Communion Meditation
June 30, 2013
Disciples House at Chautauqua
Rev. Allen V. Harris,
Pastor at Franklin Circle Christian Church, Cleveland, Ohio

How many of us can say that, like these two disciples, we have actually walked with Jesus? I mean, many of us use it metaphorically, or use that phrase, “She walks with The Lord” to describe someone who seems to have a powerful spiritual connection with God in Jesus… But who among us can say we have actually walked with the risen Christ? None I dare say.

And yet we still follow this one who taught beside the Galilean sea, who healed the lame and the blind, who confronted the powers of Rome and stood up against the leaders of his own religion, lo these many years later. Why? When we have never actually had the joy of walking with Christ? I would say because we understand the difference between the message and the medium.

As thinking, rational, educated adults, we understand that while the manner in which a thought or principal or moral tenant can greatly affect how well it is received, understood, or acted upon, the means are always separate from the message. We don’t confuse the law itself or its value to society with the fact that it is translated to us on paper or over the phone! Otherwise we would be bound by only that which we experience on our own or hear in person for ourselves. This would be a very small, limited world if that we’re the case. In fact, we may still be trying to discover fire or the wheel if all we had were what we discovered directly.

I spend time on this somewhat obvious distinction for two reasons. One is that we live in an age where the means by which we communicate a message are multiplying by astronomic proportions. I’ll talk more about that next. But I also wanted to focus on this because the Church has been notoriously resistant to changing forms of transmitting its sacred message. I only examine the Christian Church, the religious institution I know and love the best and in which I am immersed the most, though I strongly suspect that other faith traditions share this unfortunate penchant.

The Church has traditionally been slow to adapt as means changed the need on how to convey the message. This was not so hard for the Church when we were talking about new forms of communication being discovered every couple hundred years (the printing press and the circuit riding minister being two such examples.) But in the 21st century opportunities to engage in new ways to communicate are being created daily, if not hourly. I so love my beloved Church, but even more so it’s precious message of God’s creating love, Christ’s redeeming presence, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that I cannot sit idly by and let us lose the chance to spread the Good News in the most effective way possible.

The New Media Project, founded in 2010 and first housed at Union Seminary in New York City but now a part of the Center For Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis has as its entire mission to help religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. More than trying to get congregations to have better website or use social media more effectively, the folks behind the New Media Project believe that leaders of faith communities need a larger interpretive framework for recognizing, evaluating, and responding to what is happening in communication today. They want us to understand how shifting means of communication demand we think about differently about the message itself: not to change the message, just understand how it is interpreted differently by the way in which it is conveyed.

Just over a week ago I was at the Adult Conference of the Christian Church in Ohio. One of the fun things we do there is “Skit Night.” (It used to be called the “Talent Show” but that was such a misnomer it had to be changed!). One of the skits offered that night had a group of folks sitting up front, each with their smart phone, digital tablet, laptop, or some other kind of technological device in hand. The leader of the group would occasionally speak and indicate what action was next. The call to worship was just texted to every. The mp3 file for the opening hymn was made available for each person to listen to. The link for the scripture lesson was offered. The sermon podcast was available for download. You get the drift of it. It was corporate worship that was completely technological and – at least in the skit – almost void of human interaction. It was funny only because it had a particular ring of truth to it. A woman about my age leaned over to me and whispered, “Our church has a 29 year old pastor and this is more reality than fiction!”

What does it mean for the mission of the church and the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for technology to be the driving force in how we communicate? Not only do our congregations have to have a website, it has to be a interactive one where folks can leave their comments and share their perspectives on each other’s posts. Sermons can no longer simply be made available in audio formats (Good God we’ve been delivering cassette tapes of sermons to shut-ins for most of my life,) but videos of the sermons need to be available online instantly, if not concurrently through live streaming! Newsletters once lovingly printed, folded, stapled and mailed bi-weekly or monthly now need to be sent out via e-mail, posted on the website, and available for e-readers! Then there is Facebook, Twitter, LnkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, and a pantheon of social media possibilities that would make Medusa’s head spin!

So, as I read the story of the Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus, I take note that their exchange along the road was not dependent upon the means of communication, in that they were sharing, learning, and growing even if at that moment they were not aware this one so wise with them was Christ Jesus himself. We would do well in our travels to not worry so much about how the conversation takes place – whether through a Bible Study in the church parlor or an online discussion on the pastor’s blog, but just celebrate that the discussion is happening. I work diligently at Franklin Circle Christian Church to support the Ideals Class and Sunday School class as well as the Facebook page dialogue. We have no need to pit one against the other. What it does mean is that my established leadership has to let go of a little bit of my time and focus so that I can learn and grow in these ever new ways of communicating. And they need to keep me accountable to making sure all the means of communication are honored and available. That’s why no piece of critical communication goes out only in one single format.

We will also have to rethink what social decorum and habits are truly essential and what are not! At Franklin Circle Christian Church we print in the bulletin that using your smart phone is not only acceptable in worship, but encouraged! Obviously not to make or take a call, which we ask folks to refrain from doing, but to text friends and family messages about the sermon or what is happening in worship that is inspiring them, and to send pictures as a way of encouraging others to join us next time!

Finally, we would do well to observe that at the end of the road, in Emmaus, it was a simple act of hospitality, a very personal and genuine act – come eat with us tonight – that allowed for the true identity of Christ to be made known. And, as we Disciples of Christ know so well, it was in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup that Christ was most fully revealed. We can help our more technologically-oriented sisters and brothers to remember that ultimate community, both with each other and with God, comes in offering and receiving hospitality. In gently doing this we will give them an extraordinary gift. And to always remember that Holy Communion, which is as low-tech as it gets, is as powerful in its earthiness as well as its simplicity.

If we relax and understand that the growing multiplicity of means that our world has at its fingertips to communicate are not antithetical to the Gospel but are simply new opportunities for spreading the Good News, we can use them – or at least give our blessings for others to use them – so that the story we love to tell can be told to new generations. And if we give our blessings to these new and emerging means, perhaps those who use them so quickly and so well will see our genuine love for them and sit down, at table, and break the bread and share the cup. And Christ will surely be in our midst.

Yes, the incarnation will be posted on Facebook!

Yes, the gospel message will be pinned on Pinterest!

Yes, we will check in at the crucifixion on FourSquare!

And yes, the resurrection will be Tweeted!