Tag Archives: Lord’s Supper

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Prayer for the Raw & Ragged

Breath of Life,
You humble us with the piercing memory of a man six years ago begging to be treated with dignity: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
He spoke the truth; we were busy.
And now we’re all struggling to breathe.
Some on ventilators.
Some in panic.
Some in stale rooms we didn’t choose, didn’t plan to inhabit
hooked up to the life support of Wi-Fi.
We need your Breath of Life.

We need your Breath of Life, your Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Breath of Life,
we wait and watch (what else can we do?)
gathered in our upstairs rooms
by ourselves
or with two or three
away from Dan or Karen or Dave
with them in worship
as we use our air to sing together on Sundays
while the internet strains to take it all.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on us gathered
and there
a mighty rushing wind,
a theophany of fire on the heads of women and men, young and old, day laborer and C-suite.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on these gifts –
what gifts are in our pantries?
What can we bring you from empty store shelves,
from online stores crushed from the weight of inventory of others’ worry?
Pour out on these gifts – what do we have to bring you?
Bread and wine? Juice?
It has not always been so:
some find you’ve made rice be for them the Body and Blood.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your mighty rushing gifts poured out on our scraps:
stale end pieces of dried bread; instant rice; canned biscuit dough near expiration.
We don’t want to give you this.

We wanted to give our best – our best foot forward, a good vintage, a rich bread.

We don’t want to give you this – a rigged ventilator adapted for two; cloth face masks needing nightly bleaching; Hefty bag hospital gowns.

We wanted to present our best side – our best foot forward, a royal tour of a new hospital wing, a display of how your major gift was put to use, your name on the gleaming building.

we believed we could breathe on our own
our own steam
our own will
our own can-do spirit.
we thought giving our best
was how the Wind came.

You’ve known otherwise.
You always have.
You have poured your mighty rushing gifts on
old technology
illiterate minds
stale bread crusts
empty cupboards.

It’s always been your Breath we borrowed.
It’s always been Breath of Life
infusing frailty
trading waste for life
one breath at a time.

And that is all we have, Breath of Life:
one breath at a time.
My bread will be here today, gone soon in hungry bellies.
I don’t know what store will have what goods – flour or yeast or bread, or not.
We can give you what is in our pantry
That is all.
That has always been all.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
prompting us, preparing us for the moment
when we would stare at crusts and apple juice,
at rigged ventilators and make-shift masks,
at rice and water
and say

we want to give you this.
It’s all we have.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
so that you could pour out Your Holy Breath
in sight of us all
on everything that embarrasses us in its stale dryness.

We believed we could breathe on our own. But our breaths do not belong to us.
We need your Breath of Life:
the Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Pour out your Holy Wind on us gathered
and there.
Pour out your mighty, rushing gifts.
Speak the truth; we are not too busy.
We need your Breath of Life.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Carolyn Moore ~ The Mystery and Glory of Communion with God

My sister, after years away from the faith, came home to Christ in the Lutheran church. The transition back into the church world, while it was welcomed, still had its moments. She’d dealt with a lot in her life and carried a lot of shame. As a Lutheran she took communion every Sunday but she noticed that communion just made her feel more guilty. She often thought as she’d go to the altar, “I’m not worthy.” But Lutherans take communion every week, so every week she had to deal with what it means to be invited to the table as a person with a past.

Then one Sunday, something shifted. She was at the railing to receive the elements, but the person with the wine was moving slowly so she’d gotten the wafer but had to hold it in her mouth while she waited for the wine. Kneeling there with that wafer melting in her mouth, a memory floated forward. It was a moment she’d had with our father when he was in his last days on earth. He was home with hospice care and she’d been with him for days but was about to go back home to another state. This was the last time she would see him alive and they both knew it. They told each other good-bye and she left crying but before she could get out of the driveway, someone waved her back into the house. Daddy had asked for her again. He wanted her to bring him two pieces of ice. My father hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for days so this was sort of an odd request. My sister went and got the ice and took it to him and he took one piece and told her to keep the other one. And he said, “Now, you go on home but when you leave I want you to put your piece of ice in your mouth and I’ll put my piece in my mouth.”

