Saturday, January 31, 2009

Teaching Communion

Communion is one of the two sacraments United Methodists recognize, making it a very important part of our faith. I am going to do my best to teach you how to teach communion.
To teach communion, first, you must have a background base on the scripture we will be teaching from. We will be using Luke 22:1-38, the Luke account of the last meal with the disciples. If you look at the verses they break down into sections. Verses 1-6 are about the conspiracy against Jesus, 7-13 are about preparing for the Passover meal, 14-20 is the institution of the Lord’s Supper and 21-38 are the farewell instructions Jesus leaves for his disciples. We will talk about each of these sections individually.
We open up chapter 22 with a setting. Luke tells us that the festival of Unleavened Bread is near. The chief priests and scribes are looking for a way to put Jesus to death. Luke tells us that Satan enters Judas, and that he plans to catch Jesus with the priests. Judas begins looking for an opportune time to turn Jesus over to the authorities. The primary focus of these verses is on Satan and how the appropriate time is now here to kill Jesus. Satan will work through Judas, the chief priests and the captains to betray Jesus. (HarperCollins)
Verses 7-13 are the preparation for Passover. Passover is now here and Jesus sends Peter and John to prepare the meal. They are sent into the city and told to find a man who has a guest room already furnished. Preparation for Passover includes a slain lamb, herbs, wine and unleavened bread. (HarperCollins)
The Passover meal takes place in verses 14-20. First I think we should learn a little about Passover before we look at Jesus’ last Passover meal. Dr. Emler describes the Passover meal to be similar to the American Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving at my house is loud, full of laughter, family, kids running around and the Thanksgiving parade. It’s one big family party. Here we see Jesus having one last happy meal before he is sacrificed for our sins. This is a joyous occasion. Having said that, Jesus tells the disciples how they will be eating together again in the Kingdom of God after the covenant has been fulfilled. He takes the first cup Luke tells us about and asks the disciples to “take and divide among yourselves.” He then breaks the bread saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” After supper he again took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you in the new covenant in my blood.”
The Global Board of Discipleship says that, “Remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. “Do this in remembrance of me” is anamnesis (the biblical Greek word). This dynamic action becomes re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.” (GBOD)
“Luke frames this scene as a classical farewell speech from a leader to his followers, first the meal then the discourse on what will soon happen and how the disciples should conduct themselves. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke’s indication of the betrayer follows the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Luke’s account of the meal is in 2 parts, vv 15-18 and vv 19-20. Luke gives the ritual cup, the bread and again the cup. Quite possibly Luke has joined 2 traditions: vv 15-18 tie the meal to Passover and stress the eschatological orientation, vv 19-20 stress sacrificial and covenant meanings. Participation meant sharing in Jesus’ death as well as the future messianic meal, (HarperCollins).”
The next section is Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples. He tells the disciples that one of them will betray Him. The disciples begin arguing about who is the greatest disciple and Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them that the greatest will suffer like He has suffered and enter into a relationship with God. In 31 Jesus talks to all and 32-34 is between Jesus and Peter. All will be tested but Peter is to be the strong one. The prophecy here describes what will happen: denial, abandonment, experience of the risen Christ, leadership and death. Here is also where Jesus warns Peter about Peter’s denial. (HarperCollins)
This meal that Jesus has just taught His disciples is called by many names, all of which will refer to this meal but each with a tiny spin on what it is referring to. Holy Communion is defined as “show[ing] holiness and intimacy of the union with Christ and His body, (Hickman).” The term Lord’s Supper is referring to a meal with God. Eucharist refers to thanksgiving. All of these terms make up the symbolism found in the bread and the wine and what we do with them. (Hickman)
When asked what Communion is, most respond with an answer similar to this, it draws me closer to God and to the members of this church. Robert N. Nash, Jr. suggests that when you get into a discussion about the Lord’s Supper “it turns into an affirmation of the unity of Christ’s church and the love and acceptance which people discover in the context of that fellowship.” As we saw in our exegetical break down of the passage, Jesus is eating a meal with his closest friends and celebrating a very important Jewish ritual with them.
“The early church made the last meal the central event of their worship,” Dr. Emler taught us. “They kept in mind Jesus’ teachings of the Kingdom of God and the church’s early meals had that imagery involved.” They were anticipating the future meals they would be sharing with Jesus in God’s presence. They remembered all of the times they shared a meal with Jesus and were excited to eat with Him again in God’s Kingdom. In early records there was indication that wine was not always shared at the breaking of the bread. The connection with blood and the death of Jesus seems to be missing. What was most important to them was remembering the promise to eat with Christ again.
