Tag Archives: Holy Communion

Ken Loyer ~ A Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet

This is the final entry in a series of posts drawing from my recent book on the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (Abingdon Press, December 2014). Part of the Belief Matters series edited by Will Willimon, this book explores the Lord’s Supper as a powerful means of grace for Christian formation, church renewal, and God’s mission in and for the world. I believe that a renewed emphasis on the Eucharist—that sacrament of unity and of love—is critical for our life in Christ, especially given the challenges and opportunities facing the church today.

You can read more about the book and order a copy by visiting this website. The italicized excerpt below (which is followed by some additional thoughts and commentary) comes from chapter 4, “A Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet.”

Up to this point, this book has explored the meaning of Holy Communion as a prayer of thanksgiving (chapter 1), an active remembering of Christ’s presence (chapter 2), and a celebration of the bread of life given for the world (chapter 3). Along the way, we have at different times focused on the past and present dimensions of this sacrament. There is also a third dimension, a third temporal reference, one that deals with the future. That future element contributes to a balanced perspective of not only what happens in Holy Communion but also what it demands from us, as we live into the kingdom of God that is, at once, already present and not yet fully revealed.

The Lord’s Supper is not simply a matter of past and present—a memorial calling us to remember what Christ has done for us and a means of grace and spiritual sustenance in the present. It also points forward to what is to come. God gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet here and now in this sacred meal, an anticipation of God’s promises ultimately fulfilled.

God gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet here and now in Holy Communion. Matthew 26 teaches us that Jesus will share in this meal with us in heaven. Jesus says, “I will never again drink of the fruit of this vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). In Communion we anticipate what is to come.

One Epiphany tradition involves baking a ring or figurine inside bread or cake. The ring or figurine represents Jesus our King. Predictably, when the time comes to eat this treat, there is a sense of anticipation about who will get the special piece. People bite into the bread or cake carefully so they do not damage a tooth or shift any dentures.

Jesus is in the bread of Holy Communion for us all; it is the sacrament of his body, and through it we all receive his presence by faith. Here and now we receive a foretaste of God’s promises fulfilled. Here and now we anticipate the heavenly banquet where we will feast forever with Jesus and with those we love. One of the chief tasks of the church is to bring as many people with us to that banquet as we can.

The idea of the future has a mysterious quality to it because it is always beyond us, in one sense not yet fulfilled. As you look ahead, what do you anticipate about the future? What concerns or fears do you have? Do you think that in the midst of the inevitable uncertainty regarding various aspects of our future, there is still reason to be hopeful about what lies ahead for you, for your family, or for others? Why or why not?

Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a banquet in Luke 14:16-24. In Matthew 26:26-29, Jesus promises his disciples that he will “drink of the fruit of this vine” with them in his Father’s kingdom (26:29). What does this idea—of not simply being fully in the presence of Jesus, but also having him eat and drink anew with us—suggest to you about the extent of fellowship with God that awaits us? Have you ever thought much about heaven as a feast with both God’s people and also with Jesus himself? What images come to your mind as you envision that feast?

While the past and present dimensions of Holy Communion are surely important, there is also a future component to this sacrament that should not be overlooked. In this great feast of our faith, God gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet here and now.


This post includes material quoted from Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (www.abingdonpress.com/product/9781426796333).

An image of holy communion featuring a silver cup of wine or juice and an artisanal loaf of bread dusted with flour and sitting on a white piece of cloth in subdued light and shadow.

Ken Loyer ~ Holy Communion: Celebrating Christ’s Presence with Us

My book on the Lord’s Supper is called “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us” (Abingdon Press, December 2014) and is part of the “Belief Matters” series edited by Will Willimon. This book explores the Lord’s Supper as a powerful means of grace for Christian formation and church renewal.

You can read more about it and order a copy by clicking this link. The italicized excerpt below (which is followed by some additional thoughts and commentary) comes from Chapter 3, “Celebrating the Bread of Life Given for All,” and it considers how, through the Eucharist, God feeds our souls in a meal prepared carefully, and indeed lovingly, for us all.

Almost all of us have had the experience of being the recipient of a carefully prepared meal. Maybe you recall meals at your grandparents’ house or your parents’ house, or special meals somewhere else with family and friends, like on holidays. Who can pass up turkey at Thanksgiving? When I think about the idea of a carefully prepared meal, my mind goes back to when Molly (who is now my wife) and I had our first date. She cooked my favorite dish, lasagna. Later I learned that it was her first time using that lasagna recipe. Her mom and sister had strongly advised her that she either cook something she was familiar making or suggest we eat out instead. The stakes were high, but Molly made a delicious meal that we both enjoyed that night. Suffice it to say, she had me from the first bite. I liked her lasagna, but even more, I liked the cook and hostess herself. I wanted to get to know her better. Thankfully, the interest was mutual. Many meals ensued, but I will never forget that one!

Holy Communion is a special meal. It is special because it communicates what is central to our faith. Through it Christ, the host, reveals to us something important about himself; he reveals his heart, which allows us to know him better. So why did Jesus institute the Lord’s Supper? Why did he say of the bread, “Take and eat; this is my body” and of the cup, “Drink from this all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26, 27)?

There has been much speculation over the years as to the meaning of these words, and the reasons Jesus would say and do this….Perhaps the most compelling explanation that I have come across has to do with friendship. Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century theologian, said that one of the intrinsic reasons behind the Lord’s Supper is the love of friendship (Summa theologiae, q. 75, a. 1.). Friends want to be together.

It has been said that the dinner table—that place where we eat, talk, and share life together with others—is an extension of the Eucharist. For you and your family, what has been the significance of feasting at family gatherings? How does the act of eating together promote fellowship and community? How is that also true for us all in the Lord’s Supper?

A hymn about the Eucharist describes the act of coming “with joy to meet my Lord” in this holy meal. What is your typical state of mind when you receive the Lord’s Supper? Have you ever come “with joy”? What would it mean for you to do so?

In Holy Communion, we celebrate the presence of God with us, Jesus Christ. Through the work of God’s Spirit, in this vital practice of our faith we encounter the Risen Savior himself, our Lord and Friend, graciously beckoning us to come to his table, to be with him, and to be nourished and strengthened in the abundant life that he gives.

