As the observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation draws nearer, we continue in our series of posts titled "The Whys of Worship." Throughout this series, we have been exploring the Worship form used for generations: Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. In our previous posts, we took a closer look at “Gathering” and at "The Word."
In this post, guest blogger, Jodi Donohue shares her thoughts on the subject of the Meal.
Holy Communion is the greatest mystery of all mysteries. The power worked on us in partaking of the body and blood of Christ renews us spiritually each time we come to the Lords table. Here we receive Christ's body and blood and God's gifts of forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation to be received by faith for the strengthening of our faith.
Holy Communion is confusing to me. As a ritual that is performed every week here at Saint Luke, with the same words spoken, you would think that I would be completely comfortable with Holy Communion. I’m not. It forever keeps me on edge. It’s so important, this simple ritual, but I feel at its heart, the questions and uneasiness that it provokes in me.
Perhaps it is because so many aspects of Holy Communion are so hotly contested. It’s as if we, as humans, are trying to manage the unexplainable. To control this mystery that we cannot fully understand by setting up rules and boundaries around it.
Who can partake of Communion? Christians only? Baptized Christians only? In some churches I visit, only members of that church? What age must you be? What level of instruction must you have received? At these times we ask ourselves, who did Jesus include or exclude from his table? And why would we do any different?
What do we partake? Bread, unleavened or leavened? Bread only? Wafer? Is it received in the hand or placed directly in the mouth? Bread and Wine? White or Red? Alcoholic or not? Or a Blessing in its place? Where do we commune? Standing or kneeling at the rail? In a line in front of the altar? Seated in our pew? In our home, in the hospital or by a lake? How do we commune? Intinction, Bread, with common cup, or individual cups? When do we commune? Weekly? Monthly? Only special services? And what do I do with my hands? And do I cross myself? Or say something afterwards? And what is that flat thingy that goes on top of the cup after it’s all done? Must I prepare myself? By confession, or fasting and repentance? If I didn’t prepare myself, am I doing it wrong? If I, a lifelong churchgoer, feels this much anxiety and confusion over communion, how might a visitor feel? Would they ask, “Am I allowed? Not allowed? Will people judge me if I go? Will they judge me if I don’t go?”
Every time I go to communion, I feel the uncertainty of “what if I do something wrong?” Like the time I ate my bread before dipping it the cup, and had nothing to dip. I feel vulnerable, and exposed, and weak. When I approach the altar, and stand in front of the pastor, and look into their eyes, I get lightheaded. Here is the body and blood of Jesus, given for me, where he died for me, nailed to a cross so that my sins are forgiven. How can you not go weak in the knees?
Even when I am the lay person offering up that cup, I feel a moment of panic in between each person, the full weight of what is in that cup and what it means, but the Spirit renews me with each new person, steadies my hands, gives me a voice and I see a kindred spirit in meeting each person’s gaze.
Many find strength and comfort in this weekly ritual. For others it is daunting. Communion can be a great divider, which is not its intent or purpose. Communion’s very meaning is intimate rapport and fellowship. It is the one place in the worship service where an invitation to join is extended, and it is the most crucial part of the service where it is necessary to feeling accepted, but has the greatest propensity to divide.
For some, it is hesitance in acceptance, or a discomfort that they will “do it wrong”. It takes a certain amount of courage, a willingness to put yourself out there and be open to scrutiny in order to approach the Lord’s table. For others, who have been to the table many times before, it can be too hurtful to lay yourself bare to the healing power that communion can bestow on you. The overwhelming feeling of standing up and receiving God’s ultimate gift can feel like it will crush you if you already feel far away and unprepared to receive Him. However, God never stops inviting us into communion with Him. If we believe that this table was set for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, then we are prepared. If we believe, we are worthy. In whatever manner, whatever time, whatever place, we are welcome.
It is extremely gratifying to me that our pastors here at Saint Luke take time every week to try and alleviate our anxiety, expressing that everyone is welcome, wherever you are in your faith journey, NO EXCEPTIONS. That this gift is for YOU and for ME, it is for ALL. Because the moment that gift of the bread and wine is given to me, and I partake, all the anticipation, the anxiety, and the weakness in me disappears. God renews me. God gives me life and salvation. I am calm, and I am strong.
It is simple. The bread, the body. The wine, the blood. Believe and you receive. Sin makes us weak, forgiveness makes us strong. Come, join us at the Lords table, where ALL are welome, NO exceptions.
May we come to the table because we are perpetually invited. May we come to the table celebrating the God comes near to us.
Jodi is a long time member of Saint Luke and currently serves as Councilor for Worship & Music.