When communion is discussed amongst our church member it is usual simply to question the mechanics of it – how do we get adults and children up to the rail and back to their seats in the easiest and most time efficient way.
Mass Culture is a collection of essays exploring the significance of the communion/eucharist/mass/Lord’s Supper (or whatever you like to call it) and how it relates to contemporary society. One you get past the rather naff cover, the book offers much for discussion. It is edited by Pete Ward from Kings College London with contributions from, among others, Anglican Bishops Steve Cottrell, Graham Cray, author and church leader Mike Riddell and CMS worker and fresh expression leader Jonny Baker. Despite being published ten years ago it is still incredibly relevant (probably becuase the church hasn’t changed the way it does communion much for many years.)
One of the most thought provoking themes of the book came in Mike Riddell’s chapter entitles “Bread and Wine, Beer and Pies”. He revisits the phrase, ‘the medium is the message’ coined by communication theorist Marshall McLuhan. Riddell cites the example of a church who spent money on a very professional glossy looking flyer to be delivered through the doors of houses in their parish (something many churches do). However, the medium used in this case is that which is usually used by junk mail. Consequently, no matter how life-affirming and important the gospel message on the flyer, it is most often received as junk mail.
Jesus left his disciples with a medium for re-telling the gospel story, and that medium is in the breaking of bread and wine. In it, we engage in an act of rememberance, symbolism, and gaining a sense of our place in that gospel story. Here too, however, we need to be careful in how we do this, lest we are communicating somethign through the medium which is not the gospel. For example, if shared in a ritualistic old church building in a very formal way, what are we saying about the God who lies behind the Mass? Similarly, if the shared too informally (beer and pies, for example) are we diminishing God’s character? Here, Riddell joins the choruses of the other contributors in encouraging us to think through how communion is celebrated and how it is received in the culture that the church operates in. He encourages us to be risky and big in our thinking. Often an oppurtunity to participate in God’s story through a well thought-through Lord’s Supper can be so much more appealing than simply listening to the gospel explained.