This post includes material quoted from Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us.

Featured image courtesy James Coleman via Unsplash.

Mark Trotter ~ How to See the Future

There have been many interpretations over the years about what happens in the sacrament of Holy Communion. For instance, back in the Middle Ages, many pious Christians saw what happened here as a kind of magic. The faithful were sitting out in the nave, where you are sitting, and up here, what was called the “east wall” in gothic architecture, the priest faced the altar, his back to the people, reading the service in Latin, a language the people couldn’t understand. They knew, though, that a miracle was taking place up there. That is why they had come to church, to witness a miracle.

It happened when the priest lifted the host, and said in Latin, “this is my body given for you.” Hoc est corpus meum is the phrase in Latin. To the communicants, the priest, way up in the front, his back to them, mumbling hoc est corpus meum, sounded like “hocus pocus.” That is how we got that phrase into our language, “hocus pocus,” which means an incantation which will bring about some magic.

Protestant mumblings have also framed communion expectations. There is a wonderful story about a young boy attending a Presbyterian service in Scotland many years ago. At a certain point in the service the minister announced that during the singing of the hymn, the elders would bring the elements forward. The little boy thought the minister had said, “elephants.” All of a sudden he got real interested in the communion. He thought it was going to be like the last act of Aida. Needless to say, he was disappointed.

My favorite is a Methodist-related story. A little boy attends his first communion in a Methodist Church with his parents. The sacraments were served in the congregation, as we will do in this service, passing the trays with the little cups on them. The father holds the tray for his son to take a cup, then he takes one himself. He passes it on to the next person in the pew. The little boy, who was being allowed to participate in this adult ritual for the first time, did what he had seen adults do in another ritual he had observed, he touched his father’s glass, and said, “cheers!” Well the meaning of what we do here in Holy Communion is not captured by any of those anecdotes. It is not magic performed by a sorcerer. It is not a spectacular extravaganza with elephants. Nor is it a cocktail party conviviality, either.

To find out what it is that happens in the sacrament, we turn to the lesson for this morning from the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew’s account of the Last Supper.

All four gospels generally agree on what happened there. They all agree that Jesus was eating a Passover Meal with his disciples. The Passover Meal is a meal which commemorates the Exodus, the freedom from slavery in Egypt, God making the Jews a nation with a covenant to be their God. Every element in that meal has some symbolic reference to the event called the Exodus.

Jesus, in the middle of the meal, takes two of those elements, the bread and the wine, and gives them a new interpretation. He take the bread, breaks it, and says:

This is my body given for you. Later he took the cup, held it up, and said:

This is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Then, he said one more thing: I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

That is about all that was remembered of that Last Supper. But that is the essence of the sacrament, those three sentences, the few words that he said. The rituals that have grown up about Holy Communion are simply adornments on those three sentences.

In those three sentences are to be found the two actions in the meal. There is a remembrance of the cross, “This is my body broken for you…this is my blood of the new covenant,” and there is an anticipation of the Kingdom, “I shall not drink of this cup again until I drink it anew with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

First, a looking backwards, “This is my body broken for you.” That is a reminder of the cross. First we look back to what Jesus has done for us. In the old Methodist Church, the ritual used in the Church when I grew up, that was about all that happened. We looked back to the cross. In fact, that service used the term “memorial” to define what was going on. It said, “…this memorial of his precious death.” The ritual focused on the cross, and on our sins, looking backwards, remembering how Jesus paid for our sins upon the cross, and how we should appropriately feel sorrowful for that. It gave us ample opportunity throughout the service to feel sorrowful. The service began with a litany of confession using the Ten Commandments. Then it had a prayer of confession using the term, “our manifold sins and wickedness.” Then there was another prayer of confession, called the Prayer of Humble Access, which had this line in it, “we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy table.” We called that the “crumby prayer.”

As if that were not enough, just before we received the sacrament itself, we sang the Agnus Dei, “O Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” After all of that, I don’t think anyone who took the cup felt like saying, “cheers!” It was a different mood in that service. A penitential mood, and an introspective mood, focusing on me, me, me, and my sins.

The reason I believe that so many people back in those days would stay away from communion, and why it was celebrated so seldom, they would tell me, was because they didn’t understand it. But I don’t think that was it. I think the problem is, they did understand it. It communicated clearly what it was designed to communicate: that this is a remembrance, this is the memorial of the death of a man, and it our fault that it happened. The service never really got beyond that, “this is my body broken for you.” But Jesus said more than that at the Last Supper. He not only said to look back at the cross and remember, he said to look forward to the Kingdom and hope.

I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

There have been many revolutions in worship in the last part of this century. The most revolutionary was the discovery that in the early Church, communion was not only a looking back to the cross, it was a looking forward, anticipating the Kingdom. Not only a remembrance, but a service of hope and anticipation. Instead of just focusing alone on the cross, it really focused on the Kingdom, and Jesus’ promise that someday he would celebrate this meal with us, together with him, in his Kingdom.

The word that they used for the sacrament was, “Eucharist,” the Greek word which means “thanksgiving.” It was an entirely different mood from the observance that I remember, and perhaps you, too. In fact, we would never have called what we did in those days, a “celebration” or a “thanksgiving.” We called it an “observance.” We were observing the Last Supper.

The ritual we now use in the Methodist Church, in fact all of the churches today, Protestant and Catholic use essentially the same one, is the service where the sacrament is an anticipation of the Kingdom. That is to say, it is oriented to the future, and not to the past. And it is oriented to the future and not to the past to teach us to see our lives the same way. Christians are to look forward, not backwards.

But we have been trained differently. In fact, the whole weight of the wisdom of Western Civilization has taught us differently, told us we are products of the past. Therefore, there have always been wars, so there always will be wars. There has always been prejudice, there will always be prejudice. There has always been crime, there will always be crime. Something has happened in the past, therefore, it will always continue in the future. That is called “determinism.” Many people who believe that would be shocked if anybody told them, “You are a determinist.” And especially in America, because in America we are supposed to believe in freedom. We have the freedom to choose our own life. But practically speaking, that is what we are really determinists, especially when it comes to thinking about our own lives and understanding our own behavior.

