So why do you come to Sunday morning worship? People come for all sorts of reasons and that is perfectly fine. However, the theology and practice of the church says that we gather to worship as a community of faith each week to do two primary things. First, we gather to give honour and glory, praise and thanksgiving to God who is our heavenly Father and Lord of All and who has come to be our saviour in Jesus Christ. Second, we gather to be formed and shaped as children of God, as disciples of Christ, in order to serve one another and to be witnesses in the world.
One of the ways we are formed and shaped as children of God is through the sacrament of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. What is a sacrament? One definition states: ‘‘The sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is imparted to us. The visible words and actions by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces communicated in each sacrament.’
In John’s Gospel we hear these profound words, Those who eat my flesh and drink by blood abide in me and I in them…whoever eats my flesh will live…the one who eats this bread will live forever.
Holy Communion is a sacrament of the church by which we partake of the graces of God that give us life. The outward and visible signs are the elements of bread and wine along with the Eucharistic or thanksgiving prayer. Breaking bread as a community of faith to remember Jesus, especially the events of the Last Supper has been a part of the church’s life since the early days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (the Book of Acts records this as a common meal in the home after worshipping at the Temple). The sacrament developed over time to become the Lord’s Supper (this is what Paul called it in his letter to the Corinthians) and then it became what we call the Eucharist in the 90’s CE in the document, the teaching of the twelve apostles (Didache).
At the last supper Jesus took the bread and gave thanks and said this is my body. He then took the cup of wine, gave thanks and said this is my blood. So the elements of bread and wine remind us of that last supper. The bread and wine become a sacred means of remembering what Jesus did on the cross, offering his broken body and shed blood to bring us our salvation, forgiveness, deliverance, and adoption as children of God.
The Eucharistic prayer is a means of remembering as well as we tell the story of God’s promise of redemption and salvation to his people. Included in that story is the remembering the resurrection by which Jesus’ death on the cross is vindicated or declared as more than just a death, but a redeeming act of God to triumph over sin and all that is evil. The prayer also in effect consecrates or makes ‘holy’ the ordinary bread and wine to become instruments of God’s presence and grace. There are all sorts of theories about how this happens and it is not necessary to get caught up in all that technical discussion. What is key is that when we partake of the Holy Communion we encounter God’s presence is a special and life giving way.
At Holy Communion we are remembering even celebrating what God did in Christ to redeem us. And we are receiving through God’s special presence in the sacrament the gift of grace. In a sense, because Holy Communion is a sacrament God promises to be present in a special way. This grace that comes to us in the bread and wine enables us and empowers us to live our faith in our daily life. Through Holy Communion we are reminded of God’s saving promises and work in our lives and we are renewed in faith to go out and be the light of Christ in the world.
Interestingly, the church recognises one other key aspect to the sacrament of Holy Communion. Because it is a family meal, Holy Communion forms us as community of faith. Just as baptism gives the person being baptised a new identity as a follower of Christ, so Holy Communion forms us as the body of Christ giving us a way to recognise our corporate and mutual nature as a church. As St Paul says, through the Lord’s Supper we are made into one body.
In all this, we are simply saying Holy Communion is a family meal. Through it we remember what God has done for us in Christ, through it by Gods’ special presence we receive strength and grace to live the Christian life, through it by our fellowship around the table or altar we are formed and shaped to be the body of Christ.
Yes it is a bit mysterious. But the sacrament is the way we have been given to enter into spiritual things in a deeper way.
My early Christian years were in what we call non-conformist low-church. Holy Communion was celebrated every now and again, maybe quarterly. It was presented as a way to remember the Lord’s Supper, as a way of thanking God for what was done in the past. As I have grown in my faith and understanding of scripture and theology, particularly with regard to the sacraments, when I come on Sunday to church, I find Holy Communion a wonderful moment of encounter with God. No, I don’t have goose bumps and go all faint. It is that it is more than just remembering something God did in the past. It is about meeting God in a special intensified way in the present. It reminds me that God wants to be a part of my life and it reminds me that I am his and he is mine and his banner over me is love.
In conclusion, God promises that wherever two are three are gathered in his name he is present. God is always present as we gather to worship, to honour and praise our awesome God. Holy Communion is a special moment in our worship in which God comes to us in a special way. Through the visible symbols of bread and wine and through the words we use, God’s grace comes to us to help us to follow Christ and to be the disciple or child of God calls us to be. May we all be open to receive God’s presence and life as we partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.