Several years ago I went to my first Catholic wedding. A friend of Pam's was getting married and it happened to be in a Catholic church. I was very interested to be an observer at a full Catholic wedding including the mass. I'd heard about Catholic weddings but had not ever been to one. So it was with great curiosity, yet with suitable Baptist skepticism, that we went that day.
The wedding vows were not exceptionally different than that which I had heard many times at many weddings. There was perhaps a little more ceremony and grandeur because of the cathedral setting - stained glass windows, high, vaulted ceiling, and the feeling of transcendent purpose all due to the purposeful architecture which surrounded us. But when they ended the ceremony with the communion service I was stunned at the imagery. I am probably reading more into this than was actually going through many of their minds as they participated - but I think I caught the original intent of the symbolism and actions. The vast majority of the attendees, at that moment, became participants in the wedding. No longer were they mere observers like me. Kneeling down in solemn prayer and in solidarity, they with one voice petitioned God on behalf of the newly married couple. As part of the symbolism of commitment and unity, they shared the bread and wine of communion. What an image! The sharing of one loaf, of one cup, of one purpose, picturing something transcendent and more than a mere ceremony as each participant was committing, along with the couple, to be faithful to Christ and to His purposes for their marriage. In one sense the observers became active participants, actively engaged in the marriage - not only in this event but in the entire marriage - as they promised to be there to encourage the new couple, train them, hold them accountable, pray for them, and to just be there for them. What an image! What a ceremony! What a way to begin a marriage!
Sure, as a Baptist, I object to the teachings they hold regarding the mass and regarding justification. And given the teachings behind those images, I'd have to reject them. But what would it be like if we Baptists used those images backed by the truth of the gospel and the truth of the ordinance of the Lord's table? As Christians we know that to have a successful marriage, it will take remarkably more than mere intention. It requires humility, commitment, support, accountability, and grace - all things that are found (or supposed to be found) in the New Testament Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would not mind seeing our churches adopt the images used by the Catholics when we have our weddings - but not merely at the wedding, but all through the marriage. What would our marriages be like if we regularly and humbly depended on the Body of Christ, represented in the bread and wine of the Lord's table, but fleshed out in the actions and prayers of the local New Testament Church, as they intentionally and purposefully encouraged, challenged, and held to account each marriage therein?
This last week, as our church celebrated the Lord's Supper, it was also an occasion for a matter of church discipline. Our pastor pointed out to us that it is a long tradition that matters of church discipline are carried out around the Lord's Table. How appropriate! It only makes sense. Unity, pictured by the sharing of the symbols of the body and blood of Christ, as well as the picture of the brokenness that He experienced on our behalf reminded us of the solemnity of the occasion. It reminded us all that were it not for the body and blood of our Lord, shed for us, we would not be saved. We have no grounds for feeling superior or judgmental - rather we are humbled as we carry out a loving and painful responsibility to a fellow traveler.
It occurred to me as we left church that night and as I remembered the wedding I described above, why do we not combine the Lord's Supper with more life events of significance - and not just the elements of the Supper, but also the fleshed out imagery? Why not combine the Lord's Supper with marriage (perhaps this would be a separate service from the wedding - intimate with just the church family present)? Why not share the Lord's Supper when a fellow member dies and we have the funeral? This would seal in our minds (and theirs) our commitment to the spouse and family. Why not at baby dedications as the church promises to love and support and flesh out the body of Christ to the new baby and his parents in the huge journey they are commencing? Why not at graduation? Why not?
In an age where members of the church remain autonomous and feel like mere observers and not members, would not the inclusion of the Supper in big events in our lives remind us of our participation and commitment to the local body of Christ. Would it not raise our expectations about the involvement of our fellow members in the most important and even intimate aspects of our lives? Would it not be a good thing - consistent with overall beliefs about the church? Would it not contribute to unity; to humility; to submitting one to another?