Pop psychology has shaped us that way. My parents made me this way, or they did this to me, and that is the reason I am who I am today. Or I made that decision in the past, I made that mistake, I took that wrong turn, and that is why I am the way I am today. I can’t do anything about it. That is determinism. The belief that the past is what determines the present. You cannot call yourself a Christian, and believe that. Christians believe that the future is what is supposed to shape the present, not the past.

The relation between the cross and the Kingdom is just that. The cross is there to forgive the past, so you can put it behind you. You can forgive others, and put that behind you. You can be forgiven, and put that behind you, so that you can live the kind of life that God has planned for you in the future. As Christians we shape our lives not on what has happened to us, but on what is coming to us. We don’t look at what we have been. We look at what we can become. As the old Isaac Watts hymn put it: “We are marching to Zion, Beautiful, beautiful Zion; We are marching upward to Zion, The beautiful city of God.”

That is what is awaiting us. Jesus said: I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

That is why people who are oriented to the future are hopeful, they are courageous, they are ready to forgive and accept forgiveness in their own life. They are not chained to the past. They are ready to put the past behind them, and get on with a new life. They are looking at what Jesus said life should be like, and will be like, someday in the future, and trying to make the present look like that.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of that was in a movie that was so popular many years ago, Places In The Heart. It was set in Texas during the Depression. It is about a woman who is left a widow when her husband was killed by a drunken man. Now she must raise her children by herself. She must run the farm by herself. She must face all the pain in her life all by herself.

Her name is Mrs. Spaulding. That is the only name she is known by in the story. You wonder how she does it. Where does she get the courage, the strength, the faith, the hope and the love?

I know where she gets it. It is as plain as it can be, right there in the movie. But what amused me was that the critics who reviewed that movie, never saw it. Which is further proof to me that the Christian view of life is a unique way of seeing the world. They saw the movie in terms of a class struggle. They said that it was a struggle between the rich and the poor. Or, they saw it as a commentary on the plight of the small farm in America.

None of them liked the last scene. They said they should get rid of that last scene. Do you remember the last scene in the movie, Places in the Heart? Critics didn’t understand it. But you should understand it.

It was on a Sunday, in church. It was communion Sunday. The camera is first on the minister. He is reading First Corinthians 13, the chapter about faith, hope and love abiding, the eternal realities of the world. Then the camera shows the ushers passing the communion trays, with the little cups on them. The camera follows the plate as it moves down the aisle, each person passing it to their neighbor, saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you.”

And this is so powerfully wonderful. The camera moves up so you can see the faces of the people who are there. The first one is Mrs. Spaulding. Sitting next to her is her husband, the one who had been killed. He is there now, with his family. The camera moves to the next person in the pew. It is the man who killed him. Mr. Spaulding hands him the tray, and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” The man next to him is the black man, who helped the widow make the farm a success. He is there. Next to him is the banker, the one with the smooth manners that hides a cold heart. He is there. Next to him is the couple that are threatening to split apart because of infidelity in their relationship. They are there now, holding hands.

The critics said, “What is that? Why did they put that in the movie?” They didn’t get it.

But you and I get it. We know that what we do here in Holy Communion is look forward to that day when life will finally be the way God wants it to be. So we understand how Mrs. Spaulding is able to go forth victoriously, in spite of the terrible harshness of her life. And we can understand why she took in an outcast, and why she cared for the homeless, and why she had concern for the blind and the lame, and why she didn’t feel sorry for herself, in spite of what life had done to her. Because she had her eye on the future, not on the past; on what was coming, not on what had been.

We know, also, why that preacher read from First Corinthians 13. Because he speaks of what endures, what will be there at the end, “Everything else passes away; but faith, hope and love abide.” They’ll be there when Christ eats with us at his holy banquet.

That is what makes us different, we Christians, because of this meal. We are different because we look to the future, the way life someday will be. We let that future determine the way life will be now.

Ken Loyer ~ Remembering Christ’s Presence with Us

Recently I wrote a book on the Lord’s Supper called Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (Abingdon Press, December 2014). Part of the Belief Matters Series edited by Will Willimon, this book provides insights and practical suggestions for giving the Lord’s Supper a more prominent role, not just in church life but also in the Christian formation of individuals. You can read more about it and order a copy by visiting this website.

The italicized excerpt below, followed by some additional thoughts and commentary, comes from chapter two, “Remembering Christ’s Presence with Us,” and it explores the significance of memory for us as God’s people and how remembering is a crucial part of the celebration of Holy Communion.

During my first semester of seminary, the Introduction to Old Testament class was held in the chapel. As students anxiously walked into class on the first day, copies of the course syllabus—dozens of thick pages, detailing assignment after assignment—were stacked on the altar, directly above the words inscribed on the altar’s wood, “Do this in remembrance of me.” It was an odd juxtaposition. With all the work before us to do, my classmates and I wondered what exactly we had gotten ourselves into, in the name of Jesus.

When it comes to our life with the God who made heaven and earth, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, remembering is not a mere passive activity. God calls us to an active remembrance, to remember by doing, in the name of Jesus. 

Communion occupies a central place in the Christian faith, which is all about our communion or fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and with one another in Christ. But often Holy Communion, which offers the most tangible experience of that fellowship in this world, is something that we may take for granted. We may not think much about the true meaning of Communion for our life today. I am speaking from experience; when I was growing up, I used to think that Communion was by far the most boring thing of all the boring things that we did at church. I would have much rather looked at my baseball cards—and sometimes did, even in church (to the dismay of my Sunday School teachers).

The previous chapter focused on how Holy Communion is itself a prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for who God is and for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. For that reason, Communion is also a remembrance of the Last Supper. Jesus commands his disciples to do this in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). The memorial nature of the sacrament makes it an active recalling of Christ’s final meal with the disciples. For most people in our churches today, this is probably the default mode of thinking about Communion. However, what happens in the Eucharist is much more than an empty memorialism. We remember what Christ has said and done for us not simply as past events that are forever behind us, but instead as completed actions with ongoing significance and impact.

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Think about your deepest and most powerful memories. How have those experiences stayed with you over the years? How is memory significant for us as God’s people? Why is it important for us to remember, and what specifically should we remember most?

