This post utilizes the United Methodist Book of Discipline 2012 (Para. 104, Article XVI – Of the Sacraments, p 67; and Article XVIII – Of the Lord’s Supper, p 68), and the United Methodist Book of Worship (p 13 – 32).
Throughout history, the Last Supper has been remembered by Christians through many names: the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion – even Passover by some denominations, in recognition of the feast which Jesus Christ and his disciples were observing. Early Christians were know to practice a communion ritual through accounts in Acts, and Paul even famously condemned the Corinthian Church for allowing the practice of Holy Communion to become somewhat of a bacchanal, and admonished them to serious self-examination before partaking at the Table. The practice of Communion has varied through the centuries, at time reserving the sacrament for the clergy only, but John Wesley was among those who reclaimed Communion for the laity, taking it back into the world as a means of grace for all who would partake. Wesley even suggests that one participate in communion as often as one can, leading us to wonder how he might have been frustrated with quarterly communion on the American frontier, or even our monthly services today. Weekly communion is even slowly making its way back to the United Methodist Church in some areas.
United Methodist services of Holy Communion have come to be known as Services of Word and Table. This renaming reflects the desire of contemporary Protestant liturgical theology to place the sacraments at the focal point of a worship service. The second of the two United Methodist sacraments, Holy Communion is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace through which God calls us into the economic community of the Trinity in the body of Jesus Christ, broken for us so we can know we are members of God’s family. We are joined with God at the same time we are joined with each other as part of a great community throughout time and space, extending into eternity. There are four parts to the communion portion of the service (BOW p 27 – 31):
1. Taking the Bread and Cup, which can be preceded by a UMC deacon bringing the elements forward from the community with the offering. An elder then takes them to the table to prepare them for the meal. The type of bread is influenced by the community, and with the growing number of food allergies, one can sometimes find options to open the Table up, which are outlined in greater detail at the bottom of this post. It is also a Methodist tradition that rather than wine, the elements include unfermented grape juice in support of recovering alcoholics, the inclusion of children, and in support of the church’s continuing stance on abstinence from alcohol (BOW, p 28).
2. The Great Thanksgiving, in which the elder blesses the elements with the words of institution, invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit, and praising the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, Mother of Us All is often the language used, in the tradition of medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich), followed by the congregation praying the Lord’s Prayer together.
3. Next, the bread will be broken and the cup raised, and the congregation will be invited to the table.
4. The fourth part of the communion service is the giving of the elements to the congregation. In the United Methodist tradition, the Table is open to all who come forward with a heart for living a Christian life, and no one should ever be denied the sacraments.
Article XVI of the Methodist Church in the Book of Discipline notes that we aren’t just to gaze upon the sacraments, or carry them around with us, but we must use them. In order to use the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christians can explore ways to let their gifts shine through many lay servant/lay speaking classes at BeADisciple.org or contact their conference or district committee on Lay Servant Ministries for information on in-person classes. Bridging one’s gifts to the world is the greatest way we can be in service with our communities, and not only offers the opportunity to give, but to receive in ways that will transform everyone’s lives. As with the sacrament of baptism and the small group book Come to the Waters detailed in an earlier post, the UMC has a book entitled This Holy Mystery for lay study. It is available here online, or here as a downloadable pdf, and print versions may be obtained through Cokesbury or by asking your pastor.
Services of Word and Table have been crafted to reflect the different seasons and communities throughout the United Methodist connection. For a deeper exploration of the breadth and depth of our tradition, one can find multiple forms of the Great Thanksgiving here and a growing collection of Open Source Liturgy Project offerings here, all of which are under the Creative Commons license.
As awareness of food allergies grows, in an effort to make the Table open to all, the GBOD has provided this resource thanks to Tracy R. Merrick, a lay member with a wife who deals with celiac disease. The best option is working to find a loaf safe for all to consume, which is a struggle for those that deal with multiple food allergies, but worth the dialogue and effort for every worship team. Many churches have different stations, or the option to tell an usher that one needs an alternative form of communion. However it is done, the grace with which each effort to extend the Table has moved me deeply. It doesn’t matter whether the loaf is free of the eight major allergens, or if a congregation offers up the only gluten free food in the church to make sure I was able to participate in the table – peanut brittle for the church’s candy sale. To know that all are welcome with a loving, thought-out gesture of Table grace can make even those of us that feel unworthy to be included in the divine grace know they are part of God’s family, no matter what. If your congregation is seeking an allergen free mix, Breads From Anna has bread mixes worth considering, or check out the cookbook resources through your local library (don’t forget to ask your librarian about interlibrary loan possibilities!). If those of you that read this have other suggestions, please dialogue with me in the comments section so we can learn from each other.