Holy Communion, Intimacy and Sex
As we continue to take Holy Communion as a community daily and I reflect on the intimacy of taking communion my thoughts also go to sexual intimacy and the connections with the two. Now before you get shocked and offended by seeing the word sex and holy communion in the same sentence, let me just say I was also shocked when I first began to think about it (is it okay to compare Holy Communion intimacy with sexual intimacy?!) but I wanted to press through because I think there are things that are helpful to both engaging with God in an intimate way in Communion and our spouses in the bedroom! And I have to remember despite what the world says, sexual intimacy between spouses is a sacred and ideally the most intimate earthly relationship we experience. Sex and holy communion are both sacred and intimate acts!
It has been interesting to see people’s reactions to taking communion daily - some people have really enjoyed it, others have really struggled and pulled back and others have carried on as a routine. Often it goes hand in hand with the level of intimacy and vulnerability a person is able to have with others in general. Those who struggle with trust and openness and community are often those here who also struggle with taking communion regularly - it is a vulnerable thing to recognize your sin and make a daily decision to get right with God before taking communion.
And that is where one connection with sexual intimacy is found. The Bible says we should not withhold sexual intimacy from our spouses, but having sex also requires that we are in right relationship with our husband or wife. If we are in a mood or angry or bitter, at the very best we will be able to engage in the physical act of sexual relations, but the level of intimacy and connectedness beyond that will be lacking and we will probably feel used, empty or disconnected in the physical act.
I read an article a few years back about a wife who offered sex to her husband every day for a year as a fortieth birthday present. Don’t worry - they had ground rules - either of them could say ‘no, thank you’ at any time - there was no obligation for either spouse, but the aim was to make sexual intimacy a daily priority for a year. And they had some interesting things to say as a result. One of the things they found was that they had to keep short accounts with each other - they couldn’t brood anger and let bitterness grow because it went against their vision to commit to the priority of sexual intimacy.
Equally, if we intentionally and regularly take Holy Communion we are intentionally and regularly confronted with our sin and the need to get serious with sin quick before it develops into a habitual issue. Although I don’t think we will continue to take communion daily, beyond this month in our church, I have a much deeper understanding and respect for those faith communities which do, and we definitely want to increase the number of times we take communion. It is and should be no more routine than planning in a weekly ‘date night’ with our spouses - the intentionally setting aside of that time helps to prepare our hearts and minds to get right with God quickly.
Holy Communion creates an opportunity for us to say thank you to God for the sacrifice of the cross - to remember the suffering and the love mixed together and to reflect on the ways God freely and at great cost to Himself welcomed us into His family. There is so much to be thankful for. I was worried I would get a bit bored of reflecting on the cross and sacrifice daily, but I have actually found the opposite - as I have reflected on the cross I have had a deeper, multi-faceted daily revelation of the cross and God’s love for me. I have grown in my understanding of what it must have meant for Jesus to have gone to the cross wholeheartedly - a decision which was not without a great human emotional struggle but which ultimately led to Jesus surrendering in obedience. How I am daily changed to surrender and trust too as I take communion!
I have also noticed that the more intentionally thankful I am for my husband, the more I choose to acknowledge the ways he has sacrificed and shown me and others love, the more I respect him and desire to be connected with him - both emotionally and physically. Thanksgiving is a gateway to intimacy and oneness.
So in summary, three ways to deepen intimacy - with God, our spouses and others are as follows:
1) Humbly acknowledge your sin and keep short accounts
I want to deal with things as they arise - I love the freedom of an intimate relationship with God where there is nothing hindering it from my side. Equally I need to keep being intentional about not letting resentment or offenses build up against Mark. I need to bring up the small things and trust it will bring greater understanding and closeness between us. I need too to consciously look for ways to acknowledge my sin to Mark. I am not good at that and I need to get better at saying out loud to him, not just to God where I have messed up and say sorry.
2) Regularly and intentionally set aside time for intimacy
One of the ways I am enjoying intimacy with God right now, alongside the times we have taking communion, is going on a walk with God twice a week. Mark is training for a marathon right now four mornings a week and I was getting frustrated trying to find a time in the early morning (it is still so hot here right now to be able to take a walk later than 8am!) to walk with God. But by intentionally timetabling my walks around his training I am now enjoying walking and talking with God at regular and intentional times. As busy people Mark and I have also benefited from having set opportunities each week when we can be intimate. I would encourage every couple, especially those with children, to make a ‘date night’ each week - it doesn’t have to be around sexual intimacy - ours isn’t always - but it is a space when we can focus on one another and put all other priorities on hold.
3) Embrace thankfulness.
One thanksgiving we shared with our team we each went round and said things we were thankful for about each person. There was one person who found it impossible to say anything they were thankful for about certain people because they had allowed bitterness and resentment to clog up their heart towards those people. Thankfulness quickly shows where we have resentment against God, our spouses and others. One of the best antidotes to resentment and division is to regularly practice thanksgiving. Like a car that hasn’t run for a while it may take effort to get started, but as we do it becomes easier and easier and our love and respect and desire to connect with God and others increases. It is a simple thing we can do to increase our intimacy with God and others.
This post is part of a monthly series on Holy Communion, as I and my church community in Lima, Peru intentionally take Holy Communion daily as a spiritual discipline for the month of March. It is part of a year of intentionally embracing spiritual disciplines. You can read more about the year here.