Doodles, March 2019
The Lord’s Supper
During the season of Lent, the session has decided to celebrate communion each Sunday. We will begin on Ash Wednesday, and continue through to Easter. As part of this season, we will be exploring different forms of communion, including different kinds of bread, different kinds of distribution of the elements, and different liturgies.
As part of these different liturgies, we will take a look at a new version of the Lord’s Prayer, which has been included in the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship. The session studied and discussed this version of the prayer, and while it was strange to hear different words (‘your’ instead of ‘thy’, for instance), the fact that the words were slightly different caused us to think a little bit more about this ritual prayer, and that is never a bad thing.
I hope that we can take advantage of this season of reflection and preparation to examine not just our own lives, but the life of the church and our congregation. I know that some of the things we will do might not be to everyone’s liking, but I hope that we can all learn something new about ourselves and about our faith. Please feel free to come talk to me about any of the experiences you have, good or bad.
As we begin this time of reflection, it might be helpful for me to talk a little bit about what Presbyterians think about Communion. Or to be more accurate, what this particular Presbyterian thinks about Communion. And, while I might have some unusual ideas about some things in our tradition, I am really pretty mainstream when it comes to communion.
Traditionally, there have been three broad interpretations of what is happening during this sacrament, and Presbyterians throughout the years have embraced all three, to a certain extent.
One way of thinking about communion is that Jesus is present in the bread, in some form. I’m not going to go into the fine distinctions between transubstantiation and consubstantiation, mystical union and spiritual consumption, but the idea is that in the invocation, Jesus comes to us, and is in some way consumed.
On the far side from that understanding, another way of thinking is that the meal is only symbolic, that nothing mystical or spiritual is happening, it is only a memorial meal, an observation of the last supper.
I am in between these two interpretations. I believe that something more than just symbolism is happening, and in fact, I believe that communion is more than just the last supper. It is the first breakfast as well, as the resurrected Jesus cooks fish for his disciples on the shoreline. It’s also the first supper, as a resurrected Jesus breaks bread with the travelers on the the road to Emmaus. And it is this understanding that leads me to how I feel about the presence of Jesus. In the Emmaus story, the scripture tells us that it was in the breaking of the bread that the disciples recognize who Jesus was.
I believe that in the act of communion, in the partaking of the bread and cup, we are brought by the power of the Holy Spirit into the presence of Jesus, and we are able to recognize him for who he really is. It is only for a moment, but it is an eternal moment, and it feeds our our souls, and it brings us all together, all those who are taking communion, and all those who have taken communion together with Jesus through the ages.
Having said that, I want you to know that wherever you fall on this spectrum, from a very mystical, almost supernatural understanding of communion, to a purely symbolic view is fine with me, and well within the historic practices of the Presbyterian Church. What I’ve articulated is the official theology of the Church, but that in no way binds you to it. In fact, one of our Presbyterian beliefs is that the Lord alone is Lord of the conscience, that neither I, nor anyone else, is in a position to tell you what to believe. And I respect that.
But, I thought it might be a good idea for us to review what we think about communion as we head into Lent. During this time, we will experience different elements, different ways of being served, and different words in the liturgy. The main thing will stay the same, however. In whatever way you think Jesus is present, whether in the bread, or symbolically, or that we are brought into his presence, nothing will change that. Jesus will still be present, and we will recognize him in the breaking of the bread, and our souls will be nourished and we will be brought together.
Because regardless of of how we do communion, some things never change.