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JOE LAGUARDIA: The divine encounter of communion points to eternal life, better days ahead

At worship on Sunday, during communion, I had a chance to reflect on the Great Recession and recent hardships facing Christ's Church in North America. The lousy economy, a growing atheist movement unashamedly spreading the non-gospel of unbelief, waning baptism and attendance records in churches, and weakening denominations confront Christians with various challenges.

While the deacons were serving the elements and I had a chance to pray before saying the liturgy of the sacrament, I realized just how important communion is in the life of the church during these troubling times.

Jesus didn't say, "Do this in remembrance of the situation in which you find yourself, in the midst of hardship and challenges;" rather, Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." It's all about Jesus, our relationship with Him, and our ability to provide the bread of life to others who long to see better days ahead.

The bread and the cup represent God's presence abiding with God's people -- the very symbol of Christ's body and blood broken for all our sakes.

It is not something to take for granted, but brings us "back to the future" -- a sacred ritual that brings together an ancient faith with a future hope: "Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

Communion is a divine encounter for sure. I envy my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ sometimes whose theology makes the "paschal mystery" more than symbolic -- it is the very blood and body of Christ, central to mass that's done as often as possible.

And it is mystery -- wholly other but intimately integrated into body and soul of each believer, that which nourishes our deepest longings for reconciliation with the God of the cosmos.

Before I became Trinity's pastor, we scheduled communion in two different ways over the years. At one time, we took communion the last Sunday of every month; at another, we took it once a quarter.

It seemed to be an asterisk in worship; no matter the frequency, the monotony seemed to downplay the significance of the whole act.

We decided that communion would be best served -- and most appreciated -- if we did it intentionally on the Sundays that seemed to point to communion as the highlight of the service. That meant being intentional to schedule communion as a central part of worship, even if it meant doing communion more than once a month.

This process allows communion to be a re-enactment of the Last Supper for a contemporary context.

That supper was a time in which Jesus gathered those who followed Him no matter how imperfect they seemed to be. He made room for all of the Judases, Peters, Beloved Disciples, and even an entourage of women, some of whom engaged in some pretty promiscuous businesses.

In many ways, we are no different than that rag-tag band of peasants.

My own liturgy of the sacrament, less formal than many churches, goes something to the effect of: "On the day Jesus was betrayed, He gathered together a bunch of misfits not very different than us. There He looked out and saw some disciples who loved Him avidly, some who questioned and doubted, and some who would betray Him, if not tonight, then some time soon. Even so, Christ invited them to the table and gave them bread. 'Take, eat: a symbol of my body broken for you...'"

The words are a bit unconventional, but they make room for the divine encounter yet again. Even we, who are redeemed sinners, find ourselves back at table to eat and drink no matter how many of us fail to fill the pews every Sunday or give our 10 percent tithe.

When Christ's Church serves the bread and cup, all else fades away. What matters most is the mystery of the elements and the feast that points to eternal life and, yes, better days ahead.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.