One Bread, One Body

Today we gather around the Lord's Table with millions of other Christian's on this World Communion Sunday. This Sunday is yet another way to express our unity in Jesus Christ putting aside the many different religious traditions and doctrine, which exist among the Christian faith.

When the Lord's Supper was celebrated in the early church, it included a feast or fellowship meal followed by the celebration of what we call Communion.

But in the church in Corinth this celebration took a negative turn. The fellowship meal had become a time when some ate and drank excessively while others went hungry. There was little sharing and caring within that community, which troubled Paul.

This certainly didn't demonstrate the unity and love that ought to characterize the church, nor was it a proper preparation for celebrating Communion. Paul condemned these actions and reminded the church of the real purpose of the Lord's Supper, which is to share with others, and to experience the risen and living Christ.

Today we will gather around the Lord's Table so I think it's prudent to discuss what we do at the Lord's Table. It's a very special time and I hope in explaining the purpose and different actions within the Communion service you might gain greater insight and understanding at just how special our time around the Lord's Table really is.

First you'll notice that Communion as we commonly refer to it is also called the Lord's Supper and the Eucharist. All three words refer to the same action, and I will use all 3 this morning. Communion means, "to unite around the Lord's Table." Lord's Supper means, "A meal instituted by Jesus." Eucharist means, "to give thanks."

An important question for us to ask and explore this morning is what does the Lord's Supper mean? The early church remembered, as we do today, that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper on the night of the Passover meal (Luke 22: 13-20). Just as Passover celebrated deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the Lord's Supper celebrates deliverance from the bondage of sin by Christ's death on the cross.

And over time Christians have posed several different possibilities for what Christ meant when he said, "This is my body." I would like to share some of those differences with you, not to focus on the differences or to highlight them, but rather to promote understanding. Because without understanding unity is not possible.

Some believe that the wine, and bread actually become Christ's physical blood and body. The internal substance, the essence of the elements if you will, physically changes. This is called transubstantiation which is the belief held by our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.

Others believe that Christ is physically present during the Eucharist, and although the substance of the elements do not change, somehow Christ is physically conjoined to the bread and wine. This is called consubstantiation which is the belief is held by our Lutheran friends.

Still others believe that the bread and wine only symbolize Christ's body and blood and mean nothing more. This view is held by traditions, which don't view the Lord's Supper and baptism as sacraments, but rather they view them as ordinances, meaning humans have a primary role during these acts.

And some don't recognize the Lord's Supper at all, such as our Quaker brothers and sisters.

Another view is the view that we as Methodists hold to be true. We believe the bread and wine remain physically unchanged during communion, but Christ is spiritually present with the bread and wine, and is with us in a special way.

But regardless of ones view, Christians generally agree that participating in the Lord's Supper is an important element in the Christian faith and that Christ's presence, however we understand it, strengthens us spiritually. And this is what we celebrate on this World Communion Sunday.

Today I want to address the Lord's Supper within the Methodist context, which is generally the understanding held by most Protestants.

Debates over Communion, what happens, what doesn't happen, and so on, have gone on for thousands of years, so I won't attempt to discuss all of that this morning. But I do hope to provide a greater understanding of what happens, or can happen, during the service of Holy Communion.

First let me begin by addressing the issue of sacrament versus ordinance. Basically a sacrament, baptism and Communion, are two rites ordained by Christ. According to the Bible Jesus performed these two acts and has instructed us to do the same.

Those traditions, which view baptism and Communion as sacraments, believe God is the primary actor during the rite, not human beings, although humans participate. Those traditions that hold this position to be true are the Roman Catholic Church and the mainline protestant churches with the exception of the Baptist Church.

The elements we use for the Eucharist are bread and juice. We use bread because Jesus did. I'm sure the bread Jesus used is not the same type of bread we use today but nevertheless it's bread.

You'll notice we use a full loaf of bread, which has not been sliced. We don't use bread cubes or wafers during our time of Communion, although we can, because I don't believe Jesus did, and I don't feel cubes or wafers reflect the true essence of Christ's broken body or breaking of bread. The loaf of bread signifies the physical body of Christ and also the body of the church. The sharing of the common loaf expresses the unity of the Christian church.

Also by breaking a loaf of bread we further symbolize the broken body of Christ. The brokenness of the bread symbolizes the broken body of Jesus.

The cup stands for the blood of Christ and for the life of the church. And as Methodists we use grape juice rather then wine.

We do this out of respect for those who are recovering alcoholics. Methodism by its nature is concerned about the social welfare of individuals and alcoholism is a major concern so we refrain from using wine choosing instead grape juice.

You'll also notice that the bread and juice are brought forward with the offering. We do this to symbolize the fact that Jesus' sacrifice was made for all people.