In Holy Communion, we remember by doing what Christ commands us. What we find, unfailingly, is that the Risen Lord himself meets us in this holy mystery. By God’s grace, that is chiefly how we remember the presence of Jesus Christ with us today.



This post includes material quoted from “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us,” published by Abingdon Press.


Ken Loyer ~ Communion as a Prayer of Thanksgiving

My book, Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (Abingdon Press, December 2014), explores the Eucharist as a powerful means of grace for Christian formation and church renewal. You can read more about it and even order a copy at the following website: www.abingdonpress.com/product/9781426796333. The excerpt from below (in italics, along with some additional thoughts and commentary) is from Chapter 1, “A Prayer of Thanksgiving: Seeking the Presence of God,” and it invites readers to see the Lord’s Supper for what it truly is, namely, a prayer thanking the God of our salvation.

The first time I walked into the church’s prayer chapel, my heart sank. The dank, dimly lit room had become essentially a catchall. The walls were lined with boxes and dusty bookshelves overstuffed with old certificates, pictures, and other mementos (the congregation was gearing up for its 150th anniversary celebration). There were baskets of prayer request slips from services held years before. I don’t even want to know how old the tissue box was! This space, once consecrated to God, was no longer used on a regular basis for the originally intended purpose. Instead it had become overrun with stuff, a lot of it junk.

There I was, the new pastor of a church that had a strong, proud heritage but more recently had experienced several decades of slow decline while nobly carrying on, a congregation like so many others these days. I was trying to envision through hope-filled eyes the potential for renewal and growth in that setting, but as I stepped into the prayer chapel that day almost all I could see was a bunch of clutter in a space that was supposed to be devoted to prayer.

One way to gauge the vitality of a church is to look at the place of prayer in that church’s life. The same is true on a personal level; the role of prayer in one’s life probably gives a good indication of the depth, breadth, and power of that person’s faith. God calls us to be a people of prayer, a people attentive to God’s presence.

So easily, though, the stuff of our lives can spread and take over, as it did in that prayer chapel. We will likely find such a place in most churches, as well as most human hearts and lives—spaces or areas that were at one point dedicated to God and God’s presence, but have since begun serving other purposes or no purpose at all. Without sufficient formation and care, without the light and order that we need, without remaining open to the fresh air of God’s grace stirring among and within us, parts of our lives can become cluttered and musty, stifling rather than encouraging spiritual vitality.

Thankfully, God gives us the sacraments, sacred gifts endowed with divine power to clean up our lives. By these outward signs of an inward grace, and God’s good will toward us, the Holy Spirit works invisibly in us, and quickens, strengthens, and confirms our faith in Christ. God authorizes and graciously imparts the sacraments to us for our sanctification.

Think a little more about the problem with the prayer chapel mentioned above and its spiritual implications. (By the way, in the book I go on to talk about how the people of the church have since reclaimed that space, and the newly renovated prayer chapel is a symbol of the new life that God wants to bring us through prayer and Holy Communion.) Are there any aspects of your life that are like that prayer chapel—areas that were once consecrated to God but have since become neglected? How can you reclaim those areas for God’s purposes?

Later in Chapter 1, I lead readers on a journey through the liturgy (or order of worship) presented in the hymnal that I use for leading worship, “The United Methodist Hymnal,” beginning with the words of invitation to commune with Christ and with others in his name: “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with God and one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.” The order of worship continues with such elements as the peace and offering, the Great Thanksgiving (which recalls Christ’s Last Supper with the disciples and the words of institution), a prayer invoking the power of the Holy Spirit, and the giving of the bread and cup. Saying these words takes time, but they are important; as a whole, they constitute a prayer of thanks to God. In Communion services at your church, what does the pastor say leading up to the distribution of the elements? Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of those words? What do those words say about God, the world, and the purposes of God? What do they suggest about how we can encounter and live for God?

Every year here in America we set aside a day for giving and receiving gifts—and what do we do on that day? We eat a lot. Then we eat some more! We relish all the delicious food and time with family. But for Christians, our most important meal is The Great Thanksgiving, Holy Communion, a true feast for our souls. How does considering Communion as first and foremost a prayer of thanksgiving affect your understanding of what this holy meal is all about and why it matters?

This post includes material quoted from “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us” (www.abingdonpress.com/product/9781426796333).

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Bread Line at the End of Your Rope

Have you ever really, really, really been at the end of your rope?

I don’t mean that you’ve had a long day or that an exam was difficult or that you sprained your ankle while running. I mean the Chevy-Chase-losing-it-in-National-Lampoon’s-Christmas-Vacation kind of meltdown in which you discover that you are at the end of yourself.

Oh, dear friends, so many people in North America have been at the end of their ropes in the past decade (and not just auto workers in the rust belt, as this excellent essay points out). Foreclosures turned one teen into a landlord and spawned many a story of food pantry donors-turned-recipients, middle-class subdivision neighbors sneaking for assistance and afraid that each other would find out, or this shining example, “This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps.”

May I observe something? It’s not “us-and-them.” If the past ten years has taught us anything, it is that it should be just “us,” as so many have discovered. It’s not that “we” have and “they” don’t, so we donate to “them.” We are all in this together.

But a painful lesson it’s been, as I know personally, still flinching at the memory of nearly five Christmases ago when I waddled nine months pregnant into the unemployment office, where I waited an hour and a half to be seen until finally lumbering over to the desk and hissing at a very young employee that I was having contractions and would hate for my water to break on her as-yet dry carpet (alright, I admit I suspected they were Braxton-Hicks contractions, but this was my first child and they could have been the real thing!). Five minutes later and my paperwork had been processed (“it’s a Christmas miracle!”).

This Thanksgiving and Christmas, we need food pantries and nonprofit organizations, churches and kind social workers, homeless shelters and business donations, we need Good Samaritan funds and people who order a coffee in the drive-thru for the guy with the sign at the intersection. The Church is really good at putting programming in place.

Only when you’re at the end of your rope, it’s not always programming that you need. In fact, programming can be a tool to distance ourselves from uncomfortable need.

One time while I was in seminary (and these were the days when thrift shops were cool) a friend said, “hey! There’s a church that runs something basically like a free “Goodwill” store, do you want to go?” Knowing the church, I thought the chances were good that donations would be good quality, so I said sure. At the last minute the others had to back out, so I went alone.