Because the Last meal was so central to the early church, it was used as a way to build up the body of Christ. It was a way to develop Christian lifestyles and to unite the community. Why do you think you invite people to dinner? I find it is because you want to enjoy their company, because food is good and the kitchen is where the heart is. It was the same back then too.
“The Methodist movement in eighteenth-century England was an evangelical movement that included a revival of emphasis on the sacraments. The Wesley’s recognized the power of God available in the Lord’s Supper and urged their followers to draw on that power by frequent participation. The grace available in and through the sacrament was active in conviction, repentance and conversion, forgiveness, and sanctification. The Wesley’s understood and taught the multifaceted nature of the Lord’s Supper. They wrote about love, grace, sacrifice, forgiveness, the presence of Christ, mystery, healing, nourishment, holiness, and pledge of heaven. They knew that Holy Communion is a powerful means through which divine grace is given to God’s people. Our sacramental understandings and practices today are grounded in this heritage.” (GBOD) Wesley wrote that, “This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.” Participating in Holy Communion is a transforming experience. As we encounter Christ and are repeatedly touched by divine grace, we are progressively shaped into Christ’s image.
The United Methodist church believes that Holy Communion is the unity of the whole church, which includes both the local congregation and the universal church. We believe that the sacrament is much more than a personal event, although it is deeply meaningful to the individuals participating. You can see how important community is to us just looking at the words we choose to use in out liturgy. All of the first person pronouns throughout are consistently plural—we, us, our. (GBOD)
In the United Methodist tradition we have an open table, meaning no one will be denied an opportunity to partake in Holy Communion. John Wesley believed that “Holy Communion is a vehicle of God’s grace through the action of the Holy Spirit, (GBOD).” He did not want to take away anyone’s opportunity to feel God. He believed that Communion could be a conversion tool. He wanted to make sure that all had the opportunity to feel God’s grace. No one will be turned away from the Table because of age or “mental, physical, developmental, and/or psychological” capacity (BOD, ¶ 162.G) or because of any other condition that might limit his or her understanding or hinder his or her reception of the sacrament. All who respond in faith to the invitation are to be welcomed. Holy Communion is a meal of the community who are in covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. (GBOD)
The United Methodist Book of Worship says, “All who intend to lead a Christian life, together with their children, are invited to receive the bread and cup. We have no tradition of refusing any who present themselves desiring to receive.” This statement means that in practice there are few, if any, circumstances in which a United Methodist pastor would refuse to serve the elements of Holy Communion to a person who comes forward to receive. (GBOD)
In Holy Communion we are called to remember Jesus and what he has done for us and to remember our relationship with God through Him. When we are called to remember we are “bring[ing] into consciousness [our] identity at the deepest level, so we participate with Christ today. That is why children are invited to come to the Lord’s Table in the United Methodist tradition. Children are shaped and formed at the dinner table. The community of the family creates identity, (Emler).” If we are called to remember our identities don’t you think it would be the best thing for our children to find their family identify at the Lord’s Table?
Something we teach to children when we include them in what God has called all to do is the “difference between being accepted and rejected at a meal table. They also connect being fed with being loved, (Hickman).” When they grow, they will begin to associate being fed with being fed spiritually. Keeping them out of a ritual like this, I believe, keeps them separated from the feelings we all need, which are to be included and know that God loves all. Jesus ate with all types of people. He didn’t discriminate and we need to remember that children are a part of the whole.
When we teach our children about Communion we should reinforce the fact that it is a time to remember Jesus eating with His friends. Because we are too invited to His table we are His friends and joining His community. We go with our friends to His table in fellowship and in remembrance of how we are His. Communion is “a place where children can come and be accepted, even when they spill juice or talk or need a special hug.” When we include children in our sacrament (a sacred moment when we feel close to God and experience His love) of Holy Communion we teach them that God is apart of each one of us. (Halverson)
“Holy Communion always offers grace. We are reminded of what God has done for us in the past, experience what God is doing now as we partake, and anticipate what God will do in the future work of salvation, (GBOD).”


Emler, Donald. “World Communion Sunday.” 7 October 2007.

Hickman, Hoyt L. A Primer for Church Worship. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1984.

Halverson, Delia. The Nuts and Bolts of Christian Education. Nashville, TN: Abington Press. 2006.

Nash, Robert N. “Luke 22:14-34” Review and Expositor 89.03 pp. 397-401. 2006. ALTA Serials.

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