What comes to mind when you think of communion? What are the images that come as you prepare? What meanings do you bring to the experience of receiving the elements?
This service is at the heart of worship for many people. They would like to have it more often. For some others there is the continued search for new meanings.
I grew up in a church that celebrated communion 2 times a year: World Communion Sunday and Maundy Thursday. This was in direct opposition to the Catholic practice of every Sunday. If we did it too often, it would lose its meaning, which was the same argument for not saying the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday.
In the earliest church communities, communion was a full meal. Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: 11:20-22. I can imagine that Paul’s response is what brought the church to keeping this meal a simple sacred time. Although we don’t call it communion, as often as we enjoy a potluck or other meal together, even without a ritual, we are doing a sacred thing in eating together!
The meaning that each of us gives to this sacred worship experience may be flavored by the name we call it.
For some it is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, most often following the Apostle Paul’s direction of focusing on the “night that Jesus was betrayed…..,” and saying that we “proclaim Jesus’ death until he comes.” This leads to Paul’s insistence that they examine themselves so as not to eat in an unworthy manner. The headings in the Synoptic Gospels name it the Lord’s Supper. In actuality, the Last meal was a fish brunch by the Sea of Galilee, according to John’s Gospel!
In some Churches this rite is called Eucharist, a word denoting gratitude and has been called “The Great Thanksgiving.”
In the Roman Catholic & Orthodox traditions it is the Mass. (Where we get Christ-mas—Christ’s- mass.) It is a dramatic reenactment of the death of Jesus. And as the elements are blessed they become for the worshippers the actual body and blood of Christ. A friend once said to me that for her to enter the Church at any time gave her a special feeling of Presence because the bread remained all week on the altar—Jesus was still there!
Most Protestant Churches simply call it Communion or Holy Communion. I like that word: it means “sharing thoughts and or emotions intimately.” Rather than “proclaiming Jesus’ death,” it is for me a proclaiming his resurrection, his promise to be with us always. These are moments of thanksgiving! Sacred moments of Presence.
Jesus said that he had come that we might have life and have it abundantly. That we would have joy that no one could rob us of. Some may ask why we no longer use wine when we serve. I think of two reasons: As the church became more aware of the struggle with alcohol for some people, it became an act of courtesy and respect to offer only grape juice. As the church wanted to welcome children into the experience, it was an act of sensitivity. Of course, there are some churches which are against alcohol of any kind. You know Jesus could have used just water: in John 4, Jesus refers to the gift of “living water” that would satisfy our thirst. But the fruit of the vine speaks to me of joy, of celebration! And not just thirst!
A second century book, The Acts of John relates that at the end of the meal Jesus invited the disciples to form a circle and they began a simple circle dance. Jesus stood in the middle and said, “I will pipe, dance all of you!…I will mourn, lament all of you!….The whole universe takes part in the dance.” In his book, “Christ of the Celts”, J. Phillip Newell writes that Jesus is pointing to the dance of life and to the brokenness & sufferings that disharmony brings; but harmony is at the heart of life. And Jesus knows “the price of living in relation to such a unity.” (page X) When Christianity became the state religion in the 4th century, the church leaders wanted everybody to believe and do the same things—there was to be no pluralism of ideas, books, or worship—only what the church ordered. It is only in the last 50 years that we have found lost books that describe a variety of beliefs and practices.)
Jesus said that as we share the bread and the cup it should be an act of remembering him. Remembering his life: what he said and what he did, his concern for all people, his relationship with God. “Remember my eating with all kinds of people, especially with those considered to be unclean. Remember my focus on the Kingdom of God.” Remember my parables. Remember the way I treated children and women.
It took the first disciples awhile to understand what Jesus had done and to slowly, sometimes dramatically, make changes. The 10th chapter of Acts describes Peter’s awakening. In a vision he hears: “What God has made, you must not call profane,” 3X! And Peter learns: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
As often as we share the bread and the fruit of the vine, we are caused to remember. This is an interesting word: remember. I was given a new understanding of it when it was hyphenated: re-member. Then it was defined as “healing the damaging effects of dis-memberment and putting together those members that have been dis-membered.”
This, too, was what Jesus was about. Re-member-ing people who were taught that they no longer were acceptable to God and did not belong to the community—reaching out to include—and I think of Zacheus in Luke 9.
Re-member-ing bodies that were not whole with a touch or a prayer and bringing
healing to many—both Jews & Gentiles!
Re-member-ing broken relationships and restoring wholeness—and I think of the woman at the well in John chapter 4.
Is this not what the church is called to do: re-member those who have left–for whatever reason. Re-member those that have been chased away by negative accusations? Did you see the ads during Advent by the Catholic church? They were inviting people back to be re-membered, people who had left for a variety of reasons.
So, when we share this sacred feast of joyous thanksgiving we will remember Jesus in some specific ways; and maybe we will allow for any re-member-ing that is needed.
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