By Pastor Terri Cummins
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:23b-26
When Paul wrote these words, he was trying to remind the people of why they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Communion had become a time of fellowship and included a meal that had turned into a feast. Unfortunately, those who got to the table first (usually the rich aristocratic folks) ate and drank excessively and so those who came after (usually the poor working folks) went hungry. Christ asked us to “do this in remembrance of me”. With so little sharing and caring where was the unity and love that Christ had taught? Where was Christ in their celebration?
As United Methodists, we take care to preserve the unity and love of Christ in our Communion services. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to come to our Lord’s Table. We do our best through our litanies and our prayers to remind ourselves of the grace and the abundant love and mercy that is present at the Communion Table. Our Book of Worship includes services for persons who are sick or homebound and services for different Christian seasons like Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Thanksgiving, etc. We are encouraged to include Communion in our services of Christian marriage, our funeral or memorial services, and our baptisms.
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,” (Luke, 24: 30-31a). For me, an important part of Communion is remembering who Jesus is for me. He was more than just a great teacher and he was more than just a man who sacrificed his life for me. Jesus was and is the son of God. His presence at the Communion Table is, for me, very real and very clear. I try very hard not to let myself get caught up in the whole debate about whether or not He is there physically in the bread and wine or spiritually. I believe He is both. When I take the bread and wine into my body, I am inviting His presence into my life. It is, for me, both a physical ingestion as well as a spiritual one. It is a means of grace upon which Christ can come into me and transform me from what I was when I first came to the table, a sinner in need of salvation, to what I am when I leave the table, a saved and transformed child of God.
I say this, believing that even if I never took Communion, I would still enjoy that grace and that transformation. It is not because I have taken Communion, or even because I have been baptized that I am saved. I am saved because of God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. I know that. Communion is just a way to re-affirm my salvation. It is a way to remind myself and recommit myself to my baptism vows. It is a way for me to visually and ceremoniously let go of my sins and transgressions and to visualize my transformation to a person who belongs in the family of God. It is because of this that I wholeheartedly agree with John Wesley who believed that we should take communion as often as we can.
In the United Methodist Hymnal, page 10, we pray, “we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us…” This is important. We are submitting ourselves to be changed! When we go to the Communion Table we go for our transformation. In accepting the gifts of the Table, we receive the grace we need to go out and transform our world. We do not have the power to do it alone. We need to feed ourselves at the table to be able to do the work that God needs us to do.
Holy Communion is a type of sacrifice. It is a re-presentation, not a repetition, of the sacrifice of Christ. It fills us and prepares us for the world we face. It helps us to let go of our sins and transgressions and reminds us that we are clean and fresh and sin-free in the eyes of God. It helps us to remember whose we are. For me, that is enough to have me running to the Table. But in his Sermon 101- The Duty of Constant Communion, John Wesley reminds us of something else. We are commanded to do it. We are not excused from Communion because we think we are ‘unworthy’, since we are all unworthy. We are commanded to do it. Jesus said, “do this”, and so we simply must.
It is a commandment that should be easy for us to keep. It is a win/win for us. “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Our obedience to this wonderful commandment reminds us that we have been blessed with the merciful grace of a God who loves us in spite of who we are or what we do. Communion is a way to acknowledge and remember Christ and His great gift to us. It can transform us, if we allow it to, because it can remind us that as believers, we are changed and we are different and we are saved.
Baptism does not get repeated because God will always do his part, even when we do not. We only need to be reborn once. We can re-affirm our baptism, but there really is no need to do anything but remember that we are baptized. Communion, however, is needed regularly and often, because it feeds us. It feeds us! As residents of a sinful and sin-filled world, where the bread of life can seem pretty scarce, we are always hungry. Thankfully, there is always enough to share at the United Methodist’s Holy Communion Table!
Sunday, October 4th, we will be observing, with the rest of the world, World Communion Sunday. This is a time when Christians all over the world observe and focus our attention on the universal and inclusive nature of the church. Today’s world really needs us to come together to celebrate the love of Christ that is extended to ALL people. We have a special service planned so please invite your family and friends to join us as we join the world at the Lord’s table.