For much of my life I have seen Holy Communion only as a vehicle to wash away my sins and start again. I have many meaningful memories of times that I was weighed down with guilt. I came forward, and knelt at the communion rail to pour out my heart. For the most part I was able to walk back to my seat knowing that I was forgiven. It is not my intent to take that away from anyone. Sometimes it is just what we need. I also want to share other ways I have newfound meaning in this meal.
Jesus was often compared with John the Baptist. One of the things JTB was about was calling people to holiness. He baptized people as a ritual washing of their sins, so they would be acceptable to God. He wore strange clothes and ate strange things like locusts to prove his devotion to God. Jesus on the other hand, came eating and drinking and was even accused by some to be a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus realized how important it is to celebrate God’s goodness. Jesus drew a sharp distinction between himself and John. He said, “Of those born of women, there is none greater that JTB. But, in the Kingdom of God, it is the least, who is the greatest.” My point is not that we should eat and drink as much as we please but rather that we can at special times, not be afraid to celebrate God’s abundance. On another occasion a woman came into the house of a prominent community leader where Jesus was visiting. She broke open a jar of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. Everyone thought he would scold her for her extravagance yet Jesus praised her. He said that it is not wrong to celebrate now, as there will come a time when you will be in morning. Celebrating good times is important as they don’t always last. And your memories of the good times can help during the difficult ones.
BREAD FOR THE JOURNEY
When we do a Moravian style communion, the servers take the bread and wine out to the pews as a way of symbolizing how this meal is to be taken out to the streets. The purpose is for the building up of the neighborhoods we live in. We take the bread and wine into us so that we can be bread and wine for the world.
HEALING FOR THE SOUL
Sometimes when I come to communion, I picture it as a way to be put back together again. As a pastor, people often share with me when tragic things are occurring in their lives. Some weeks it seems like a parade of illnesses and broken relationships. It might be one big thing or lots of little things. I picture the holy spirit embodied in bread and wine, entering my soul through my body and seeking out the broken places and mending them.
On some Sundays I resonate with the oneness we share in this meal. At Spirit of Peace, a kind soul named David bakes really good gluten free communion bread. We choose to offer wine that the alcohol has been removed. This allows everyone to share in the one loaf and one cup. This meal connects us not only with each other but with all Christians throughout the world and those who have come before us. I sometimes picture people throughout the ages connected though this simple meal.
When I share the words of institution I repeat the words of Jesus as He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I try to emphasize the word, “this.” For me it is not just a word to describe the particular meal we are about to receive. It is also things Jesus did earlier that night, like the washing of feet, the gathering to celebrate, and sharing a meal. It even extends backward to remembering things He did throughout his life. Jesus is saying not only to “Remember this,” but to “Do this.”
In several places in the Gospels there are stories of Jesus eating and drinking. Who you ate with, said a lot about who your status. Jesus not only ate with religious leaders, He also at with tax collectors, and sinners. This word sinner is the same word for debtor. Sometimes he ate with both at the same meal? Was he trying to make peace between those who were at odds? This meal as we practice it is reflective of that spirit of inclusion. You don’t have to be baptized or confirmed or even be a member of our church. This is not our meal. We may serve it, but Jesus is the host. You don’t even have to even believe that same things that I do, about it. It is God’s free gift to the world.