Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Practices of a Christian: The Lord's Supper

The Lord’s Supper, also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist, is one of two sacraments in the United Methodist Church. Other denominations recognize other practices as sacraments, but UMs hold that in Baptism and Holy Communion God’s grace is especially present and significant. To begin with, of all the practices and procedures that are considered sacraments- including last rites, confession, foot washing and others- Communion and Baptism are the only ones that Jesus specifically instructed his followers to practice. We are to be baptized and receive communion.

In communion God works in a very wonderful and mysterious manner. He speaks to us as he enters us. He is present, literally, as we take the bread and cup. Many like to think of communion as an “outward sign of an inward grace.” I do not like that definition. It is true in as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Communion, or the act of eating and drinking, is not merely a sign. It is in the eating and drinking that Jesus is present. His grace is given and received as we eat and drink. When we take the bread into our bodies, we are taking Christ into our lives.

There are many controversies surrounding communion. Most of them are ancillary to the importance of what God is doing.
  • Where is Christ? This is a very divisive issue. Many Christians believe that the bread and cup actually become Jesus’ body and blood. They hold that the communion must be cared for in special ways because it is literally Christ. Others hold that the bread and cup are “elements,” or that they represent or symbolize taking Jesus into our lives. I prefer the middle ground. When we eat and drink, we are literally receiving Christ, but the bread is not Christ.
  • Intinction or not? Many are concerned about the method of receiving communion. There are several different practices among Christians and churches. Some like to drink from small cups. Others prefer to dip bread into a cup. Still others use wafers and drink from a common cup. There is no right way. God’s grace is available and active in every situation and circumstance. Each person and congregation has its own favored way of celebrating.
  • Wine or Juice? Some groups use wine because that is what Jesus used at the Last Supper. Others use non-fermented juice. Again, I see no difference. I prefer to use juice so that no one is offended by wine, but God’s grace could work in communion if we used Pepsi and Oreo cookies.
  • How often? Many Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper, or Mass, weekly. Others do so less frequently. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an advocate for celebrating communion at every gathering of believers. One argument against frequent communion is that people will take it for granted and the practice will begin to lose its significance. I do not believe that is necessarily the case, but care should always be taken to never lose sight of the work of God.

There are some people who do not participate, appreciate or enjoy communion. My suggestion to all followers of Jesus is to always receive the gifts of the Lord at every opportunity.

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