
Released: March 13, 2012

Passion's latest project continues in their strong legacy of fervent live worship albums.  One can never question on these records that this movement continues to be deeply committed to the core of what Christian worship is all about--encountering the presence of God with the people of God.  At the same time, White Flag continues to reveal the theological growth and maturation of Passion's main songwriters and artists--Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Charlie Hall, etc.  There are even some surprising new ventures, as far as content goes. "White Flag" (the title track) appears to be a metaphor for surrender to God, which characterizes some, though not all, of the album.


It is simply not possible that every album produced by a band or music-community can be landmark and earth-shattering, and while White Flag is a great listen and a solid offering of fresh anthems for the English-speaking Church, it is not extraordinary.  The production continues to be crisp, energetic, creative, and forward-looking within the pop-rock genre.  The theological content is solidly evangelical and orthodox, with charismatic leanings being dialed down a bit as compared to previous albums.  If we were to compare the breadth of content with that of the biblical Psalms, it has not gone much further than Here for You (2011) and Awakening (2010) in exploring the spectral realities in between poles like joyful praise and sorrowful lament, with one notable exception surprisingly opening the door toward worship's connection with the Lord's Supper.  

The songs I would most likely incorporate into worship in my local context would be:

With honorable mention to:

  • "Lay Me Down"
  • "One Thing Remains"
  • "Yahweh"


White Flag is marked by the usual "arena worship" instrumentation--big drums, heavy low-end, high tenor vocals, backing "congregational" choir, epic guitars, and seeping keys.  No new or experimental/risky sounds will be found on this record, but there are a few slight new touches, such as the (most likely synthesized) dulcimer/harpsichord arpeggiations on "The Only One" and the electronica-plus-Death-Cabby-indie-guitars from Crowder on (the congregationally unfriendly) "All This Glory."  Songs like "White Flag" and "One Thing Remains" exhibit the typical arena-style soft-low-to-epic-high contour, all glued together by tom-beating, snare-banging, kick-pounding crescendos.  "Yahweh" has a nicely arranged skipping pedaled piano part in its opening and some fresh ways of coloring a triple meter.  The early 80s metal-style holds and fuzzy electrics fit well the grandeur of the song.  Some songs seem much more appropriate for special music because of their difficult rhythms, which congregations would find hard to follow, such as (ironically named) "Sing Along."  "10,000 Reasons," save a few minor variations is the same version in key, arrangement, and style, as Redman's earlier recorded version.


Modern worship has always excelled at magnifying the prominent attributes of God--His greatness, His holiness, His majesty, His power, His perfection.  You hear it exemplified in songs like "Yahweh," whose first verse and chorus sing:

You have no rival to Your throne
In majesty, You stand alone
There is no limit to Your reign
Now all Your works shall praise Your name
As far as this, from east to west
There's no other, there's no other

Your name alone be exalted
Our hearts are Yours forever 

Debra and Ron Rienstra, in their book Worship Words (see my review), have challenged worship to incorporate more of the names of God.  "Yahweh," the chief name for God and perhaps the most obvious one scripturally, is still a step forward for modern worship which has for the most part failed to meet such a challenge.  Though, to be honest, much like Tomlin's "Jesus Messiah," there's not much exploration into the meaning and significance of the Name ("I am that I am").

"One Thing Remains" (previously recorded by Jesus Culture and a few others) is a testament to the power of God's love.  And this is no generic love, it is the type of love exemplified in the Hebrew word, hesed, often translated "steadfast love" or "covenant love."  Some might criticize the repetitive chorus, "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me" as typical "mindless 7-11" worship music, but we need to remember that it is God's love which is celebrated in such a repetetive fashion in Psalm 136 ("His love endures forever").  The problem with this song is that it lacks a context for the most part.  It is faintly rooted in the gospel ("the debt is paid") but no mention of any member of the Trinity is made.  It is a direct-address song.  If it were to be incorporated in worship, it would need strong contextualization and grounding in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  But with this context, it is quite moving and compelling.