We offer the ordinary gifts of bread and juice to God, and ask that he use them for extraordinary purposes. In the early church offering did not consist of money, it was the offering of bread and wine. And most important the physical presence of the bread and cup on the Communion Table reminds us that our salvation is a reality.

During the service of Holy Communion we are asking Christ to be present with us spiritually. We are giving thanks and proclaiming the mystery of faith. That Christ did die, that Christ is risen, and that Christ will come again.

During what is called the Great Thanksgiving we are asking God to consecrate the bread and juice, setting them apart for a holy purpose, and we are asking God to pour out his Holy Spirit on all of us present.

So I hope you understand that everything, which is done during the service of Holy Communion, is done for a holy reason and I pray your Communion experience will now be even more meaningful.

Communion is not just a ritual; it's not just something to do once a month because the church says so. It can be that, a ritualistic meaningless event, if that's all we want it to be. However, Communion can be something very special if we want it to be.

John Wesley said, "receive Communion as often as you can" because he viewed the Lord's Supper as a means of grace, and it is. Some feel frequent Communion diminishes the meaning or makes receiving the Eucharist too ritualistic. And I agree it can.

But Communion only becomes meaningless and ritualistic if we let it become so. If is means something to us every time we receive the Eucharist, it never becomes ritualistic.

The Lord's Table in a Methodist Church is considered an open table meaning all are welcome to participate in Communion. Some traditions don't allow you to receive the Lord's Supper unless you are baptized, are a member of that tradition, or are a member of that particular local church. I disagree strongly with this position.

I find it difficult to sit around a table and talk about Christian unity when we can't kneel together before the Lord's Table because of institutional imposed restrictions.

The Lord's Table is just that, the Lord's Table. Who are we as humans to say who can and who can't receive the Lord's blessing. Let all who sincerely repent and love the Lord, or who long to be in relationship with the Lord, come to the table of the Lord.

When we are invited to the Lord's Table, I'm not inviting you, a priest isn't inviting you, a church leader isn't inviting you, Jesus is. "Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, those who earnestly repent of their sins and seek to live in peace with one another." Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the risen and living Christ is with us and is our host when we receive Communion.

God is the primary actor in the Eucharist not you or me. This is why I believe if someone feels invited to participate in Communion they should. Whether you receive Communion or not is between you and God. And yes, we invite children and others who may not completely understand what is happening at the Lord's Table to receive Communion. Why?

Well how many of us really know how the Spirit moves at the Table? None of us really do, it's of God.

Would you withhold food from a child, or anyone for that matter, food for physical nourishment, just because they don't know what the food is or how the body uses it to keep them alive? I'm sure we would all say no.

Do we have the right to withhold spiritual food from anyone just because they don't know what the bread and juice are all about, or how the act of Communion can nourish the soul?

Young children experience being loved by being fed. They sense the difference between being included and excluded at a family meal.

Children have the faith of a child, appropriate to their stage of development, which Jesus recognized and honored. Jesus said to adults: "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10: 15)

Communion can also serve as a conversion experience for someone who has not yet accepted Christ, but yearns to know Jesus. Perhaps a person is sitting on the fence just needing another leading from God. Do we have the right to deny God the opportunity to work within that person through Holy Communion. No we don't, it's the Lord's Table and it's open to all.

When you come forward to the table notice that I hand you the bread, you don't take a piece yourself. I do this not for sanitary reasons, but because the Eucharist is a gift to be received, not taken.

When a gift is given we don't take it from someone, we receive it don't we. Although their just words I believe there is a significant difference in the intent of taking and receiving, and if you reflect on this difference while you are preparing to come to the table, receiving the bread and juice will take on new meaning.

Now I do realize you actually take the cup of juice from the tray when offered, that's because I haven't figured out a practical way for you to receive the juice appropriately without having the juice spill.

So what can happen as we participate in the Lord's Supper? We experience a living encounter with God. Through faith and the Holy Spirit, we discover the life of the risen Christ, our spiritual food.

By participating in the Eucharist we receive forgiveness, we are pardoned for our sins. We receive peace; we are reconciled with God and with others. We obtain courage; we are strengthened in our commitment to God and made more confident in faith.

We receive comfort; we are supported in our trials and eased in our suffering. We experience new life; we participate in a deeper spiritual life and a closer union with God. We receive the gift of fellowship; we experience the joy of sharing with other members of the congregation and the entire Christian community.

And we receive Grace, God's grace and love are bestowed on us and grown within us.

The Lord's Supper celebrates God's presence with us. It commemorates the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and unites us with God.

Know that the Lord's Supper is something very special, it's a gift from God, and it's a means of receiving God's divine grace.

Let us pray. Gracious God, thank you for the gift of Communion. Remind us that we, your church, are of one bread, and are of one body, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade