As most of (if not all) you know that I was raised in the Catholic church. Because of my family’s attendance history, I didn’t take my first communion until the day I was also confirmed. I remember being really embarrassed by this. In my mind, I was way behind the game. The church I attended also was attended by many of my classmates and teachers. Being of a very vulnerable age (14 or so) I remember thinking that they thought “what took her so long.” Of course, before taking first communion, my brother, sister, and myself, all had to have a meeting with our priest. I am sorry to say I don’t remember his name but the only thing I remember he taught me about communion. As he was talking about the wafer, which was the body of Christ, he said “we eat it right away. We don’t put Jesus in our pocket for a snack for later.” Now, I’m not a small gal. I’ve never really been small. So I think my logic at the time was “who would eat that for a snack and be satisfied??” It really wasn’t until seminary that I really started to understand what an amazing meal communion really is and how important it would become to my daily life.
I want to talk about communion today. But first I want to take a quick survey. Please trust me here. I would like for all of you to close your eyes (but don’t fall asleep yet) and by a show of hands, how many of you really understand what happens during communion. That is what I thought. The Lord’s Supper is one of 2 sacraments that we celebrate in the Lutheran church. The other one being?? (Baptism). We partake of this sacrament (here at least) every other week. The “formula” so to speak, for a sacrament is this: element plus Word plus Holy Spirit equals sacrament. For communion, it’s bread and wine, plus the Word of God, plus the Holy Spirit equals sacrament. Baptism it’s water plus Word plus Holy Spirit equals sacrament. You’ll notice some things about that formula.
Not once does that formula mention the pastor. That’s because I don’t do anything. Yes, I say the words, but they were words that Jesus first spoke. Not once does the formula say “how” you should partake of the sacraments. It’s not like the words Jesus spoke said “take this bread that is only flat, in the same shape as a quarter or so, fairly tasteless, and then dip it in a shallow cup prone to spillage.” There is a lot of debate around communion about the “proper” way to partake in communion. I think the first question a lot of people ask is “how often should I take communion?” My answer is always this: as often as you are able. If someone were to come and offer me communion every single day, I’d take it. And why? Communion is a tangible sign of God’s grace and forgiveness.
Hear what Luther says in the Large Catechism about communion: “Therefore, it is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens the new creature. For in the first instance, we are born anew through baptism. However, our human flesh and blood, as I have said, have not lost their old skin. There are so many hindrances and attacks of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faith and at times even stumble. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger.” So when people argue or debate that we shouldn’t have communion every Sunday because then it “wouldn’t be special” I always respond that it is always special and why wouldn’t you want forgiveness of sins every single day? (BOC p 469.23-25)
Listen to the words that come from Jesus that are spoken during communion. “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.” And again “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.” See, communion isn’t just bread and wine. It is the forgiveness of sins. It is the sharing of burdens. Think about how powerful this is. How often do you get to see someone actually be forgiven of their sins. Every time a piece of bread is placed in someone’s hands as they come up here, they are receiving forgiveness. That is amazing! Look at some examples and lessons from our readings today. In the 1 Kings reading we heard first, we learn that bread is food for the journey. Elijah had only gone one day into his journey when he had to rest and actually wanted to die. He was forced to eat by (apparently) the world’s most hospitable angel, and he was able to go for 40 days.
Our psalm today tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” And the Lord is good because through this meal we are offered forgiveness of our sins. The Ephesians text tells us that “we are members of one another” and that we should “be kind to one another.” So that brings me to the passing of the peace. There is a reason why we pass the peace before communion. It’s not a stretch break. When we pass the peace, we really are wishing peace to another person. We are participating in the forgiveness of sins of one another. If we are going to partake in this meal together, let us be of one accord. And yes, I have seen situations where former friends or even family members can be in the same church and at the same service and refuse to pass the peace to one another. When we eat the Lord’s body and drink of the Lord’s blood we receive forgiveness whether we deserve it or not and whether we are quick to offer it to others or not.
And because we are “members of one another” another a really amazing thing happens in communion that goes unsaid. We come up here, we lay down our burdens, and then we offer help carrying the burdens of someone else. Because no matter how much you have sinned in this life, no matter what your job or title is, no matter how much money you have in your bank account, and no matter what labels you or society put on yourself, this is a table of equality. We are all hungry sinners waiting for crumbs and instead are surprised and joyfully treated to a feast. We experience the real presence of Christ’s body and blood. And when we partake of this meal, we are freed. This is not a meal that is somber, but a meal of celebration. This is a meal that gives life. If you think about it, when you take communion during a service, you will have received forgiveness twice: once during the confession and forgiveness at the beginning of the service and then once again at communion.
Eating and drinking are so central to who we are as people of Christ that we even pray for daily bread, right? “Give us this day our daily bread;” not “give us every other week and really special holy days our bread.” As you can tell, communion is something about which I am passionate. If you are being offered forgiveness, why wouldn’t you take it? It is everything that the world does not understand. It is a holy meal for the most unholiest of people. And this table doesn’t have velvet ropes. Much like my sermon last week, I hope that this week is the start of a conversation. I hope that you share your experience in taking communion. Have you had a really powerful moment in taking communion? Maybe over coffee this morning you can talk about your first communion and what that experience was like for you. But, all of you, here is your assignment, if you’re so willing to accept it.
I want you to pray this week about communion and more specifically, the place of communion in this particular church. I want you to pray for God to direct us in God’s way as to whether or not we should move to having communion weekly. And I want you to listen, because maybe God is calling you to help with that ministry if we so choose to go that way. It’s a powerful moment, brothers and sisters, when I get to look all of you in the eye and say to you “the body of Christ given for you.” Because what I’m really telling you is this “you’re forgiven and Jesus loves you.”