What an eye-opener.

I’d grown up in church, I had a parent, a grandparent and two uncles in ministry. I had answered knocks on the front door from people asking for assistance. During a severe mid-winter power outage we’d had a 94-year-old woman stay with us for several days. Not only had I been brought up to help others, others sometimes liked to try to help out the pastor’s family, like the time when I was 12 and a sweet old lady handed me a bag of clothes she’d picked up for me.

At a garage sale.

It was a bag of underwear.

How could I be shocked by anything?

Yet I was.

This church with the free “Goodwill store” set-up had organized a well-oiled machine of charitable giving. It was efficient, clear, and completely inhuman.  There was hot coffee and plenty of selection; the only thing missing was dignity.

I had arrived early, and when I found the registration table (starting to sound less like a “Goodwill” store), I had to present photo identification, because, the shining white teeth informed me, I was only allowed to come every few months so that the system wouldn’t be taken advantage of, and so that people wouldn’t come and get clothes only to turn around and sell them for profit (because the last thing we want is recipients selling hand-me-down’s?).

I tried, and managed, to imagine reasons for these regulations that seemed excessive but hopefully well-intentioned. But then, dear reader, then, someone assumed I was a volunteer.

Because I was the only Caucasian in the line.

All around me were well-mannered families waiting patiently for their turns, seemingly at ease while I wondered if smoke was beginning to pour from my pale Celtic ears.

“Us” and “them”…

Consider the miracles Jesus performed in which the disciples were forced to receive something. These disciples were sent out, performing miracles themselves sometimes, but when they returned – ah, they needed to have to receive (read Mark 6:6b-13 and 30-44). Before the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost, the disciples quickly slid into thinking of themselves as “us,” and of the crowds as “them” – and Jesus always, always pushed them to have to become “them” in his presence. The disciples had gone out healing others but still needed to eat the loaves and fish that Jesus multiplied.

When you’re at the end of your rope, yes, programming may be helpful, but when you’re at the end of your rope, you mostly need very, very kind love – the kind of love that makes you stand taller, that makes you laugh or hope when the world seems drained of humor or goodness. Mother Teresa did not gain notoriety for being an efficiency expert, but for her embracing, laughing love that fought against despair or suicidal thoughts or pink slips or rejection or shame.

At Vineyard Community Church in Wickliffe, another Cleveland suburb, Brent Paulson, the pastor, said he had to post an employee in the driveway the day the church’s food bank was open to coax people inside, they were so ashamed to ask for help,” reports a 2011 New York Times piece on suburban poverty.

We all want to exercise our best for God, but have “best practices” spawned pride – or shame – in their wake?

So whether you plan to volunteer at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day or play Santa for kids in foster care or sing carols in a nursing home ward, remember this.

Every time you take Communion, you stand in line at God’s food pantry. We all stand in line for the bread that is the Body.


Ken Loyer ~ Are We Having Communion Today?

This post continues a series of reflections on the Lord’s Supper based on my new book, Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us (Abingdon Press, December 2014). You can read more about it and order a copy here.

As I mentioned in my first post of this series, I have written the book out of the conviction that Holy Communion is a powerful means of grace that can contribute to the renewal of the church for transformative mission in the name of Jesus Christ. Below are excerpts (in italics) from the introduction, entitled “Are We Having Communion Today?”, along with some additional thoughts and commentary.

“Communion Sundays are my FAVORITE!” exclaimed eight-year-old Hannah to her mother. A spiritually sensitive young girl, Hannah participates actively in the church I serve. Her enthusiasm for Communion derives in part from the fact that she loves the taste of Communion bread. On a deeper level, it is also the act of sharing in this holy meal together as a church family that she finds meaningful even at her young age.

One Sunday morning during the frantic rush to get ready for church, Hannah asked her mom, “Are we having Communion today?” She was asking, of course, whether Communion would be part of worship for us that morning in our church. She then told her mom, enthusiastically, that she really hoped it would be. Yet the question points beyond the original context to a deeper meaning: Are we, as the church—at the local level, at the denominational level, and in the wider church—truly having Communion today, in this day and in this age? In other words, are we communing with Christ as closely as he invites and commands us? In that sense, are we having Communion today?

Consider the local church that you attend or serve. How often does that congregation celebrate Holy Communion? In some settings, there is a noticeable difference in attendance or enthusiasm on Communion Sundays—either with an increase in one or both, or with a decrease. In your local church, what seems to be the most common attitude toward Communion Sundays, or is it hard to say? If attendance or enthusiasm tends to differ on those Sundays compared to other Sundays, why do you think that is the case?

In our quest for a good and meaningful life, where do we ultimately turn? At root, these are spiritual matters. Even among regular churchgoers, Holy Communion might be little more than an afterthought as a resource for the sustenance that we crave. Yet this sacred meal is a gift of God that directly addresses the hunger of the human heart. What makes Holy Communion holy—set apart, special, and of God—is the spiritual nourishment that it provides through the work of the Holy Spirit in our ongoing relationship with God.

There is a great need to recover a richer theology and practice of this sacrament in the church today because that is a key to strengthening our life in Christ. It is also, I believe, a way for us and our congregations to experience genuine renewal. In the past, proper celebration of the Eucharist has sown seeds of awakening and revitalization. Today we see signs of a growing interest among many Christians in reclaiming a deeper appreciation for Holy Communion.

In the book, I go on to explore how acting on that interest has served as a catalyst for spiritual and missional renewal in the congregation that I serve, and how the institution of a mid-week service of Holy Communion—a simple idea that can easily be adapted in other church settings—has played a large part in our turnaround.

We experience the presence of Christ in many ways, but none more special, more intimate, more truly satisfying than in what is variously called Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or simply the Eucharist. Whatever name we use for it, this is a meal of God’s grace that Christ has prepared for us. For it is here, as we respond in faith to his invitation, that he feeds our souls with the bread of life that endures forever. It is here, as we believe in him, that our spiritual thirst is quenched. It is here, as we partake of the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper, that we can say: the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ, and the cup over which we give thanks is a sharing in the blood of Christ. It is here, in this holy meal, where God satisfies the deepest hunger and thirst of the human heart.

