August 24, 2016
I don’t remember the first meal I had at my family’s table. Do you? I suspect it was “baby food,” the kind that used to come in little glass Gerber jars - which my Dad soon appropriated into containers for screws, bolts, washers, and nails in his workshop! Nothing to chew; no teeth! (I have pictures to verify that!) I wasn’t quite up for mastering the spoon solo, let alone the fork, so I was fed by Mom or Dad or Grandma or someone... and then I probably sneezed it back out a few times! There was a lot to clean up afterward, just like with our daughter and son... who do quite well on their own, now in their early/mid-30's! But what it set in motion was a pattern that now that I’m in my early 60's, I can’t (and don’t want to) shake, namely, eating with others. Phyllis will tell you that “no one in the whole world” dislikes eating alone more than I.
By the same token, I can’t say that I recall my first time at the Lord’s table, either. It may have been in junior high, just before or after Confirmation, or perhaps some years earlier at Craddock Methodist Church in Portsmouth. Maybe you remember the first time you received Communion. It doesn’t matter, especially, because God remembers. He recalls every time that we’ve submitted and gathered with others to hear the words spoken to us, “The body of Christ is broken for you... The blood of Christ is given for you.” And sometimes, we “get it,” meaning we grasp the Gift, and it has an impact on our hearts and minds and priorities and values and self-understanding... and at other times, we come to the Lord’s Table as an exercise of a “holy habit” in which we participate in the sacramental “holy mystery” and allow the Spirit to be at work forming and shaping us “into the likeness and image” of God in Jesus Christ... just by our mere presence.
250 years ago, our spiritual forebear, the Rev. John Wesley, wrote that the Lord’s Supper was both a “converting” and a “confirming” sacrament. That is to say, he continued, some of us have come to faith “in Christ, and Him alone” while in the company of faith at the Table of Christ. Like him, we’ve felt our “heart strangely warmed” by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and acknowledged that we, too, “did indeed trust Christ, and Christ alone, for our salvation.” I had one of those moments in my first year in seminary (during my fourth year in the pastorate), when the celebrant offered me a bit of bread, looked me in the eye, called me by name, and said, “Jim, the body of Christ is broken for you!” I was stunned! It was for me, included among all those who were gathered there in the little hot, humid attic chapel of our Divinity School in Atlanta... for me! Converted, indeed.
But Mr. Wesley also says Communion is a “confirming sacrament,” meaning that in the “holy mystery” of which I’ve spoken earlier, God uses a little bit of bread, and a few drops from the cup as a visible, tangible means of reminding us of something we already “know:” God’s love for us never quits, never fails, never fades or wanes or leaves us alone, no matter what we’ve experienced on our way to the Table of Christ. Sometimes at Eucharist, we receive the elements with what Fred Craddock once called “a nod of affirmation,” both on our part, and on God’s part. In that moment when we are gathered with others who are also in the pilgrimage of faith, we may find God’s embrace just a bit more snug, His heart just a bit more close to our own, His breathing giving us renewed life and Spirit for the “living of these days.”
Beginning on the first Sunday of September, as I noted in last Thursday’s “Thought,” I would like for us to take up the “holy habit” of weekly communion with our Lord during the 8:45 a.m. Blended Worship Service. Every Sunday morning, starting on the 4th of September, we will begin to include an invitation to come and share in the “foretaste of Glory divine,” as the old hymn says. As you might imagine, there are a couple of things I want to share with you about this.
First, we will use a “less” formal liturgy, meaning that the Prayer of Thanksgiving we offer before coming to the Lord’s Table may not be printed, but offered instead from the heart of the one presiding. We may also sing together some of the responses, from time to time, as a way of sharing in the prayer together. There will be “plenty” of preparation and explanation for this.
Then, we will use gluten free bread each week - for all who receive. If you would like to provide it occasionally as a gift for our use, please let me know, and I will be glad to share several sources from which gluten-free bread may be acquired inexpensively. “Because there is one loaf,” we affirm with Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Christians, “we, many as we are, are one body, for it is of one loaf that we all partake.” Also, if you would like to help prepare and/or re-order the place-setting, please let me know a.s.a.p.
We will offer Communion by intinction each week, meaning that each person will be offered a bit of bread, and invited to dip it into the chalice, and then receive both elements of the gift together. There will be at least two persons at the chancel-end of the center aisle acting as as “hosts” for the meal, with sanitized hands offering both the bread and cup in the name of Christ to all who will come. We will, of course, offer the elements to those who cannot come, due to issues of mobility. The invitation will be made frequently so that all may be included.
The fourth matter I would address is this: all persons are always welcome to come to the Chancel rail to kneel for prayer after receiving, and as others are coming and returning to their seats. You are invited to remain (aka, “linger”) at that place of prayer as long as you will.... sometimes the matters of the heart take a while to convey!
Last, let me affirm that in the United Methodist tradition, ALL PERSONS are always welcome at the Lord’s Table, irrespective of age, membership, activity level, or any other outward measure. It is, after all, Christ’s Table, and at it, we are all honored guests, invited with great grace.
It is my hope, prayer, and intention that this will be a time in which our hearts are “warmed,” and our spirits “quickened” as we meet and share in the Family Gathering at the Lord’s Table. Please be in prayerful consideration for this new step in our life together, and if you would like to share something about it, let me hear from you, either in person, or by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or text (571-239-3529) at your convenience.
Grace to you, and peace,
Jim Earley, Pastor