I remember walking in the courtyard away from the grand cathedral in Salisbury, England after partaking the morning Eucharist Service. It was a moving experience. Simple, yet powerful words grounded in the history of the Christian movement. There were two candles, the objects required of Eucharist, and a simple prayer book with a gathering of pilgrims, seekers, and monks all present to be included in the mystery of faith. I thought to myself, as I often do when I come to the table, “This is where grace is found.”
This simple meal. The bread. The cup. Pilgrims. Seekers. Siblings. We’re all in need of grace and mercy. That’s what we find at this table.
There are so many theories centering on church growth. We often hear that the church just needs to have better communication. This is probably true. We need to be more evangelistic and willing to invite others. That’s probably true too. What if we were grounded in the historical and theological understanding of the meal that Jesus offered us? Could we see a church revival of sorts where we meet again at the table?
1. It’s Wesleyan
Rev. John Wesley’s sermon titled The Duty of Constant Communion is a powerful treatise on the importance of receiving the Eucharist always and often. Wesley called upon Methodists to “receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can”. It was Wesley’s understanding that if we receive Holy Communion as often as we can then we are following the historical tradition of the church. We should receive as often as we can “like the first Christians, with whom the Christian sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord’s day service. And for several centuries they received it almost every day. Four times a week always, and every saint’s day beside.”
It wasn’t Wesley’s desire that we walk away from this grace filled tradition of the church. Instead, he called upon Methodists to “communicate” more often. I realize that the American tradition of the movement changed the church’s ability of receiving only when the itinerant circuit rider could come and offer the Lord’s Supper. Often that was once a month. That was tradition then. It’s time for the church to become more Wesleyan. It’s time to remember Wesley’s call to constant communion.
2. It’s Grace
“The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins by enabling us to leave them”, wrote Wesley. In a mysterious and holy way, the very ordinary elements of bread and the cup become extraordinary vessels of God’s grace for us. It’s really impossible to explain, except to receive it for one’self and experience this grace being poured out.
The fact that Jesus welcomes the disciple who would betray him, deny him, doubt him, and worship him, is confirmation enough that everyone is welcome at the table. We are welcome at the table and this meal. That is grace for us and the church.
3. It’s a Plain Command of Christ
“Do this”. These were Jesus’ words. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Wesley wrote, “It’s a plain command of Christ.” The early church continued this practice after Jesus’ acension. We know this through the Acts of the Apostles and throughout the New Testament Epistles. Even the early historical document from the late first century, the Didache, has an order for blessing, breaking, and giving the Holy Eucharist. This is a practice that has endured time. It is calling us again to a deeper communion with the mystery of God in Jesus Christ. We are to receive it time and again because it is a plain command of Christ.
When we come to the table, we come forward as equals. Every seeker who comes forward is full of sin. Every person who comes forward is in need of grace. Every pilgrim who comes forward is in need of forgiveness. Every believer who comes forward finds food for their soul.
If we would start offering Holy Communion either every other Sunday or even once a week, maybe worship would be less about the music quality, our critique of the sermon, or our own desires. Perhaps worship would be more about “communicating” with God in Jesus Christ. I pray that we find ourselves hungry for a deeper communion with Christ. I hope we will be filled through this Sacrament of Christ’s gift to us.
The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist is not a model for church growth. It is not just another way to reach a new segment of the “unchurched” or “dechurched” population. This meal changes everything. It reminds us who we are. It re-members the body of Christ back together around one common table.
Every time I come to this meal, I sense God’s presence and love. In bread broken. In the cup poured out. Jesus gives us all. God calls us to give our all. If we come to the table again and again, perhaps there would be revival once more.
Resources for further study:
N.T. Wright. The Meal That Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion.
Rev. John Wesley’s Sermon The Duty of Constant Communion found in John Wesley’s Sermons An Anthology edited by Albert C. Outler & Richard P. Heitzenrater