Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Liturgy Series Part IX: The Eucharist (otherwise known as communion)

Credit Jodi Houge, 2013. 
(After a long hiatus, the liturgy series is returning.  Life gets crazy sometimes and I don't always keep up with blogging.)

The celebration of the Eucharist is one of the most lively debates in the Church.  Who gets to eat at the communion table?  Who does not?  Should we use real bread or wafers?  Should we use only wine or grape juice too?  Should we commune by common cup, individual cups, or intinction (dipping of bread into wine)?  At what point should children be allowed to commune?  Do you need to go through a class first to "understand" communion?  Does anyone understand communion?  Should you be baptized in order to take communion?  Is one denomination's communion more valid than another's?  Should we have communion every sunday or does that cause it to become "less special" and we should restrict it to once or twice a month or even more infrequently?

And so on and so forth.  We could argue about this all day.  Everyone has an opinion.

But when we celebrate the Eucharist, what is actually going on?  (In full disclosure, I am an ELCA Lutheran, so what I am going to write will be true to my tradition.  I cannot claim to speak on behalf of any other denomination.)

What does Jesus say about this?  In Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-23 we hear some variation of "In the night in which we was betrayed Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it for them all to eat saying, 'Take and eat, this is my body given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.' Again after supper he took the cup, and when he had given thanks gave it to them all to drink saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in remembrance of me.'"  

Jesus says nothing about understanding what is going on, who is old enough, when it should happen.  Jesus says to give thanks, to eat and to drink, and by doing so, remember him.  That is it.

Lutherans understand Christ to be fully present in the bread and wine, but not that they are literally transformed into the body and blood.  This has launched a thousand debates.  For me, communion is proclamation. It is Christ saying, "This is my body and blood given for you.  Do this in remembrance of my death and new life and that I have done this for you."  Communion is the guarantee that the Gospel will be preached every single Sunday without fail, regardless of what happened in the sermon.

In my time as an intern pastor, one of my joys is bringing communion to members who are hospitalized, homebound or in care facilities.  It is a joy to preside at this holy time, and a privilege to share communion and prayer and conversation with these members of our congregation.

Up next, Liturgy Series Part X: Benediction and Dismissal 

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