Study of the Holy Communion
John Wesley described the Lordís Supper as
"the grand channel whereby the grace of His Spirit was conveyed to the
souls of all the children."
The Meaning of Holy Communion:
In the New Testament, at least six major ideas about Holy Communion are present:
1. Thanksgiving Ė We express joyful thanks for Godís mighty acts throughout history Ė for creation, covenant, redemption, sanctification through "The Great Thanksgiving."
2. Fellowship - Holy Communion is the communion of the church Ė the gathered community of the faithful, both local and universal. While deeply meaningful to the individual participating, the sacrament is much more than a personal event.
3. Remembrance Ė commemoration and memorial, but this remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. This dynamic action becomes re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.
4. Sacrifice Ė It is a representation, not a repetition, of the sacrifice of Christ. We also present ourselves as sacrifice in union with Christ to be used by God.
5. Action of the Holy Spirit Ė "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."
6. Eschatological Ė meaning it has to do with the end of history, the outcome of Godís purpose for the world Ė "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again." We commune not only with the faithful who are physically present but with the saints of the past who join us in the sacrament and we receive a foretaste of the future.
Toward a Richer Sacramental Life:
∑Participating in Holy Communion is a transforming experience. As we encounter Christ and are repeatedly touched by divine grace, we are progressively shaped into Christís image. All of this work is not done is a moment, no matter how dramatic an experience we may enjoy. It is a lifelong process through which God intends to shape us into people motivated by love, empowered and impassioned to do Christís work in the world.
∑We receive healing and enabled to aid in the healing of others. This healing, or wholeness, is spiritual, but also includes the healing of our thoughts and emotions, minds bodies, attitudes and relationships.
∑The grace we receive enables us to perform our ministry and mission in the world.
∑The loving God who meets us at the Table gives us the gift of eternal life.
The Presence of Christ
Jesus Christ, who "is the reflection of Godís glory and the exact imprint of Godís very being" is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. He acts in and through Holy Communion. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesusí name, through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the elements of bread and wine shared. The finite presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only.
The Christian church has struggled through the centuries to understand just how Christ is present in the Eucharist. The Wesleyan tradition affirms the reality of Christís presence, although it does not claim to be ale to explain it fully.
Invitation to the Table:
∑All who respond in faith to the invitation are to be welcomed.
∑Holy Baptism normally precedes partaking of Holy Communion.
∑John Wesley stressed that communion is a "converting ordinance," therefore the United Methodist Book of Worship says, "All are invitedÖ.." We have no tradition of refusing any who present themselves desiring to receive.
∑Non-baptized people who respond in faith to the invitation will be welcomed to the Table.
∑The complete pattern is Word and Table so as to constitute a whole service of worship. Their separation diminishes the fullness of life in the Spirit.
∑John Wesley exhorted his followers to practice "constant communion", therefore congregations of the UMC are encouraged to move toward a richer sacramental life, including weekly celebration of the Lordís Supper at the services on the Lordís Day, as advocated by the general orders of Sunday worship in The UM Hymnal and The UM Book of Worship.
∑Both "self-service" Communion, where people help themselves, and "drop-in" Communion, where the elements are available over a period of time, are contrary to the communal nature of the sacrament, which is the celebration of the gathered community of faith.
∑Bishops, pastors, and congregations are expected to use the services of Word and Table in the official UM Hymnals and books of worship.
Setting the Table
∑In the Old Testament, sacrifice was offered on an alter. Through time, the church increasingly understood the Eucharist as a repetition of Christís sacrifice on the cross, and the Table came to be seen as an alter of sacrifice and therefore was moved against the wall of the sanctuary and priests stood before the alter with their backs to the congregation to offer sacrifice to God.
With the Second Vatican Council, the reforms included moving the table into an open space so that the priest could stand behind it, giving the assembly a sense of meeting around it. The UMC adopted revised rituals that call for the presiding minister to stand behind the Lordís Table, facing the people, from the offertory through the breaking of the bread.
∑In our churches, the Communion table is to be placed in such a way that the presider is able to stand behind it, facing the people and the people can visually if not physically gather around it. If architectural integrity makes this impossible, then congregations should make provisions for creating a table suitable to the space so that the presiding minister may face the people and be closer to them.