That was it. He didn’t say any more than that but as my sister left the house with that ice in her mouth, she said, “I knew exactly what he meant. He meant that even if we were separated, if we were doing the same thing at the same time then we were still connected.” So it seemed to my sister that her daddy was saying, “Here’s something tangible to hold on to, and when you do this I will meet you in this act.”

That whole memory came to my sister while she knelt there at the communion rail with the body of Christ melting into the roof of her mouth. “That’s when I got it,” she told me. “Because if I’m holding this in my mouth right now, then Jesus must be saying to me that he’s here and I’m here in the very same space. The real Jesus. I’m in his presence and he is in mine. He’s saying, ‘I’m not leaving you. It might look like I’m leaving, but I’m not leaving. This is not the end.’”

Ever since, my sister tells me, she revels in the opportunity to take communion. Because she so wants to see Jesus.


Read more from Rev. Carolyn Moore at www.artofholiness.com.

Jeff Rudy ~ To Be the Body of Christ

Something happens to our bodies about the time we turn 30. Things stop working like they once could and illnesses take a greater toll and become much more difficult to get over. The Avett Brothers recently released a song that says this:

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

Get the young scientists, tell them come quick
I must be the first man that’s ever seen this
Lines on my face, my teeth are not white
My eyes do not work and my legs don’t move right.

–  The Avett Brothers, Smithsonian

Several weeks ago on a Sunday morning I woke up queasy and I knew it wasn’t just nervousness about preaching. My daughter had had a stomach virus a couple of days earlier. So when I woke up feeling unsettled, and then when my wife woke up a few minutes after me and she said she felt queasy, too, I knew some rough hours were coming. I prayed right then and there – “God, if you can help me hold it together until 12:15 so that I can get this sermon preached in both services, after I get home you can let this hit me as hard as it has to.”

Well, God was faithful to God’s end of the deal. I kept my distance from the congregation that morning, and I made it to 12:15, put on my Green Bay Packers gear and then collapsed onto my bed, which I did not leave except to go to the bathroom for the next 36 hours. I couldn’t even get up and cheer when Mason Crosby kicked the winning field goal. My body has never felt that bad in my whole life. I ached in places I didn’t know you could ache. My body was getting all out of sorts and I couldn’t get comfortable…just miserable.

Now after I recovered, I’ve had several weeks to ponder about not so much the getting older part, but the mystery of how a body processes and responds to an illness. The body is an amazing thing – sometimes extremely fragile, at other times remarkably resilient. It’s amazing how all the parts of the body are intertwined and interconnected, to such a degree that when one part hurts, the whole body hurts with it. Yet at the same time, while the body might be wiped out, there are still some things that you have to do to sustain you through those rough times; even when you have the stomach flu, you have to keep eating and drinking to stay hydrated and get some nourishment to the body for the sake of its survival and recovery.

And then there’s the first meal you have after the virus is finally gone – is there anything quite like that satisfaction? It’s not like you’re able to eat a filet mignon and lobster tail right away, but just the feeling of health and life and strength come back; it’s so refreshing to eat and know it’s going to stay down.

To put it another way – during the sickness, at times it felt like I was getting dismembered – my body was being torn in pieces. And the last thing I felt I had the strength to do was to piece my body together and eat and drink. When my feet couldn’t get me to the kitchen, what had to happen? My wife or the kids had to bring me something.

When our bodies are all out sorts and we feel dismembered, the way to get well again is through a process we might call re-membering, putting the members back together, and this is best done through nourishment of a meal – to practice and celebrate recovery from an ailment, to get healthy again, to gain strength so that the body, now made well, can go on about its purpose – vitality! Life!

There are times when the body, that is, the church, is out of sorts too. Fractured relationships, broken trust, as Paul alludes to in his letter to the contentious Corinthians, jealousy over not getting to be the part of the body you want to be, pride – all of these and more tend to dismember us, if not in actual people leaving the church, at least in a virtual distance even if we’re in the same space to worship or to learn or to break bread. There are times where you just don’t “feel like” it…like breaking bread with him or her or them. “Ugh! I have to share at the table with them?”

