Communion Sunday? What is that? I’ve never really cared for this title very much and think we should get rid of it. Of course, I’m always thrilled to know that particular parts of the Church Universal are still eating from The Lord’s Supper at least one Sunday a month (or in some cases a quarter). However, I believe Communion ought to be synonymous with Sunday. I also believe that when a congregation of believers fails to celebrate the Great Thanksgiving during worship on a weekly basis, they’re missing out in a big way!
I’m not sure why so many churches devote so little time to this Holy Sacrament. Maybe it’s because we feel pressured to spend more time on music. Maybe preachers feel crunched for time during proclamation of the Word. However, I do know that Communion has historically always been a major player within the context of Christian worship and deserves a lot more attention and playing time than it currently sees. Here are ten reasons to have weekly Communion (some of these overlap a bit):
In the words of John Wesley in Sermon 101, “It’s a plain command of Christ.” Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). We are called to break bread, drink wine and remember that his body was broken and his blood shed for us. Why wouldn’t we want to obey Christ and intentionally recall this single greatest act of love the world has ever known on a consistent basis? Doesn’t his sacrifice demand weekly attention? The church in Acts gathered in their homes several times a week and devoted themselves to the “breaking of bread” every time they met (Acts 2:42). If you read any credible commentary on this verse, you’ll discover this phrase incorporates an actual meal followed by the Lord’s Supper. As someone committed to be a man of one book, no wonder John Wesley called upon fellow enthusiasts to take Communion as often as possible. The Bible told him to do so, and Wesley obliged.
John Wesley also reminds us of the historicity of Communion beyond the first century Church age. He writes that “for several centuries they received it almost every day: Four times a week always, and every saint’s day beside” (Sermon 101). Part of the reason Communion was a very frequent activity throughout the history of the Church was because bread and wine were such essential and commonplace items in their lives; they may have been akin to what hamburgers, fries and a Coke are to us today. Isn’t it just like Jesus to take ordinary things like bread and wine and give them meaning beyond themselves? The reason he referred to himself as the Bread of life was to show his disciples that he offers in himself the essentials of life—that life without a regular portion of him leads to spiritual malnourishment. Essentials of life are things needed regularly: every day, or at least every week!
The meaning of the word sacrament is sacred mystery. It’s mysteriously sacred because God is uniquely involved. In the Methodist world I live in, we actually pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon those who have gathered and upon the “gifts of bread and wine.” By the Holy Spirit, these gifts can “become for us the body and blood of Christ,” which makes this sacrament one that involves both christology and pneumatology (see our Hymnal). After we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon the bread and wine, we still believe it’s bread and wine, but we also believe that Christ (the Bread of Life) is present in a very real and mysterious way through the power of the Holy Spirit!
In a sense, Communion is a reenactment of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, Jesus took on flesh and blood—the physical world and the spiritual world were fully and divinely integrated within him. In Communion, the same sort of thing is happening. The physical and spiritual worlds are fully and divinely integrated once again, not between Christ and the elements as some historically believe, but between Christ and us. Theologically speaking, Christ takes on our flesh during this divine encounter! Now, you don’t have to be a seminarian to know this and to acknowledge that something theologically profound is happening in this holy experience, but you do have to come in contact with the true meaning of this divine activity on a regular basis to become more aware of the reality of God’s presence poured out upon all those who approach the Table of Grace.
Some of us live to eat, but we all eat to live. Our bodies need food and so do our souls. Communion nourishes us. The endless food and drink offered at this Meal serves as divine carbohydrates and supernatural electrolytes designed to renew, replenish and refresh us both individually and collectively “so we might be to the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood,” as we say in Methodist liturgy. As a spiritually well-fed Body, we are then filled with the strength to unabashedly feed the gospel to those who are hungry for more of God. At the same time, we are fueled with enthusiastic compassion to make sure no human being goes without food or water. Since this sacrament is repeatable, the Body of Christ should never, ever go hungry. Like our physical bodies, the less often you eat, the more malnourished you will become. Eat up, Church!
