Christmas Day is just around the corner. With mixed feelings, we’re looking forward to what will no doubt be a strange and awkward celebration. When year after year we anticipate being with family and loved ones, it seems unfair and painful we need to plan to keep our distance.
But maybe some goodness hides in that pain.
In early October, we held the annual Inspiro summit. Normally, everyone flies in for a week of fellowship, celebration, and planning. But of course, this year it was virtual and awkward but still somehow necessary and good. We closed the week – as we always do – by sharing in the Lord’s table. We each came to our screens with our own scrap of bread and drink, and it was so awkward and weird.
In planning for it, I couldn’t help but think in frustration: this is not the way things are supposed to be. There is something so significant about sharing in the same piece of bread, breaking it and serving each other, looking our fellow saints in the eyes and saying, ‘This is the body of Christ, broken for you.’ And, ‘This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.’
But, as I bemoaned the fact that this virtual communion was going to be a pale comparison to the real thing, the Holy Spirit reminded me that the physical communion table is a pale comparison to the real thing.
The significance of communion is that it points forward in hope to the time when everything will be the way it should. And that hope is certain because communion also points back to when, on the cross, Christ secured that good future. And here we are in the middle, sharing in communion, pointing forward and pointing backward.
Suddenly, it struck me. Physically shared communion is itself a virtual act. It is virtual in that it points to greater realities, the same way your video image on my screen points to the greater reality of your actual self.
I would be silly to prefer seeing your video more than giving you a hug. And suddenly, I saw it was silly of me to prefer a ‘traditional’ communion experience, more than what communion actually points to.
By stripping the sacrament of its sentimentality, our awkward video communion made me better desire that time when Jesus returns to make all things right. It made me better imagine that moment in the past when Christ screamed in agony for me. In a way, the pain of the weird communion raised my vision up from our current, flimsy reality to a far more secure, solid reality -- both future and past.
I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of that moment for weeks. And I’ve come to see that the bread and wine of communion are not the only things Jesus has transformed into something more significant. Through his parables, He made a mustard seed to be more than just a mustard seed. It is also a sign of the power of faith. A wedding celebration is not just a wedding celebration. It is a sign of a profound joy and fellowship to come. Farming is not just farming. Nor is eating nor drinking nor managing a business. The list goes on and on.
But it is not just Jesus’ parables. So much of the Old and New Testaments are a re-framing of our everyday, physical experiences as virtual experiences that are signs of a greater, eternal reality.
Now, Jesus did not command us to celebrate Christmas like He did the Lord’s Supper. Yet under all the tinsel, Christmas is our annual reminder that our Creator clothed Himself in humanity. And all those things we love so much about the Christmas holiday – the lights, the music, the eating, the drinking, the gift-giving and, of course, being with family and loved ones – every one of those elements are, in fact, little virtual windows that point to a greater, eternal reality.
Our limited physical connections will make this Christmas painful and awkward. And it arrives at the end of a particularly painful and disorienting year. But let’s not numb ourselves to the pain by distracting ourselves with extra-large trees or presents or binging on sentimental holiday movies. Too often, we also like to hide in our work or ‘ministry.’ But the pain is real and shouldn’t be ignored because we’re made for deep connections with others. Everything else is a dangerous denial of reality.
Instead, we can be grateful for the goodness in the pain. The goodness is in the reminder we are made for so much more. Even those Christmases full of the most beautiful times with family and friends are but pale glimpses into the depth of relationship that await us in the new heavens and earth.
Sometimes on a video chat, when the internet connection is bad, we need to turn the video off so we can understand what the other person is saying. By limiting our virtual experience, we get to better connect with the real person on the other side.
This Christmas, let’s receive our limited experience as a gift that invites us to better connect with Jesus, God-with-us.