But Jesus has said that when we come together to break this bread and drink this cup, we are to remember him. Remember by recalling the mighty acts of redemption through Jesus Christ, but also by re-membering: putting the members of the body back together, through a meal of reconciliation – a meal to restore fellowship, to practice the presence of God and to be truly present to one other, to gain nourishment so that the body, being made well by the mystery of God’s grace, can go on as a body sent out into the world to share that grace with those who are broken and hurting, with those who for some reason or another haven’t made it to the table yet.

We come to the table and the words are spoken – make these elements Christ’s body and blood so that we, that is, the church, might be the body of Christ for the world around us – the world outside these walls. This isn’t a private meal, but an open one so that we all can experience God’s healing grace and become more faithful and empowered to be, as we have envisioned – “…the hands, feet, and voice – the whole body – of Jesus Christ.”

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

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).

Cole Bodkin ~ Eating a Meal: Nourishment for Resurrection Life

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

There goes Jesus eating again. Eating fish with fisherman. Have you ever read through the Gospels and noticed how often Jesus is eating? Why is that? With the exception of birthday parties and my wedding, I really don’t think I would have anyone include meals in my biography. So why waste the precious ink?

Believe it or not, I think eating was central to Jesus’ mission. That’s right, the mundane and ordinary routine of sharing fellowship over a meal was a staple to Jesus’ missional diet, and I think this carries forward to the church today as well. In fact, I think there is a missional motif in Luke’s Gospel revolving around the word “fish.” So we shouldn’t be surprised to find the fisher of men eating fish with his fishermen disciples in this scene. Yes, we could spend all day talking about eating the fish and the significance of it for Jesus’ physicality of being raised from the grave. But, I think the fish points to something else, a sign, a symbol, a reminder of who the disciples are called to be and what they are called to do.

Besides our passage, there are three other places where we find the word “fish” in Luke’s Gospel.

Back in Luke 5 there is a crowd surrounding Jesus while he’s teaching God’s Word when all the sudden he sees some fishermen washing their nets. They are a little down because they worked hard all night and couldn’t land a catch. You know how the story goes. Jesus gets into Peter’s boat, continues teaching the crowds, and tells Peter where to cast the nets. They pull in the motherlode, so much so that the large quantity of fish causes the boat to sink. Swept off his feet, Peter falls down at Jesus’ feet and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” James and John, likewise, were frozen in fear. Jesus tells them, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching people.” Fishing for people, eh? They drop everything and follow him.

Next we encounter another miraculous event, Jesus feeding the multitudes the 5,000. Prior to the miraculous feeding, Jesus sends the disciples out on a mission. After a quick debrief, the disciples ask Jesus to send away the crowds so that the crowds can find lodging and food. Jesus snaps back, “You feed them.” Baffled, the disciples say they only have five loaves and two fish, which cannot possibly feed everyone. Jesus tells them to set the people in rows of 50, then he gives thanks to God, blesses it, breaks the bread, and kept handing them to the disciples until all ate and were satisfied. The broken pieces that were leftover were picked up, which were 12 baskets full. Sounds eerily similar to God providing manna in the wilderness to the Israelites. Mary’s prophetic prayer that Jesus “has filled the hungry with good things” seems to have been fulfilled. Fishing and feeding.

The last reference to fish is with regard to prayer. Jesus compares praying to God, like a son asking his father for a fish. Of course the parent isn’t going to give the son a snake instead of a fish. Who would do that? Then Jesus says, “How much more then, will your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Fishing, feeding, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Hmm.

Fast-forward to the Emmaus Road. Our congregation loves the “Walk to the Emmaus” so I’ll trust you are familiar. In that scene Cleopas and his fellow companion are walking on the road to Emmaus when a guy interrupts and decides to join them. They do not recognize that the person travelling with them is Jesus until he breaks the bread. Like Jesus breaking the bread before feeding the multitudes, or breaking the bread for the Last Supper, it is in the breaking of bread in which their eyes were opened and they realized that Jesus was in their midst. Strangely enough our passage follows the Road to the Emmaus. After Jesus eats the fish he opens their minds to Scripture, and how he is revealed in it so that the disciples might be His witnesses. Bread and Fish. Hmm. Sounds familiar. Anything in our passage about the Holy Spirit? Well immediately after our passage Jesus tells the disciples to wait to be clothed on High, that is, filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost before they go out. Hmmm. Do you see a pattern here?

