This month’s look at Worship, looks a second time at Holy Communion. In the July-August Emilie News, we discussed the six major ideas about Holy Communion in the New Testament: thanksgiving, fellowship, remembrance, sacrifice, action of the Holy Spirit, and eschatology. We talked about how each of these ideas are present as we gather to celebrate Holy Communion. God discloses things that are beyond our human capacity to know through this “Means of Grace”.
Holy Communion also sustains and nourishes us in our journey of the Christian Life. As a people struggling in a failing world, I find that many are looking for more meaning in their Eucharistic experience. Time and again, we face the question – “What does God want to do in and for us through our participating in the sacrament of holy Communion?” I am here to proclaim to you, that every time you come to the Table of the Lord, you can experience the benefits of Holy Communion in your life. These benefits of Holy Communion are: forgiveness, nourishment, healing, transformation, ministry and mission, and eternal life (May I also be so bold as to suggest that the availability of and receiving of these benefits every time we come, gives us another reason for more frequent celebration of the sacrament.)
The first of these benefits we can receive is the forgiveness of our sins. Generally, when we gather, we are given an invitation to the Table, and part of that invitation is the call to confessing our personal and corporate sin. Not only do we read and share an unison confession of sin, but we also are given a few moments for silent prayer and personal confession of our sin before God. We confess those sins, trusting as 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As we leave that time of confession, the Celebrant (Pastor or Leader) will answer with an absolution in which forgiveness is proclaimed: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”. This assurance of forgiveness is God’s gift to us as sinners, enabling us to continue in our Christian life, knowing that we can continue striving to live faithfully. As John Wesley said, in his sermon, The Duty of Constant Communion, – “the grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins by enabling us to leave them”.
The second benefit we can receive in Holy Communion is spiritual nourishment. Our Christian life is a journey – one that is challenging and arduous. Christ has not promised us a life of ease, but rather a life filled with challenge, and difficulty. To continue to live faithfully and to grow in holiness requires constant spiritual sustenance. John Wesley called Holy Communion, the “food of our souls: it gives us strength to perform our duty and lead us on to perfection” (again, a quote from his sermon “the Duty of Constant Communion”). God makes this sustenance available to us through the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus says in John chapter 6, verse 35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” As we return to the Table again and again, we are strengthened repeatedly, so that we may go out empowered to live as disciples- reconciling the world to Christ. Holy Communion provides this constant spiritual sustenance in our lives, and the more we need this sustenance, the more we can rejoice at coming to the Lord’s Table.
As we come to Holy Communion, we are repeatedly touched by God’s diving grace, resulting in the third of the benefits of Holy Communion – being progressively shaped into Christ’s image. Becoming more like Christ, is not a work that is done in a moment, an instant. It is instead a lifelong process through which God intends to shape us into people who are empowered and impassioned to do Christ’s work in the world. In our baptism, God bestows on us, and identity and ministry, but this identity becomes fulfilled as we are transformed into the image of Christ. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2,
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 D not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
This “being shaped into the image of Christ” is a result of the divine grace of God, meted out to us in Holy Communion.
A fourth benefit of the Eucharist is the receiving of healing for ourselves and being enabled to aid in the healing of others. This healing may be spiritual, but it may also include the healing of thoughts and emotions, of our minds and our bodies, and our attitudes and relationships. The NT word used for healing is a Greek word, sozo. This word may also be translated as salvation and wholeness. The grace of God received at the Table of the Lord can make us whole. I have an acquaintance who is a UM Elder (Pastor) who more than once in a church dealing with conflict has decided to celebrate Holy Communion at EVERY Committee meeting, EVERY gathering of the church for several months. This pastor says, “you would be surprised how celebrating Holy Communion together over a period of time with your brothers and sisters in Christ can calm the most violent storms of conflict in the church. Satan cannot hold sway when God’s people gather again and again with each other around the Lord’s Table.”
Benefit number five- being enabled to perform our ministry and mission – to continue the work of Christ in the world – the work of redemption, reconciliation, peace and justice. God gives us the grace to perform this mission, and that grace can and will be provided to us through the sacrament of Holy Communion. As we commune together, we become aware of the worth and the needs of other people and are reminded by God’s Spirit of our responsibility to meet those needs. In our baptism, we have vowed to “accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”. At Holy Communion, we are shown the mercy of Christ so that we can express the compassion of Christ through our acts of caring toward those we meet in our daily lives. At Christ’s Table, we are challenged to that mission, and through God’s grace then given the strength to complete that ministry in our world.
Finally, the God who meets us at the Table gives us the gift of eternal life. Jesus in John chapter six makes it very clear –
- “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”
- “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
- Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
This life in union with Christ is life eternal. It is not only the promise of our being with Christ after our physical death, but it is also our being in dynamic loving relationship with Christ in the here and now. It is life that never ends because it is grounded in the everlasting love of God who comes to us through the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Though there may be occasions when one of these “benefits” will be given to us for our specific need, each one of these benefits are available to us every time we take together Holy Communion.
God has provided Holy Communion for you, so that you may be nourished and sustained in your spiritual journey. Open your hearts to what God desires to give you as you come to the Table in September and October.