Why? Because here our souls feast upon and drink in a love so great that it will not let us go, a love that rescues us, forgives us, renews and restores us; a love so powerful that nothing, not even death, can separate us from it. It is all here, freely given for you, for me, for all people.

So I come back to Hannah’s question, “Are we having Communion today?” And I mean it in this sense: are we truly communing with Christ as closely as he commands and invites us? If not, what needs to change? Jesus promises to meet us at his table—God’s own altar—and he has prepared a place for each of us. Are we going to join him?

Carolyn Moore ~ How Good and Pleasant It Is

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore. ~Psalm 133

When I was five years old, my family changed churches. We were a family of eight, but my mother, sister and I were the only ones who went to church with any regularity. To be honest, I don’t know what was behind the decision to move. But for whatever reason, we went to the big church on the hill.

I remember the car ride on that first Sunday we went to the new church. My mother called to me in the back seat and said, “Carolyn, now this is a big, fancy church, and we have to be very quiet during the service. You cannot talk during church.” I didn’t remember talking during church before, but I can tell you, I was very quiet at the new, fancy church.

We must have liked it there because we stayed, and you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like at the other church, we were still among the last to leave every Sunday because my mother would not go home until she had spoken to everyone. Maybe that’s why I liked communion Sundays so much. It gave me something to do while I waited for my mom. After church on communion Sundays, while my mother talked, I’d go up to the altar and play with all the little cups that were left there.

You know how there is always a little bit of grape juice left in the bottom of those little cups? Well, I could take the leavings from two or three little cups and just about fill up another one. And I could usually down three or four shots before my mother caught sight of me. “You can not play with the little cups!” she’d say, as she dragged me off by my arm.

So I find it ironic, all these years later, that I make my living talking during church and playing with those little cups. It is a good thing, too, because I didn’t have a lot of other options. I am not particularly musical, not athletic at all, not brilliant, artistic or technical. I know a little bit about a few things, but not a lot about anything.

But I do have one passion. I love the church. I love it! I love the Lord. He is the reason I live. But I am a pastor because I love the church. It fascinates me that Almighty God, in all his wisdom, chose this organism as his medium for sharing his revelation of Jesus Christ. And my passion is for seeing that organism, the Church, work in the way God intended when he passed the Body of Christ from the person of Jesus to the people of God. I don’t claim to know God’s whole vision for that kind of church, but I do believe he is looking for more than just somebody to talk on Sundays who occasionally plays with those little cups. In fact, I believe he is crying out for the people of God to be the body of Christ…the Church being the Church. But I’m not sure most of us have had good examples of that.

What Is “The Church”?

I’m guessing we’d all agree that it is more than just talking on Sundays and playing with little cups…but what is the church?

• Do you hear the word “church” as a positive or negative thing?

• What do you think the church is supposed to be doing?

• Is it a place or people?

• Is it an organization or an organism?

• Who is in charge of the church?

Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Christianity means community in Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ…we belong to each other only through and in Jesus Christ.” Jesus is head of the church. He is the founding pastor. He gave the vision after his resurrection, and then set it in motion at his ascension.

Paul is the one who helped us interpret the vision. That’s what a lot of the New Testament does. It is Paul, working out his understanding of the Church while he’s dealing with the first churches ever to exist. In his letters, he’s helping these brand new churches understand who they are. They are…in some mysterious but real way…the body of Christ on earth.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit;” and then he continues, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Corinthians 12:12-13, 26-27)

Let this sink in. Hear what Paul is really saying. He is not talking about organizational structure or a membership covenant. He isn’t talking about a civic organization or a well-run non-profit. He is talking about a cosmic reality: those who become part of the Body of Christ…become part of the Body of Christ!

This is what our Bible teaches us: The Church is the Body of Christ on earth. When we talking about sharing life, we’re really talking about sharing the life of Christ. Allowing Christ’s life to flow through us, living out the resurrected Body of Christ.

Where did Paul get this from? Go back to Acts chapter nine, where Saul, who was Paul before he got saved, was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Picture this: he is on his way to Damascus where he plans to root out other followers of Jesus and kill them or throw them in jail. But then Jesus Christ himself shows up.

“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'”(Acts 9:3-5)

I seem to be coming back to this scene a lot lately. I’m beginning to see just how radical it is. Paul was a first-century terrorist. If there had been newspapers he would have been in the news. People knew about this guy. And this is who God chooses. A vision comes to him and tells him he is persecuting not people but Jesus. And then Paul is struck blind for three days so he can think about that.

In his book Give Them Christ, Steve Seamands says that when Paul walked out of that darkness, he walked out with a whole new appreciation for the spiritual connection between believers: “When you persecute the Church, Saul is told, you are directly – not indirectly – persecuting Christ himself. That’s how close the connection is between the risen Lord and his followers. So when we come to faith in Christ through the Holy Spirit, we actually become part of his resurrected body, it is his very life, his resurrected life, in which we share and participate. This is what makes the church essentially a living organism, not an organization. In an organism – plant, animal or human – all the cells share a common life. Likewise the body of Christ, all the parts, regardless how distinct and diverse they are, share a common life – the life of our risen Lord.”

Jesus holds us together. Jesus makes us who we are.

How Does it Work?

Think of it this way: I have five siblings. Four brothers and a sister. What makes us brothers and sisters is my parents, Stewart and Angel Capers. Without them, we wouldn’t be related. But because of them, we can’t not be related. Whether we get together once a year because we feel obligated to, or we text each other every day, we belong to each other, not because of how we act but because we share the same head of the family. We carry their DNA.

That’s the way Paul talks about the church. It is Christ, living on earth as community. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and gave his Spirit to us, we now carry his life into the world. Steve Seamands says,

“That’s why we must preach about this crucial connection between resurrection and church. When we fail to understand it, the church is reduced to a human religious institution and inevitably become more about us than it is about Christ. We, the members and parts of the body, end up taking control of its leadership and setting its goals. Human initiative and energy fuel its life. It becomes ‘our church,’ ‘the pastor’s church,’ ‘that family’s church’ or ‘my church’ more than Christ’s.”

What makes a church Christ’s church? Jesus.

So do you get it? That putting Jesus at the center of everything we do becomes really important? Otherwise, how will they know we’re related? Then Paul tells us that in Christ’s church, all people matter.