If I am losing you, let me try to reel you back in: the disciples are fed in order that they may go out and feed the multitudes. You know the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” A huge proportion of Jesus’ ministry was teaching these fishermen how to fish for God’s kingdom. And guess what, it’s not as complicated as you might think. Preparation for effective ministry comes through studying God’s Word and being empowered by the Holy Spirit through prayer. Simple enough. You don’t have to be an apostle to do that.

Sometimes I think we make church way more complicated than it has to be. What if it was as simple as studying God’s Word, Spirit-filled prayer, and going out and feeding people physically, emotionally, and spiritually? We should all take seriously Jesus’ command before the miraculous feeding: “you feed them.” He’s equipped us. What are we waiting for?

Remember how much we see Jesus eating with people all the time in the Gospels? The simple and uneventful act of eating with people was central to his mission, and it’s not that difficult. That’s what the early church did. They met with one another in their homes, breaking bread, and telling others about Jesus. Likewise, when we invite others to share a meal, this is extremely meaningful cross-culturally. When we eat together, we discover the inherent humanity of all people. We share stories, hopes, fears, and disappointments. People open up to each other. And we can open up to them to share the same things, including telling them about the truly human one…

Hear this letter from the 4th century Emperor Julian to his officials about those pesky, atheist Christians, their hospitality, and the fear that they will take over the Roman Empire with their meals:

We must pay special attention to this point, and by this means affect a cure [for the “sickness” of Christianity]. For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galileans [Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy in the worst of the deeds through the credit they win for such practices. For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away from their friends cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves…by the same method, I say, the Galileans also begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables—for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names—and the result is that they have led very many into atheism [i.e. Christianity]. (from Michael Frost’s Five Habits of Highly Missional People, p. 12)

Imagine that? Sharing meals and sharing Christ with others was subversive to the Roman Empire. They feared that the Christians would take over.

Michael Frost in his Five Habits of Highly Missional People helps us out with the who, what, and how of eating meals with others. It’s really pretty simple, and not complicated. Look, most of us eat 21 meals a week. Let’s be honest. We Memphians might have even more. But dedicate at least three meals with others a week. That’s not too hard. Get into that rhythm, and then it becomes a habit.

So what does a meal look like? Well it can be as grand as an ornate, elaborate dinner party or the bare minimum of coffee and a donut.

Whatever it may be, sit across the table from three people this week and talk. Who should we eat with? Frost suggests that we missionally eat with one person who is not a church-goer. If you want to take this further, eat with someone who may or may not be able to repay you. But, don’t be surprised if people invite you over for a meal, in return. And don’t be surprised by their eating habits.

Also, eat with fellow disciples. I recently started something called “Table Groups.” This is a young adult initiative where we meet and eat together. We share life. We pray. We encourage one another. There are various components that I try to incorporate into our time. One might call it a table liturgy. I’d love to see this implemented on a church-wide scale. It would foster community and intergenerational fellowship, and guess what? It’s modeled after the early church. It’s not complicated. We can grow as a church by doing the simple act of eating and sharing our lives with one another around a table. If this is something that you might be interested in doing, please talk to me after the service, or email me. I’d love to see us get to know one another on a more personal level by just being human and connecting through breaking bread.

So, let’s feed people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s get in a habit of eating with at least three people per week, one being a non-churchgoer. Let’s grow in fellowship so that we can mutually encourage one another as we go fishing.

I still find one of the most fascinating things in the world to ponder about is that when Jesus wanted his disciples to reflect on his death, he didn’t give them a theory, but a meal. Let’s now prepare ourselves for his meal: may our eyes be opened to Jesus in the breaking of the bread. May our minds be opened to the Word we just heard, and may we be fed so that we can go out and bring more people to feast with us here.

