We had a very interesting happening at church this weekend. During communion, the pastor said that he had received a word, that someone in the pews hadn't taken the elements. When the pastor asked that they come forward, not to be embarrassed or forced, but to be reminded that communion is about accepting the sacrifice Jesus made for us while we were still sinners, one person did come forward. Then the pastor moved to asking if anyone took the elements out of habit or to not stick out, and that call got several more people to come forward. It was a powerful moment, one that doesn't translate well into the written word, and it set my mind a working.
We get in habits, not just in the outside world, but in church and our spiritual lives as well. Those habits can be good habits, like prayer, devotional readings, communion, fellowship meetings, fill in your own blanks here. But sometimes they become just that, habits. We do them reflexively, automatically, without the focus and intentionality they need and deserve. Communion is an easy one for this to happen to, because it's usually done about once a month, depending on the church, and it's done in a group, so groupthink and peer pressure come into play. If we put just a couple of moments of thought into the act of communion, the fact that it is one of the very few traditions Jesus established Himself, the symbolism He attached to the bread and the wine, it quickly becomes difficult to glibly just take the little piece of bread out of the plate and the little cup of grape juice and down them for appearances.
But we still do it. Whether it's blindly eating and drinking crackers and grape juice, not thinking about the cross we put around our neck everyday, even doing "good works" out of responsibility, not love, we fall into the trap of habit, or worse, religion. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all spoke against religion. They used the empty rituals and actions of the Pharisees and Sadducees as specific examples of what happens when faith and love of God become empty action and schedule. When we read the Old Testament, we hear about the rituals being performed with hearts open to God, and they were accepted by God as proper worship. But by the New Testament, we have the focus off God and on to the actions. Forgetting the verses put in those phylacteries that were made wide to show off how holy the wearer was. (Matt. 23:5, the verses were Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16, and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, if you're interested)
One of the things I picked up from the positive mental attitude teachings of W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill was that it takes being intentional to make ourselves better. This applies to our walk with Jesus as well. The way to avoid the problems of empty religion is to be intentional in keeping our walk a relationship, one where communications flow both ways, one where we are looking to build up and expand the relationship at all times. One where we admit when (not if) we fall, take the hand back up, brush ourselves off, ask forgiveness, and keep walking. When we can maintain that intentional walk, it's never just bread and juice, it really is that body broken and blood poured out for us.