Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Communion and Maundy Thursday: "Do This"

1 Corinthians 11: 23-32

Holy Communion holds a high ranking of importance in my faith life. I attribute this recognition to several factors. Each factor is a unique, faithful and profound response to Paul's recorded command of Jesus to his followers: "do this in remembrance of me."

1. Communion is one of my earliest memories of church. At Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Renton, Washington, I recall Communion as the most profound repetitive action of the congregation. I liked the movement. I appreciated my participation. I held the responsibility of picking up my youngest brother from the nursery so our entire family could process to the altar. I liked that I could use my senses of smell and taste. People acted like it was important. I could learn about communion by doing, as opposed to my other ways of learning about faith were often tied to reading, writing or listening. I also shared the responsibility of helping my parents serve on occasion.

2. Sharing community life with several congregations over the years, each congregation or situation brings a special or unique attribute in its proclamation of Christ during Communion. Some examples:

+ Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia, Washington served the first table of Communion with a "common cup." I liked the common cup because it identified the neuroses of individual shot glasses. It seemed to me wine served as a disinfectant for any radical germs and that sharing the peace presented much more danger than sharing a cup. The common cup represented the spirit of Communion to me--sharing Christ in the midst of the messiness of relationships.

+The International Church of Copenhagen, Denmark and Our Savior's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hartland, Wisconsin each used distinctively Danish communion cups. They were individual glasses that looked like mini-chalices. One would process up to the altar, pick up a mini-chalice at the altar, and someone would pour the wine into the chalice. What I gleaned from this practice was the action of Christ "poured out" his life for the sake of the world. Other congregations and communities use the "pouring out" method, but I love the mini-chalices as a Communion server--no perfect aim required. The shot glasses many congregations use are small targets.

+Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota serves Communion every Wednesday for its chapel services. This is the most beautiful, yet most tense celebration of Holy Communion that I know. Beautiful because of the harmony and voice quality of the participants. The instrumentation reaches heavenly proportions. Communion always felt tense because the overly deliberate procession, prayer and reflection. I felt like my steps needed to be heavier, my hands clasped tighter, my face either more sour or more joyful depending on the predominant theological view of Holy Communion that day. I often left a Communion service confused. I think with so many intelligent, gifted theologians in a place that thrives on theological critique makes Communion more tense than it should be. But it's probably just me and my own inferiority complex.

+ First Presbyterian Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota was a Communion service of significant choreography. The goal was for deacons and elders to distribute trays of wafers and pre-filled grape juice (we got wine in there after much discussion in Session). Each server lined up precisely, turned the proper way and in order, and stayed aligned during distribution and retrieval. The theology was noticeably different for me, to which my wonderfully hospitable wife said to my hemming and hawing--"If they want your theological critique, they'll ask, but I don't think they will. Just be a gracious guest." Once I decided to be a gracious guest, it opened my eyes to what God was doing in the service--every time we celebrated Communion, the serving process of the elders and deacons brought to mind the feeding of the 5000. It was a gift to me and my imagination, and reminded me what it means to be a gracious guest, and how Jesus is a gracious host.

+ Lutheran Campus Ministry at Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University-Mankato). Our campus pastor, Fred Fritz, would change practices of Communion from time to time, but it was the first time I had ever participated with no designated servers other than the presiding minister. We served each other. This also happened at First Presbyterian Church-Sioux Falls, but this setting was much more intimate, and a learning experience for me about how we both give and receive in the Christian life.

+ Community Lutheran Church, Las Vegas, Nevada. This was Melanie's internship congregation. Though I only attended worship there a few times, I was struck by the how the proclamation of Christ's death was received at their Sunday evening country music service, with a band leading worship known as "The Honkey Tonk Angels." It was the most visited service at CLC, and the only service where they served weekly Communion, at the request of those who attended the service. Though it's easy to look at the community we know at Communion, sometimes I forget the impact of Communion on people I don't know.

+ What I've learned from First Lutheran Community Church in Port Orchard is how the openness of  the Communion practice reflects the hospitality of the congregation--from offering being taken outside of the worship service to the responsiveness of the congregation to sermons and teaching, to the empowered leadership structure that offers anyone the opportunity when provoked by the Holy Spirit to serve as they are called without a gate keeping hierarchy. Communion is then a practice that is representative of God's action in the community of faith.

3. Regardless of the setting in which I serve, the opportunity to teach about the sacraments to Confirmation students or First Communion students combines my experiences that are all faithful to Jesus command to "do this in remembrance of me." Today I worked with 12 students on the meaning, practices and theology of Holy Communion. Giving kids the opportunity to learn, experience, contribute, remember and question the Sacrament of Holy Communion is a fresh reminder each occurrence of the power of God's grace. These kids were engaged, and I probably learned more than they did in preparation. We baked bread, we made chalices in which they will share a common cup with their families for Communion, we shared the stories of Passover and The Last Supper, and we talked about 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26. Two Altar Guild members taught the students their practices to care for the worship space and the celebration of Communion. I'm always anxious about sharing this information, mostly because I always wonder if I do justice to an important practice. In the end, this reflection is what I see Paul writing about the examination of self in preparation for receiving the sacrament in 1 Corinthians 11:28--what is our unity in Christ lived out in the sacramental sharing? Living out our divisions in communion when Christ died for all will lead to the destruction of community--which leads to the loss of witness to the world about Christ.


  1. Thanks for the comment. The post was inspired by the kids at the First Communion workshop yesterday and the Altar Guild members who helped teach them. This might end up being the bulk of my sermon tonight, as it represents the clearest thoughts I have at this point. Glad I wrote this yesterday...