This post continues a series of reflections on the Lord’s Supper based on my new book, Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (Abingdon Press, December 2014). You can read more about it and order a copy here.
As I mentioned in my first post of this series, I have written the book out of the conviction that Holy Communion is a powerful means of grace that can contribute to the renewal of the church for transformative mission in the name of Jesus Christ. Below are excerpts (in italics) from the introduction, entitled “Are We Having Communion Today?”, along with some additional thoughts and commentary.
“Communion Sundays are my FAVORITE!” exclaimed eight-year-old Hannah to her mother. A spiritually sensitive young girl, Hannah participates actively in the church I serve. Her enthusiasm for Communion derives in part from the fact that she loves the taste of Communion bread. On a deeper level, it is also the act of sharing in this holy meal together as a church family that she finds meaningful even at her young age.
One Sunday morning during the frantic rush to get ready for church, Hannah asked her mom, “Are we having Communion today?” She was asking, of course, whether Communion would be part of worship for us that morning in our church. She then told her mom, enthusiastically, that she really hoped it would be. Yet the question points beyond the original context to a deeper meaning: Are we, as the church—at the local level, at the denominational level, and in the wider church—truly having Communion today, in this day and in this age? In other words, are we communing with Christ as closely as he invites and commands us? In that sense, are we having Communion today?
Consider the local church that you attend or serve. How often does that congregation celebrate Holy Communion? In some settings, there is a noticeable difference in attendance or enthusiasm on Communion Sundays—either with an increase in one or both, or with a decrease. In your local church, what seems to be the most common attitude toward Communion Sundays, or is it hard to say? If attendance or enthusiasm tends to differ on those Sundays compared to other Sundays, why do you think that is the case?
In our quest for a good and meaningful life, where do we ultimately turn? At root, these are spiritual matters. Even among regular churchgoers, Holy Communion might be little more than an afterthought as a resource for the sustenance that we crave. Yet this sacred meal is a gift of God that directly addresses the hunger of the human heart. What makes Holy Communion holy—set apart, special, and of God—is the spiritual nourishment that it provides through the work of the Holy Spirit in our ongoing relationship with God.
There is a great need to recover a richer theology and practice of this sacrament in the church today because that is a key to strengthening our life in Christ. It is also, I believe, a way for us and our congregations to experience genuine renewal. In the past, proper celebration of the Eucharist has sown seeds of awakening and revitalization. Today we see signs of a growing interest among many Christians in reclaiming a deeper appreciation for Holy Communion.
In the book, I go on to explore how acting on that interest has served as a catalyst for spiritual and missional renewal in the congregation that I serve, and how the institution of a mid-week service of Holy Communion—a simple idea that can easily be adapted in other church settings—has played a large part in our turnaround.
We experience the presence of Christ in many ways, but none more special, more intimate, more truly satisfying than in what is variously called Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or simply the Eucharist. Whatever name we use for it, this is a meal of God’s grace that Christ has prepared for us. For it is here, as we respond in faith to his invitation, that he feeds our souls with the bread of life that endures forever. It is here, as we believe in him, that our spiritual thirst is quenched. It is here, as we partake of the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper, that we can say: the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ, and the cup over which we give thanks is a sharing in the blood of Christ. It is here, in this holy meal, where God satisfies the deepest hunger and thirst of the human heart.
Why? Because here our souls feast upon and drink in a love so great that it will not let us go, a love that rescues us, forgives us, renews and restores us; a love so powerful that nothing, not even death, can separate us from it. It is all here, freely given for you, for me, for all people.
So I come back to Hannah’s question, “Are we having Communion today?” And I mean it in this sense: are we truly communing with Christ as closely as he commands and invites us? If not, what needs to change? Jesus promises to meet us at his table—God’s own altar—and he has prepared a place for each of us. Are we going to join him?