Communion invites us to profess our faith in Christ, specifically proclaiming “the mystery of faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again” (UMC Hymnal). Communion is also confessional in the sense that it powerfully reminds us of the forgiveness of past sin and calls us to confess any sin in our lives. For those of us who are keenly aware of our sin, having an opportunity to individually and corporately drink in God’s mercy and taste his forgiveness isn’t just appreciated but needed regularly as well—even weekly.
I personally like to take communion as often as possible—and I can consecrate these elements anywhere, anytime as an ordained elder in the UMC. However, Communion is really meant for the Body; it’s a gift of grace to the Church. It is originally designed by Jesus to be communal, (i.e., experienced within community). At the very least, it should be taken “where two or more are gathered.” It also allows believers to serve one another, increasing the amount of active participation in worship. The Church in the book of Acts acted as one Body when approaching this Sacred Meal (everybody was involved in the giving and receiving of the elements). This Holy Feast ought to be consumed together around the Lord’s Table and not eaten alone at our personal TV trays. Where better to dine together, than in worship? Of course, in some denominations, such as the UMC, the only way you can typically receive the elements is in corporate worship, since there are only so many of us who can consecrate this Meal. Because that’s the case, those who can consecrate the elements, should—and often, so the Body doesn’t go hungry.
The Eucharist is rooted in existence, especially in the reality of the physical world, which we know so well. Why are we here? “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Yes, but we are also called to work. Communion begins in the field. Human beings plant and harvest the crop. Human hands grind the grains. Human hands mix the ingredients. Human fingers knead the dough and form it accordingly. Human hands create the fire, providing the necessary temperature and environment in which the dough can bake. Likewise, human hands pick the grapes and human feet press them. Human hands collect and carry the wine in clay pots crafted by human hands. The bread and wine brought forward in the Eucharist have humble, human beginnings. Though God is always creating and sustaining life, preparing the Eucharist requires human existence and much assistance on our part; it involves human creativity and ingenuity as well. This reminds us that God’s work of salvation involves creation and requires work by us. We are, as Paul says, co-workers with God. We ought to take this work seriously every week and see it as one of our great purposes of existing.
We experience different things in worship that align with one or more of what we call, in the realm of education, Multiple Intelligences (Howard Gardner). I can’t think of any other worship experience, other than Communion, that simultaneously involves so many of these intelligences. Communion is a holistic experience, and part of the reason it’s so holistic is not only because it engages multiple intelligences, but also because it involves all five senses. During Communion we see, smell, taste and touch the bread and the juice. We hear the precious words of Christ recited as well as the prayers. Do you want to maximize your worship experience as a human being? Offer fully human experiences each week and celebrate the Great Thanksgiving!
Modus Ponens. It’s a basic, logically valid argument. If A, then B. Apply this logic to The Great Thanksgiving, and you’ll see why we should be so thankful. Communion is a sacrament; it’s a means of grace, a sort of unique and special grace that’s specific to Communion. If we take Communion, then we will receive this type of grace. Now, flip it. If we don’t take Communion, we don’t receive this special grace. Why wouldn’t we want to take Communion as often as possible? It’s prudent to take Communion every week, because we want and need this unique type of grace often.
I often hear personal objections for not taking communion weekly, and these objections are usually something along the line of, “Taking it weekly is too ritualistic; it becomes habitual, mindlessly rote and less real.” That is untrue! How can a grateful heart repeatedly meditating upon the love and sacrifice of Christ make Communion mindlessly rote? Coming into contact with the risen Son of God through this Holy Sacrament can be supernaturally real and personally transformational every single time. If repetition in worship is a reason to avoid weekly Communion, then what worship elements would be left each week? We incorporate prayer and the Word weekly. We sing and recite creeds weekly. We fellowship and listen to sermons weekly. We do all these things weekly (ritualistically) with the expectation that we will encounter the love of God in Christ in a very new and personal way each time. There is no better way to personally come into contact with Christ in worship than via Communion, and the Church should partake in this Feast every Sunday. It is vitae essentia for the Body and for each one of us personally.