Unity in Diversity

We read in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, 27,

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.”

I am left-handed, and I’ve just returned from three weeks in India, where being left-handed can be a bit of a challenge. In many middle-eastern countries, the left hand is used for hygiene, so the custom is that you don’t use your left hand for anything else. Don’t eat with it. Don’t touch people with it. But I’m really left-handed, so that’s a challenge for me.

For a couple of days, we visited in a home for the poorest of the poor. We took nail polish with us. We were going to give the women a treat by painting their nails. I’m not a nail-painter in my own world. I’m really not a nail-painter in a right-handed world. This was way outside my comfort level. But I am a team player, so if nail painting is the task, then I’ll do my best.

The first day, I noticed that some of the other team members pretty quickly gathered crowds. Women were all around them, waiting to get their nails painted. But I had hardly anyone asking me to paint their nails. It took most of that day for me to get it that it was because I’m left-handed. I can’t paint nails with my right hand. That second day, the first person whose nails I painted wanted to know why I was using my left hand. She wasn’t speaking English, but I was really clear on what she was asking. At first, I was a little defensive. I’ll be honest. This person who had lice in her hair, who smelled of urine, who was in an indigent care home, and she found my left hand unsettling. When I told her I couldn’t use my right hand, she wanted someone else to do her nails. That little exchange got me thinking: how often do I decide someone is “less than” or “not as good as,” simply because they aren’t like me?

After that, I gave up painting nails. Instead, I began circulating through the women, praying for them. And now that I was inside my comfort zone, I began to see Jesus. I saw him and heard him. I would pray, “Lord, be present to this person today,” and I would hear, “I am present. You are there.” I would pray, “Lord, surround this person with your angels,” and I would hear, “I have. I sent you.”

I sang with some women and taught them songs. That was fun. (And you’re thinking, “Well, Carolyn, singing isn’t exactly your gift, either. But it is in India!) I danced with a woman who loved to dance. I sat with one woman for quite a while, and she took my hand and rubbed it while she talked. And I listened. I couldn’t understand her, but I could be present to her. After a while, another woman came over and sat with us. She was very old. She balled up part of her sari and leaned it against my leg like a pillow. Then she put her head there, and the other woman put her head in my lap. And the Lord said, “This is what intimacy looks like.” And I thanked God that I am left-handed, so I could have that moment.

There is a story just like this in Acts chapter six. This was a time when the church was experiencing some growing pains. A lot of people were coming to know Jesus and many of them were needy. The church began a food pantry. They wanted to meet all the needs, but it was sapping the energy of the apostles. (This is when they discovered that the need is not the call. The call is the call.)

They all got together and someone said, “If we spend all our time giving out food, there is nothing left for preaching the Word. What we need is a system, where those who are gifted for it can devote themselves to food distribution and others can focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word.” So they appointed Stephen and a team to the mercy ministries of the church, so that everyone was moving in their gifts.

That’s the Body of Christ. That’s the Church being the Church – not just talking on Sundays and playing with the little cups – but all of us together bearing the good news of Jesus Christ. Each of us using our gifts so that the mission can be accomplished. “Prayer and the ministry of the word,” they said, “are the center of what we do. Nothing should stand in the way of that mission. And the ministries of compassion belong to the congregation.”

Unity in diversity. Everyone matters. In this world, community is essential.

No Weak Links

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.” (I Corinthians 12:21-25)

My third grade teacher hated left-handed people. But my mom always made me feel special for being left-handed. When our family sat down to dinner every night — remember, there were eight of us at one table — my brothers would complain loudly about me eating with the wrong hand. Pretty quickly, my mother assigned me the place next to her. That was the best place at the table, because passing the food always started with my parents. My mom would make sure I got enough on my plate, and she took care of me.

So there I was, the lone left-hander – with the best seat in the house.

And there was an old woman with her sari balled up and leaned against my leg. Best seat in the house. No weak links in the Kingdom of God. Paul tells the Galatians in 5:13-14, “for you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

The law was fulfilled in Jesus and now Jesus lives out the Law through us. Ray Stedman says,“that is what the church is. It is not just a group of religious people gathered together to enjoy certain mutually desired functions. It is a group of people who share the same life, who belong to the same Lord, who are filled with the same Spirit, who are given gifts by that same Spirit, and who are intended to function together to change the world by the life of God. That is the work of the church.”

Church, when we say that we share life, we are saying something profound, cosmic. We are proclaiming that we share the life of Christ. That the resurrected Christ flows through us. The resurrected Christ, who is the hope of the world! We believe and proclaim that the resurrected Christ lives in us and flows through us. That ought to make us excited!

We are the tabernacle of Jesus Christ! Christ in us, the hope of glory!

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Aging & Keeping Covenant

“When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not!”
-Yoda, “The Empire Strikes Back”

For followers of Jesus Christ, aging comes as a season of compelling and vital new purpose.

Just what if there is extraordinary promise hidden in the age of doctors’ appointments, retirement, loss of loved ones and colleagues as well as physical challenges? What if aging doesn’t make you disposable, but rather indispensible? What if you ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit to sweep away the voices that call into question your relevance, your purpose and your gifts? What if you asked for grace to believe that God has a purpose for you, here, now?

There is great power in aging. The body may feel feeble; the soul may feel sapped of strength; but the accumulation of years is an extraordinary gift that can produce unimaginable impact – if wielded well. People often miss the power of their own age.

Sometimes we do not prepare ourselves for aging; we are uncomfortable, perhaps, thinking about the unknown, or fearing it. We fear a picture of aging that we paint for ourselves in which we look unrecognizable in the mirror, face an obsolete existence and are marginalized from the “real action” of living. But that great inspirer of John Wesley, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, counsels us: “let us prepare our minds against changes, always expecting them, that we be not surprised when they come.” Curiously, this excellent advice comes in the middle of his discussion on contentedness.

Let’s look at some lives that found profound purpose when they had reached profound age. These simple people found keeping covenant as an indispensable aspect of aging with purpose, on purpose. What priceless value there is in keeping covenant!

If you have a moment, read Genesis 17. Have you ever noticed that other than a general sketch of his extended family, where they settled, and whom he married, we do not get any stories of Abraham’s childhood or young adult years? Of all the great stories and colorful experiences that the book of Genesis tells us about Abraham, all that action picks up when he moves away in response to God’s promise at the age of 75.

