A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Over the last three years we’ve learned a few things about the sacrament of communion. One learning is that while ‘bread and wine’ are the elements that Jesus used, and while we have traditionally used ‘bread and juice’, those specific elements are sacred but not sacrosanct. The pandemic physically separated us, and meant that we could not share bread from a common loaf, and we certainly couldn’t dip that bread (and our fingers!) into a common cup. (Funny how the thought of that has changed so much in this season.) The language I used during the pandemic was that if people thoughtfully and prayerfully prepared their own elements then anything could be used as ‘bread and juice’ (within reason), and it would be sacred and holy. I know for a fact that muffins and coffee frequently became communion elements! (Chocolate chip cookies were used too, but we already knew they were sacred!)
And while I think it’s important that in a public worship gathering a duly ordered minister is appropriate for leading communion, another learning we had was that the minister doesn’t perform magic to make communion holy. The sacredness attaches as the participant prays and partakes. Still another learning was that we don’t necessarily need to be in the same room for communion to feel holy – nor even in the same time, as some folks tuning into a recorded worship service might ‘do church’ several days after Sunday and have their communion then. Surely, their experience, disconnected from ‘real time’, was/is equally as holy as anyone else’s.
So we learned to let go of some of our ‘uptightness’ around communion, and I think that’s good. Remember, Jesus wasn’t instituting special food at a special time. He was lifting up the things that were already on the table – the regular stuff of life – and helping us notice how sacred they already are, if we’d only enter in to that sacredness with our prayerfulness.
However, I also witnessed and experienced something very special in communion this past Sunday. We returned to a modified version of ‘the way we’ve always done it’, and in this case it was wonderful. As people left their seats, and stood in line, and stepped forward, and had their kindred in Christ serve the bread (with tongs) and the juice (in individual little glasses), and partook of communion, and then returned to their seats and quietly prayed, you could just feel that there was something ‘extra’ in the air. The Spirit was reverberating. I could see it on people’s faces. Partly it was because it had been three years (almost to the day) since we’d last shared communion like that, so it felt ‘normal’(ish) again. But mostly I think it was the added layer of physicality, of anticipation as you wait in line, of interaction as you receive the elements. It’s not that coming forward is ‘better’, but it is certainly more experiential, and that action can often intensify and deepen an experience.
I’m glad we’ve expanded our understanding of communion – and I was also glad that we could reclaim a familiar ritual. And in the sharing of the ‘bread and wine’ the presence of the Christ is revealed. Yes, indeed!