Cole Bodkin ~ A Maundy Thursday Covenant

In his latest book, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, Michael Gorman argues that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ atonement was to “create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together. Moreover, this people will not simply believe in the atonement and the one who died, they will eat and drink it, they will be baptized into it/ him, they will be drawn to him and into it. That is, they will so identify with the crucified savior that words like “embrace” and “participation,” more than “belief” or even “acceptance,” best describe the proper response to this death.”

Certainly the Last Supper is of great import when we reflect upon the Lord’s death and its significance for his disciples. For many, Maundy Thursday might be one of the few times that they will partake in the Lord’s Supper. So it might be worth more reflection, before we “do this in remembrance” of Jesus.

Intriguingly, it is only in this scene where we find the word “covenant” coming from the mouth of Jesus. While most of us are eager to gravitate towards high-volume words, this is an instance where less is more, and it deserves much more attention.

While this word “covenant” tends to grab our attention, especially with the idea of it being a (re)new(ed) covenant (Luke 22:20; see Jeremiah 31:34), I was recently made aware of something extremely significant preceding it, for which the word covenant is describing, namely, the “blood” of the covenant (Mark 14:24 and parallels).

We may suppose that this has something to do with the Passover meal, since, after all, the Evangelists introduce us to this meal by mentioning that it took place during Passover. But as Paul Penley states, “[t]he Bible never calls the blood of the Passover lambs in Egypt the “blood of the covenant.” The “blood of the covenant” first comes from the oxen sacrificed in Sinai mentioned in Exodus 24. The only other reference to “blood of the covenant” in the Bible refers to the sacrificed body of Jesus. That connection must not be missed” (Reenacting the Way (of Jesus), p. 196). After doing this, they have a meal (Exodus 24:11).

What is the significance? Well, before Moses sprinkles the blood of the covenant on the people, the people commit themselves (twice!) to do something: “all that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:3, 7). So if this happens to be the background, what sort of implications would this entail for those of us who partake of the Lord’s Supper today? Penley explains,

The “blood of the covenant” doesn’t just signify God’s willingness to accept a sacrifice as payment for human sin. It signifies a two-way commitment. God will reach out and over the sins of many, but those whom he reaches have a major responsibility. The responsibility is obedience. God’s ways become your way of life if you want God’s sacrifice to become your forgiveness (197).

Newsflash: that’s how covenants work! A covenant between parties is a two-way street. We aren’t mere recipients of Jesus’ salvific act. We aren’t coming to the table just to “remember,” and proclaim a big hearty “thank you.” We are called to obedience, to be faithful to the covenant in which we have been inaugurated. We are eating and drinking the atonement. We are being baptized into it. We are committing ourselves to the baptismal life, the-dying-and-rising-to-Christ life.

Some may feel suspicious towards this “background” info. Check out the discussion of the old and new covenant in Hebrews 9 where we find the author arguing “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works in order to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Paul, likewise, states that “[Christ] died on behalf of all in order that those who continue living might no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died on their behalf and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15).” He died for us, we die daily for Him.

Do we realize that when we take the bread and wine we are committing ourselves to faithfulness to God?

Penley suggests we help set the stage for the seriousness of the Lord’s Supper by responding in unison to the biblical reading: “all the words which we have spoken, we will do.” Another practical suggestion is:

reading out loud a portion of Jesus’ teaching each time communion is taken. Take a section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and read it out loud. Or take a section of Jesus’ teaching on the topic being discussed or taught that day. This way participants can specifically consider the commands in the covenant to which they are committing— to which they are declaring in action, “all the words which you have spoken we will do” (210).

This also should make us consider the Commission the Lord gave us, especially the “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” We are making disciples who are agreeing to enter into the new covenant. We are inviting them to partake and commune with the Lord of the new covenant. Thus, we must ask ourselves: if we are making disciples of the new covenant, then ought it be best to know and do all that he commanded us to do?

Thank God for the mercy of this Lord, and the forgiveness he has offered, and the prayer that he has taught us to pray. Nevertheless, when we approach his Table, let us remember and do all that he has taught us, and enabled us to do through the power of his Spirit.

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).