"Jesus, Son of God," even by virtue of its title, is a step forward (albeit a small one) in more Trinitarian explicitness, and it is a beautiful, singable, gospel-centered song, praising the incarnation and cross of Christ.  Verses 1 & 2, with the chorus:

You came down from heaven's throne
This earth You formed was not Your home
A love like this the world had never known 

A crown of thorns to mock Your name
Forgiveness fell upon Your face
A love like this the world had never known

On the altar of our praise, let there be no higher name
Jesus, Son of God
You laid down Your perfect life, You are the sacrifice
Jesus, Son of God
You are Jesus, Son of God 

The second line of verse 2 is a beautiful, rich poetic metaphor.  As the crown of thorns came upon His head, "forgiveness fell" upon His face.  Blood fell.  It is a powerful statment that the instrument of torture, in a providential twist, opened up the "precious flow" of blood, which would be the world's great forgiving balm.  

The most surprising song of all, from a theological perspective, is Charlie Hall's "Mystery."  Someone's been studying their eucharistic historical theology!  Check out these lyrics:

Sweet Jesus Christ, my certainty
Sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity
Bread of Heaven, broken for me
Cup of salvation, held up to drink
Jesus, mystery

Christ has died and Christ is risen
And Christ will come again.

Why is this surprising?  First, Passion is a parachurch worship entity, and the Lord's Supper is not something they have typically focused on in their worship music.  Second, the language is reflective of some "high church" exposure.  "Mystery" is a term that more "sacramental" churches more often use.  And the phrase "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" is straight-up high church liturgical eucharistic language.  I'm very curious about the origin of this is simply not typical evangelical megachurch content.  What makes this song more exceptional is that, for a Communion song, it's quite uplifting and eschatologically-oriented.  The bridge (which is the song's high point) sings:

Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes, proclaim His coming
Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes

It's a moving, victorious, back-looking, forward-reaching Communion song.  Praise God!  Imbedded in this simple text is a very reflective, rich, full-orbed eucharistic theology.  This is remarkable.

One can only hope that what is barely hinted at on this album--a greater ecclesiastical awareness--is indicative of things to come.  One of the great issues facing the Passion movement along with a fair amount of the modern worship "industry" is that they are in many ways one-off from the Church.  They are "church enrichment" programs, to be sure, but they are NOT the Church, and as such, there will always be missing from their songs the very vital component of contextual music-making.  One wonders whether this missing piece is what is driving the Passion folks (Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin) to begin the move toward "settling down" into their Atlanta-based plant, Passion City Church.  In the meantime, I'll applaud any effort at building bridges between the largely "churchless" industry and the one true Bride of Christ.



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!


How Google Helps Us Understand the Lord’s Supper: An Analogy of Location and Real Spiritual Presence 

Transubstantiation.  Consubstantiation.  Non-substantiation.  Which “substantiation” is it?  How, if at all, is Christ present in the Lord’s Supper?  I have my opinions, but this post won’t answer that.  I simply want to point out a brilliant analogy from digital media which may help us understand how portions of each “substantiation” view may have merit and truth.  John Jefferson Davis, in his wonderful book Worship and the Reality of God, illumines our understanding of how Christ is present to us in the Eucharist by musing over how Google is present to us: 

“With respect to the concept of real-virtual presence (as a possible analogy for ‘real spiritual presence’), consider the question, Where is the homepage for Google located? The answer to the question is not as obvious as it may seem. It is true to say that the homepage of Google is located now, even as we speak, on the screen of the laptop computer on my desk. It would also be equally true that the Google homepage is located simultaneously on the screen of every computer in the world that is currently connected to that address; the Google screen is in a real sense ubiquitous. On the other hand, it might be argued that the homepage really is located inside a computer server of the Google corporation in Mountain View, California; this Is the location of the ‘original’ Google screen. Could not all three answers be plausibly true?”1

Of course this doesn’t solve the issue or settle the debate.  But sometimes, in hairy philosophical conundrums, an analogy from everyday life helps illumine the plausibility of several positions which seem mutually exclusive.  Think of it like we think of analogies of understanding the Trinity.  Some point out H2O’s tripartite existence as a solid, liquid, and a gas.  When the analogy is pressed too hard, it breaks down.  But, to some degree, the analogy shows that three unique things can separately exist yet be of one substance.  It helps us wrap our minds a bit more around the Trinity.  Similarly, Davis’s Google analogy helps us to wrap our minds around different types of “present-ness.” 



1John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 162.


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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