God invites Abram into covenant by promising descendents – descendents that would outnumber the stars. This nation would inherit land; they would be blessed, and be a blessing, if they, too, chose to keep covenant with God; and from this nation would sprout the Messiah.

But for now, Abram is old, and he and Sarai have no children or grandchildren.

God establishes a covenant, full to the brim with promises, marks it by giving Abram and Sarai new names to reflect the coming reality of these promises, and commands Abraham to keep the covenant. Keeping the covenant, of course, doesn’t mean to avoid losing it, as you keep a receipt in your wallet. Keeping covenant is illustrated by the newly-reformed Ebenezer Scrooge’s promise to “keep Christmas” – to preserve, to maintain, to fulfill, to be faithful to.

Happily, we can skim ahead and see that Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Abraham did not get to skim ahead. Abraham kept covenant by acting on faith in a reality that was not yet: painfully so! He circumcised all the men of his household; he himself was circumcised before Sarah ever felt the fluttering of a baby in her womb; before he held his newborn son in his arms. He believed God’s promise that there was yet purpose in his age, and he acted on faith in God before he ever witnessed the screaming infant-proof.

This covenant between God and Abraham was vital, not just for Abraham’s self-interest in his desire to have a child, to have grandkids; this covenant was for the redemption of the world. And every generation had to decide for itself whether it would keep covenant with God, and we read those stories over and over again in the Old Testament.

How are you like Abraham? How are you like Sarah?

Keeping covenant may sometimes look a lot like Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline: fulfilling and maintaining the practices of our faith in life together. But keeping covenant has a richer dimension when it’s in the context of seasoned age, in the same way that marriage has a richer dimension at a 50th wedding anniversary. By the time you are “aged,” your faith has weathered many years; and because of the accumulated experiences of a lifetime, or the challenging experiences associated with aging itself, you may find your faith tired, or tested, or perhaps a bit brittle and cynical.

That is why, above and beyond the practice of personal faith, keeping covenant matters so much as you age: because there is the temptation not to. And your faithful keeping of the covenant, even through years of struggle, or deep loss, or physical pain, does not go unnoticed.

And now let’s look at a lesser-known pair of aged covenant-keepers: Lois and Eunice, found in 2 Timothy 1:3-7.

Paul’s words at the beginning of his letter to the young pastor Timothy are fascinating: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” While the writer of Hebrews reminds us that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” Paul reminds Timothy of the covenant keepers in his own immediate family tree – Grandma Lois and Mama Eunice. Keeping faith – the kind that was “accounted” to Abraham for righteousness; the kind that inspired the hall of faith in Hebrews 11; keeping this covenant with God by faith made a difference in Timothy’s life. Because of those women Paul called out by name, Timothy witnessed the faith of covenant-keepers. And when Timothy decided also to keep faith, he ministered to bodies of believers in the early church. And to encourage him in ministry, Paul wrote to him, and we have these letters to inspire, guide and encourage our own faith today. That’s right: Grandma Lois’ faithfulness in keeping covenant got a shout-out in the Bible.

Your children, your children’s children, or your nieces and nephews – they witness the ways you keep covenant with God and with the church.

There is a kind woman named Eleanor who lives in the Midwest. She quietly keeps covenant – living a life infused with prayer and a gentle love of Scripture. And when she was in her 70’s, she decided to become a youth group sponsor. That’s right! She stayed up with the youth at all-night lock-ins. She went spelunking in caves with them on their camping trip. Instead of being with the adults during Wednesday night services, she sat and met with the youth group, occasionally offering comment or reflection. Her life uncovered one of the secrets of aging with purpose: keeping covenant. And in a time in which technology moves at lightning pace, the church is called to practice counter-cultural values of celebrating the value of ordinary, everyday covenant keepers, especially those seasoned with age.

So how can you renew your vision of yourself as a valued, valuable covenant-keeper?

Let’s consider engaging in what may seem a rather surprising suggestion. In order to refresh and renew your sense of purpose in aging; in order to reflect on your own role as a covenant keeper, and the value of simply not giving up; in order to embrace God’s covenant with you; in order to remind yourself regularly of God’s promises – what if you celebrated Holy Communion weekly?

It is in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, after all, that God’s offer of covenant through Jesus Christ is acted out, regularly receiving the promise of the new covenant: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20). As Bishop Jeremy Taylor described long ago: “it is sufficient to thee that Christ shall be present to thy soul as an instrument of grace, as a pledge of the resurrection, as the earnest [guarantee] of glory and immortality, and a means of many blessings, even all such as are necessary for thee, and are in order to thy salvation.”

And remember this wisdom that Taylor wrote and Wesley read: “for that life is not best which is longest: and when they are descended into the grave it shall not be inquired how long they have lived, but how well.”

May you keep the covenant well.

Ken Loyer ~ Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us, Part 1

Note from the Editor: Ken Loyer’s forthcoming book, “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us” will be available beginning in December 2014 from Abingdon Press. Readers may explore more details here.

What is Holy Communion, and why does it matter?

Those questions have given rise to a book that I have written, “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us,” the second in the Belief Matters series edited by Bishop William H. Willimon. Today I begin a series of posts about the book and about the pressing need to recover a robust understanding and practice of Holy Communion for the renewal of the church in faith, mission, and sacramental life.

Celebrating the presence of God through Holy Communion nourishes our souls and refreshes our sense of community. For small groups and Sunday School classes, and as a resource for preaching, “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us” is suitable for a four-week study and offers questions for reflection at the end of each chapter.

The more Christians link Communion with spiritual formation and daily faith practice, the more likely the church will be invigorated and empowered to carry out its missional mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Through the service of Communion, the church remembers and celebrates the presence of God with us. Yet many Christians do not understand Communion or see it only as an empty ritual, devoid of meaning or personal significance. As a result, many congregations experience a drop in worship attendance or enthusiasm on Communion Sundays. Then churches wonder why they are so spiritually depleted. This book offers a richer appreciation of Communion and provides insights and practical suggestions for giving this sacrament a more prominent role, not just in church life, but in the Christian formation of individuals.