On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples
--Isaiah 25:6 NIV
You’ve probably noticed that when it comes time for communion in our worship services I feel the need to say something. It may just be me, but I get the sense that folks are a little impatient when I share a bit in that moment. More than any other denomination I’m aware of, The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ has communion down to a finely tuned machine. Coming from other denominations that at most served communion once a month, many did it only quarterly, I was amazed the first time I saw a Disciples church serve communion. It was as fast as a Nascar pit crew! I guess doing it every week allows a church to get into a rhythm of moving quickly. I appreciate the efficiency, but I just can’t help but slow things down a bit to take in the significance of what’s going on.
When we celebrate communion, we are participating in a cosmic drama as directed by God that goes way beyond eating a little wafer and sip of juice. Here are just a few of the things we are participating in.
We celebrate God’s unconditional love--One doesn’t have to go far from the front door of our church to find congregations that practice some form of closed communion. This means every time they practice communion they exclude some people. Maybe those excluded are not members of their denomination or they are lapsed church members, divorced or LGBTQ people. In their efforts to honor Christ, they get Jesus backwards and use communion as a weapon to harm people. Routinely in my ministry I have met people who were reduced to tears, because in churches like ours they were included, signifying God still loved them despite what they had experienced in other churches.
We celebrate the Kingdom of God--Currently there is concern about the wealthiest people in our society gaining access to the Covid-19 vaccine before others at greater risk. There’s a good reason to fear such a scenario. In virtually every facet of our culture, those with the most wealth and power get access to whatever they want ahead of others who are in need of the basic necessities of life. During communion, all are served regardless of station, class or position. Nobody jumps the line. Everyone is equal before God. This is the kind of thing Jesus taught his followers to do as a part of God’s kingdom.
We celebrate the grace of God--As minister, I have the privilege and responsibility to hear people’s struggles. Each Sunday it’s kind of amazing to me that church folk sit there like everything is fine when I know that for some (and I suspect many more) they are experiencing real suffering. People sitting on the same pew as you feel rejected and alone, as if they have failed at life, unworthy of being loved. The bread and cup shared with them is a promise that they do matter, that God does love them in spite of their weaknesses and they are not alone but a part of a community of faith who loves them. Sharing communion is not an empty ritual but rather a ministry to the brokenhearted.
We celebrate God’s hope--In the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures, the end of history is described as a banquet overflowing with food for all. In Isaiah 25, this “Messianic Banquet” is described as the time when God “will swallow up death forever” and “will wipe away the tears from all faces.” When we share communion on Sundays, God mystically enacts that future hope into our present moment. No, we are surely not free of death and tears, but we experience the assurance that God will do so one day. Communion reminds us we live in hope trusting that despite appearances to the contrary on some Sundays God really is in control.
As we finish 2020, when we have been separated from one another due to the pandemic, we can celebrate a bit of that divine hope together each Sunday as we await the day when we shall be together again as a church. We not only possess the hope of God bringing loving closure to all at the end of time, but we also look forward to the end of this pandemic where we can worship together in safety. When that day comes and on all the Sundays that come before and after, please forgive me if I get a little wordy at the communion table. What we share together during communion is one of the greatest things this side of eternity.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851