Rethinking Communion

You will have to be patient with me because this is something that I am still working out in my heart and head, but I wanted to start the process of working through it and have some interaction with different perspectives, etc.

I think the sacraments are highly important within the life of a church. As a United Methodist, this means that I believe that baptism and communion should be a foundation in the life of any church. However, lately I have been wondering if there isn’t a disconnect between our words and the way we practice one of those sacraments: Holy Communion.

This disconnect first hit me a couple of weeks ago when I was at a weekend senior high youth event here in Minnesota. As part of the gathering it has been the practice to celebrate (please note that word) communion on Saturday evening in a dark room by candlelight with soft music playing. It is a powerful time for many of the youth and they often are moved to tears and you can witness the lingering hugs of support and comfort that go on well past the partaking in the sacrament.

Now I am not trying to say that this is necessarily bad, but for some reason it just didn’t seem right. It seemed like this sad time and it functioned as a time of almost movement toward confession and repentance (good things, don’t get me wrong). However, the words of the Great Thanksgiving are ones that are of celebration. Hosanna. Thanks. Praise. When I think of hosanna, thanks, and praise I think of joy. I see pictures of people dancing and clapping and shouting for joy. Perhaps they are weeping, but weeping tears of joy with smiles on their faces.

That is when the wheels began to turn in my head. Have we in practice turned this moment of joy and anticipation into a moment of somberness and sadness? I began to wonder why our practice of Holy Communion within worship usually is so somber and serious. I understand being reverent to the holy moment, but why must reverence be quiet and somber? I started to think about all the elements that go into The Great Thanksgiving Liturgy in most of the churches I have participated in and how the music is often slow and serious. How the words aren’t said or shouted with joy but rather are said in a serious tone.

Why do we do this? Why do we recite words that speak of such joy and not have an atmosphere that reflects it? Why does communion seem more like the beginning of confession rather than a response in joy and thanksgiving that the sins we confessed do not mean death for us because of the life giving love of God we are celebrating?

Let me sidetrack us for a second. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving meal (you know with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Cranberries, Stuffing, etc.) in a home being celebrated like we often celebrate Holy Communion? Everyone sitting around the table, serious and calm and not wanting to open their mouth out of fear of ruining the celebration. (apparently not many people can because I really tried to find an image of a thanksgiving meal where the people weren’t talking and enjoying one another’s company and generally looking thankful to be with one another) Who would want to be a part of that? Yet, our thanksgiving meal where we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord is often celebrated in such a way.

What would happen if we really “celebrated” communion? Would it change how we looked at our faith? Would we begin to really be thankful and to really feel in our hearts the joy that comes from the reality we are celebrating? Can we imagine a celebration of communion where people are clapping, joyfully singing, and joining together in praise to a God that has shown such great love?

I want to work this out more but I wonder if I am the only one? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

(Now do understand that I know that communion is powerful either way and that the true power of communion comes through the presence of Christ there with us in the meal and the grace that is received. I am just wondering if there is a disconnect between the words and how the practice has functioned within worship)

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  1. You definitely raise a good point and good questions here, Justin. My mom always taught us to be quiet and respectful after communion; she would say a short prayer right after receiving it. She said it was because part of joining Christ at His table was asking for and receiving His forgiveness. I always assumed she thanked Him for forgiveness in her prayer, and I began to follow her example and say one when I got older. My church is pretty big, so during communion we sing songs as everyone goes up. Now that I think of it, these songs are usually slower, more somber ones. So what I’m saying is: I always thought Communion should be celebrated this way because that’s what I was taught. However, as you point out, by celebrating Communion in a quiet way, we may be doing it an injustice because it makes people forget that it is a joyous celebration at Christ’s table.

    1. Lauren- Thanks for sharing. The church culture I grew up in had the same understanding and it has continued and I wonder if we miss communicating that profound truth that sin does not define us but rather the life, death, and resurrection of Christ does.

  2. I guess I never thought it should be done any other way either. No disrespect to your points, I can completely agree with your arguments. When I take communion at our church, they are talking about how before Jesus died he broke bread with his disciples…take and eat… You know the drill. So I am thinking about how Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for me and for everyone. Not because he had to and certainly not because we deserve it. So that is why I am reverent. I think I should show Him my thanks in a humble and respectful way. Of course I am thrilled about His grace. Of course I think it is worthy of praise and celebration, too. But in that moment of accepting the body and blood of Christ I guess I am thinking more about the sacrifice that Jesus made for me. For me, on Easter Sunday it is time to celebrate and shout and all that! Not that any of this is the “right” way, it’s just the way I look at it.

    Thanks for your posts Justin.

  3. We practice communion with somberness and sadness partly because of our regional/cultural demographics in Minnesota. Germans and Scandinavians equate reverence with silence and quiet piety. If you go to some African churches or other cultural churches, you might find that they dance to the table together. I experienced this once at an African worship service. It was awesome, and I also knew it would never work in a white church in Minnesota.

    We need to show people there is more than one way to be reverent. If it is meaningful to your context, then there is no problem with it; however, you are correct in stating that it is not a somber affair. It is a celebration! It is Thanksgiving! We should celebrate it in the same we celebrate Easter Sunday.

    One of the best ways we can change this mood (if that is what we desire to do) is to change the music. The music used in the liturgy and during communion will set the tone. Get a guitar in there and find an up-beat communion setting (they’re out there if you look for them). That will go a long way toward livening people up.

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